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December 20, 2020
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve spent the season of Advent focusing on the theme of Promise and looking at its different facets and the way God’s promises take shape in our lives. Ultimately, they all weave together and come to fruition in Jesus, God’s promise of life that can never be taken away from us.
When we read the story of how Jesus came to be – Gabriel visiting Mary and revealing God’s plan for her, it’s easy to romanticize her role as Jesus’ mother. In paintings, Mary is usually sitting peacefully and serenely, bathed in a glowing light and made to look as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
But in reality, she was an ordinary 14-year-old flesh and blood girl. She was already engaged to Joseph and, like most girls her age at that time, she had an idea of what to expect for her life. And some people think that, because she was just a girl and had no rights, she was weak and passively accepted what God was asking of her.
But that interpretation is dangerous and it’s also wrong, because in Luke’s gospel, Mary isn’t some passive object. She’s her own person. She knew who she was and where she came from. She knew that being pregnant out of wedlock would have brought dishonor to hers and Joseph’s families, and it could have gotten her stoned to death as punishment.
But Mary also knew her God. And in the second part of our reading, her song, she testified to the God she has always known: the God who shows mercy to those who fear God; the God who scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts and who brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the hungry with good things and who remembers Abraham and all of his descendants – which now include her, forever.
And she knows what her God has done – for her, for her cousin Elizabeth, for people who have been cast out or overlooked or dismissed. So when Mary said, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done with me as you say” she didn’t say it lightly.
She understood that God is God and, therefore, God isn’t predictable. She reminds us of what it looks and sounds like when God shows up in your life unannounced and unexpectedly. She pondered and considered and asked for clarification. And when she said, “yes,” it was with a sense of fear and wonder.
It’s an answer of faith – not knowing for sure how things will turn out, but trusting God enough to move forward with what God is asking of you. Mary shows the kind of reaction we often have to divine disturbance in our lives. And her response to God reflected the fact that fear is a natural part of our response when God disrupts our lives.
The history of Mary’s people, the Israelites, is one that’s filled with God’s disruptions. Sometimes those disruptions were welcomed and sometimes they were thought to be a major inconvenience. It depended on the situation, and it’s the same with us. When God’s disruptions affect our individual lives and call on us to act, we often respond with resentment or outright resistance.
But God intrudes when God must, and we don’t get to control the timing of that. God intervenes when God’s realm is in peril. God interrupts injustice. God interferes when power oppresses. And when that happens, the response of the faithful is, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done with me as you say.”
This year, calendar year 2020, has given us plenty of opportunities to respond, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done with me as you say.” The pandemic and its restrictions shifted our perspective away from ourselves and toward taking actions that protected the people who are most vulnerable among us.
The pandemic also exposed how economically at risk too many people are, and how shaky their lives are because of it.
George Floyd’s murder gave our nation and, really, our world a much-needed wakeup call that racism still exists – and we have a lot of work to do in order to dismantle the systems that perpetuate it.
The extreme weather systems that devastated so many lives have shown us that we need to act now to reverse the damage we’ve caused to our planet.
The political campaigns this year, especially the presidential race, clearly showed the deep divisions among us and the need to set our differences aside if we ever hope to work together and heal as a nation.
I don’t mean to say that God caused any of these things to happen. That isn’t how God works. But we know God well enough to know that God expects a faith-filled response to these situations from us.
We like to think we have some control over God’s timing and the ways God shows up. But the truth is that when God disrupts our lives, it doesn’t always happen the way we think it will. And it rarely happens when it’s convenient. So when it does, we wrestle with it and try to get out of it and ask, “Really? Right now?!”
And when God says, “Yes, now!” and we say, “Okay” it’s much like Mary’s response was – a mixture of fear and wonder because we don’t know for sure what will happen. But we trust God enough to move forward with what God is calling us to do. It’s a response of faith.
“I am the servant of God. Let it be done with me as you say,” is the faithful response when God calls us to take actions that promote the care of others during a pandemic or any other time. It’s the response when God asks us to do the hard work of dismantling systemic racism.
“I am the servant of God. Let it be done with me as you say,” is the faithful response when God calls us to advocate for policies and practices that foster economic equality; and also when God calls us to care for the environment as creation cries out against the damage humans have caused.
“I am the servant of God. Let it be done with me as you say,” is the response of faith that reminds us that God does disrupt our lives. And God’s disruption really is good news. God intervenes when God’s realm is in peril. God interrupts injustice. God interferes when power oppresses.
And for all the fear and angst it can cause when God’s interruption directly affects our individual lives, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
On this last Sunday of Advent, as we expectantly wait for the promise of Jesus’ birth to be fulfilled, Mary’s response of faith reminds us of who God is and what God has done and will continue to do.
And so, when God disrupts our lives, as we say, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done with me as you say” we also say, “Thanks be to God!” Amen.