Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38

There are many famous sayings that have rung down the centuries: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” JFK; “Speak softly and carry a big stick” Teddy Roosevelt; “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Ghandi; “United we stand, divided we fall.” Aesop; “There is nothing impossible to him who will try” Alexander the Great. While all are inspiring, interesting, even empowering, none of them get the prize for best or most powerful sayings. The most powerful words a human can utter are, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 

These are words that, more than any others, changed the world. These are words that turned a humble teenage woman into the most revered of God’s people, the prototype of the Church. These are words that empower, ennoble, and elevate humans when uttered with belief. These are words that led to the incarnation of our Lord, who unites in himself heaven and earth, all humans together, God and humanity. These are the most powerful words in the world because when we are surrendered to God’s will his power can work fully in and through us.

The annunciation is alarming, to say the least. An Archangel, Gabriel, appears and tells this young woman that she is favored, and “the lord is with you!” It says she is “perplexed,” but the word in Greek is more like “agitated.” She truly does not know what to make of this, and rightly; visitations of this kind were not only rare but unknown in her time, and she is the most unlikely, and to her mind, probably thinking more unprepared to receive a word from God. She was almost certainly a teenager, and perhaps even as young as 15 (the custom of the time, frightful though it is to us). She was in a backwater town named Nazareth, of a pretty insignificant province of the Empire, Galilee. As a woman, she was automatically lower in status than any man, and as a Jew in the Roman Empire, lower still. An insignificant woman of an insignificant people in an insignificant town in an insignificant province. Mary was nothing. 

And yet. Mary, against all odds, was to be the theotokos, the God-bearer, the one who would carry the child Jesus who was and is the Christ, and who would, in her own words, able to say, Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” 

That is because it is through her, the humblest of his people, that God would accomplish his great act of redemption, his plan to unite all things in Jesus Christ, thing above and things below. To Mary, Gabriel puts the gospel terms she will understand: He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” We, standing on the other side of Christ and his work, know that this inheritance was won through blood, and death, and that it is only the very life she bore in her womb, the life that was unquenchable, that would accomplish this, and ensure that the kingdom of God would never end.

A humble woman, who would give birth in the humblest of circumstances to the humblest of children, who would live a life not marked by great conquests, but which would end in the most humiliating of ways, death on a cross. God, working out his sacred and astounding mysteries through that which seems most insignificant. 

Mary stands with the rest of our heroes of faith, and indeed surpasses them. Abraham left his home because of the call of God; Mary too responded with faith to God’s call. Moses was given the Law; Mary, the one who gave it. David was promised a son whose kingdom would last forever; Mary bore and delivered that child. She could have, like Moses, disputed why she should be given this task. After all, it was a sacrifice; she knew Joseph might abandon her. Even if he didn’t, people then knew basic math and pregnancy terms, and surely she lived with a stigma her whole life, rumors of her infidelity to her betrothed. She was faced with the uncertainty of following God that everyone, when we truly count the cost, must face: that it is not about us, but about God and his work to reconcile the world to himself. And what did Mary say? “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 

The world shakes. The devil winces. Death groans under the faithful words that ensure the gospel would be accomplished in and through Jesus, son of Mary, Son of God, truly man but truly God. Never were more significant words spoken up until that point in history, and few match it since. As once Adam was created, and out of him Eve, both of whom fell to disbelief and sin, now the second Eve says “yes” to the promise of God, and thus comes the Second Adam from her, to live in perfect sinlessness and bring to conclusion God’s plan from the start: That humanity would live with God in ever-deepening union for all eternity.

God’s promise, accomplished through a teenager in an imperial borderland. If the sum and total of our salvation could thus be accomplished through such humble people and means, surely God can use even us. Surely, despite our failings, our weaknesses, our humiliations, God can work through any and all who can, with the perhaps agitated but hearty faith, say “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” With such words, God’s will can work powerfully in and through us. God is at work, new creation is at hand, and even in the darkest night, the promise of God will come from the unexpected, humble, and meekest of places. May the meditation of our hearts and the words of our mouths, now and ever more, be “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Amen.

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