The reading for Sunday, December 4, 2016:
Today we get the wonderful Gospel story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, and Mary's response. Protestants traditionally don't spend much time thinking about Mary, which is a shame, because she has much to teach us.
I love Mary's measured responses. She ponders. She wonders how the events that Gabriel mentions can be true. Everything that Gabriel says would challenge the brain that tended towards the literal, which frankly, is how I think of the modern brain--if we can't prove it scientifically, don't bother us. Most of us would have jeered at Gabriel and sent him on his way. We'd have told our friends about the stupid angel who thought we'd believe that a post-menopausal woman, like our cousin Elizabeth, could get pregnant.
But Mary has a different response. I like that she's not punished for her questions. Gabriel answers, and she accepts.
I like that God sends Gabriel to prepare the way. Many of our Advent lessons seem to revolve around God preparing the way, whether it be with angels or with prophets or with strange men crying in the wilderness.
And it's important to note that Mary has a choice. We always have a choice. I've had nonbeliever friends who call God a rapist because of how God treated Mary, but that's not the God I know and not the God that the story presents. Gabriel paints a scenario, and Mary submits to God's will. Mary could have said no, but she chose to say yes.
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.
How about you? How is God calling to you?
Most of us aren't visited by angels, and if we are, we know better than to talk about it. But God speaks to us in other ways. There's the traditional way: through the Scriptures. But God also speaks to us through our yearnings and dreams.
God breaks into our world in many wonderful ways, but most of us aren't paying attention. If the angel Gabriel did appear, we might not even notice, because we're so busy, which makes us too exhausted to even dream of a better life.
Winter is a great time to become more introspective. The days are shorter and darker--what better time to stay inside and write in your journal. You could get back to that valuable tool of keeping a gratitude journal--every day, list 5 things for which you're grateful. Or, every day you could list one time when you felt God's presence; once you train yourself to be aware, you'll have more to list. Or you could list the ways you'd like to see the world change to become more aligned with God's vision for the world--and maybe you could list ways that you could help with that transformation. In your journal, you could keep a prayer list, so you remember the people and places that need your prayers--and maybe, in future years, you'd consult the list and be amazed at the way that God answers your prayer. Maybe in your journal, you could practice the ancient art of lectio divina--take a passage of the Bible and meditate on it awhile--write about the passage for 10 minutes and see what happens.
You might start with these words of Gabriel: "For with God nothing will be impossible" (Luke 1, verse 37).