Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christian community on this Fourth Sunday of Advent again hears the good news of the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she shall bear a child who will be called Son of the Most High and shall reign over the House of Jacob forever.
The proclamation to Mary that the Holy Spirit shall overshadow her, and a child will be born to her, typically has been celebrated by Protestant churches during Advent. Roman Catholic and Orthodox congregation, however, also commemorate this event in Biblical history with the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Most Holy Lady on March 25 each year, or nine months before the birth of Jesus on December 25th.
Protestant and Lutheran congregation often tread lightly, discussing the Annunciation and its association with veneration of the Virgin Mary. The adoration of Mary, however, has deep historical roots. The earliest record of Mary’s veneration comes from the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in A.D. 431. There church fathers affirmed Mary, as the Theotokos, or God-bearer. The title stuck, and today she may be referred to as “Mother of God.”
This designation of Mary, as the mother of God, lies at the root of Roman Catholic veneration. In the many years since 431, Mary has come to occupy a powerful place in Roman Catholic spirituality. She has many faces and innumerable names. She is reputed to appear on occasion, mostly to children or others who are weak, dis-empowered, or on the margins of society. She is known, in some cases, to procure miracles. Some believe in the last days, Mary will lead the army of angels in the final battle against evil.
As mother of the King of Kings, she is considered saint of saints. Furthermore, because the church is the body of Christ, and Mary is Christ’s mother, she is also the mother of the church. Thus, in addition to having a special relationship with Jesus, Mary also has a special relationship with the church. She belongs to the church and the church belongs to her, according to Roman catholic tradition.
It is, therefore, no accident that Mary takes center stage this time of year. Mary is venerated by some Christians, ignored by many Christians, and misunderstood by other Christians. At times the ancient Christian community transformed the peasant Jewish teenage girl into an otherworldly Queen. On the other hand, Protestants and Evangelicals pretend she never existed, or they miss the truth she is the first disciple to display radical faith and trust in God.
Mary symbolizes genuine Christian discipleship; she hears the call of God and responds. By her faith she models obedience, servanthood, discipleship, hospitality.
The Annunciation proclaims the word of God, through the angel Gabriel, to Mary. “You have found favor with God. The power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you. You will give birth to the Savior.” Mary asks, “How can this be?” The angel/messenger says to her, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” God calls an ordinary woman to do something extraordinary. But nothing will be impossible with God.
Let me share a wonderful story about a man who was home with the children one afternoon, while his wife went out Christmas shopping. He was reclining on the couch, half sleeping, half watching a football game, when the kids came into the room.
“Dad, we have a play to put on. Do you want to see it?” they said.
He really didn’t want to, but he knew he should, so he sat up, came out of his slumber, and became a one-man audience. His four children, four, six, eight, ten years old, were the actors: Mary, Joseph, and the wise men. Joseph came in with a mop handle. Mary came in with a pillowcase under her pajamas; another child was an angel, flapping her arms as wings.
Finally, the last child, the eight-year-old, appeared, with all of the jewelry on she could find in the house, her arms filled with three presents. “I am all three wise men,” she said. “I bring three precious gifts: gold, circumstance, and mud.”
The father didn’t laugh. The father didn’t correct the wise man. The father reflected on the word that somehow got to the heart of the Christmas story: God loves us for who we are, our gold–where we are at our best; our circumstances–where we might be even now, even our mud–where we are when we are most human.
God chose an ordinary human being, Mary, to be the means through which the Son of God would become flesh. What appears impossible for us is possible with God. God takes our gold, our circumstance, our mud, and fashions it into something glorious.
The Annunciation becomes the disruptive call of God for Mary, and, who knows, perhaps for you and me. Mary responds in this way. She says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary responds with faith. She lets God use her for her purpose. God has a purpose for each of us. He calls us to his service.
Reflecting on Mary’s reply to the angel, we recall Maxmillian Kolbe, canonized a saint in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. Kolbe was a Franciscan priest from Poland, sent to prison by the Nazis during World War II. At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe said, “Here am I, send me, taking the place of the other man.” When Kolbe was declared a saint, the man he saved was present at the Vatican.
God calls us each of us, as he did with Mary, to discipleship. He does the impossible through us. May we respond to God the way Mary did, and say, “Here am I send me, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to you word.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.