Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The Readings for Sunday, December 18, 2011:
First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm: Luke 1:47-55 (Luke 1:46b-55 NRSV)
Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
Today we get to one of the more familiar Advent stories, one of the ones we expect to be hearing. We may say, “Thank goodness! I’m tired of John the Baptist. I can relate to Mary.”
Can we relate to Mary? Two thousand years of Church tradition tend to paint her in terms that serve whatever purpose society needed at the time. So in some decades we see Mary a perfect woman, sinless and blameless, the kind of woman who transcends humanity and gives birth to the Lord. Some decades write Mary out of the picture once the work in the stable is done, while other decades depict her as an interfering mother—the first helicopter parent!
I’m not Catholic, so I’ve never had to wrestle with the idea of Mary as sinless. In fact, the churches of my childhood and adolescence stressed that Mary was as human as the rest of us. In a recent blog post, Pastor Joelle stresses: “In fact, I think the whole idea of the Immaculate Conception, that Mary HAD to be conceived without sin in order for her womb to be worthy to hold Christ kind of chips away at the whole idea of the Incarnation and God entering this messy sinful world. And it begins with entering the womb of a young girl who was, like the rest of us, far from perfect. Mary doesn't need to be perfect to hold Jesus. And neither do we.”
We’ve heard the story of Mary so many times that we forget how remarkable it really is. We forget how bizarre the story told by the angel Gabriel must seem. A young girl growing God in her womb? A post-menopausal woman conceiving? It’s all too much to fathom.
I always wonder if there were women who sent Gabriel away: "I'm going to be the mother of who? It will happen how? Go away. I don't have time for this nonsense. If God wants to perform a miracle, let God teach my children not to track so much dirt into this house."
We won't ever hear about those women, because they decided that they didn't want to be part of God's glorious vision.
It’s important, too, to notice that God’s glorious vision doesn’t always match the way we would expect God to act. We see a history of God choosing the lowly, the meek, the outcast. Moses the stutterer, David the cheater, Peter the doubter. What business school would endorse this approach to brand building?
But our Scriptures remind us again and again that God works in mystical ways that our rational brains can’t always comprehend. If God can accomplish great things by means of a young woman, a barren woman, a variety of wandering preachers and prophets, tax collectors and fisherman, just think what God might accomplish with all of our gifts and resources.
Of course, first we have to hear that message, that invitation from God. It’s hard for this message to make its way through all the fear-based messages beamed to us from our culture. The angel tells Mary not to be afraid, and that is a message we need to hear. Don't dance with your dread. Don't keep company with your fears, your worst case scenarios. Dream big. Think of the world God promises (read further in Luke): God will fill the hungry with good things. The one who is mighty does great things for the lowly.
We have much to fear, but we’re not that different from past cultures. The ancient prophets move me to tears with the promise of the building up of the ancient ruins, the raising up the former devastations, the repair the ruined cities (last week’s Isaiah reading) and the establishment of a throne established forever for a God who wants to dwell with us (this week’s reading from 2 Samuel).
Our culture gives us stories of chronic unemployment and possible economic collapses yet to come. Our Scriptures tell us of a God that breaks into our normal lives to remind us that God is redeeming creation even if we aren’t aware of that process. Our prophets remind us that ruin doesn’t have to last forever. Gabriel gives the promise that nothing is impossible with God. Now, that is Good News indeed.