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Advent 4: In the mood for a miracle?

The angel Gabriel appeared, out of the blue, unannounced, uninvited, and unanticipated and Mary was understandably afraid. The angel offered comforting words “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive and bear a son and you will name him Jesus.” Mary is confused since she is a virgin. But Gabriel explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you …. Therefore the child to be born will be holy.” 


Does Mary have a choice? Can she say, well, you must understand that I am a virgin in a society that does not appreciate unwed pregnancies? Indeed the legislative bodies have debated what is to happen to such women for years. It is very controversial. I am a faithful member of the synagogue here in Nazareth, attending all the rituals and laws as we are taught. So, if you don’t mind, Gabriel, tell God thanks, but not this year.

What would have happened? Would Gabriel have delivered the message to God and been sent to find someone else? Perhaps, but we don’t know because for some unexplainable logic Mary did not decline the appointment and said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Do you recognize those words from in the call of Isaiah?

Theologians write volumes about vocation, using a variety of call narratives in scripture to support their claims. Certainly Mary’s willing obedience calls into question the thin line between choice and divine control. Will God always have her prophet?  Is it that Mary acts freely in offering herself as a servant of the Lord because all those prayers and faithful devotion to Torah have transformed her into a person who knows herself thusly?

By the 5th C debates about Mary as Theotokos (God-bearer) were taking shape. Divine immanence in and through a particular peasant girl – how unlikely is that in our lexical priorities of faith traditions? Does divine call violate the selves we image ourselves to be?

Mary’s vocation from God is an honor yoked with struggle.  She accepted the divine request…knowing that her life is not only hers to live as she wants but one that in relationship with God is something new, unanticipated, unrequested, perhaps even unwanted. 

Allowing the holy favor of God to take root in our lives will lead us in unplanned and at times unwanted directions. It is fool hearty to think we can anticipate or control how God will break into human history, yesterday, today or tomorrow. What we can learn from Mary is that when God acts, miracles happen, and despite hardship from the human perspective, the arc of history bends towards the justice of God.

Do you see the justice of God in the words of the Magnificat? Can you put your feet in Mary’s sandals? Can you praise God when called to do a hard thing, an unpopular thing, one your family and friends will oppose? Can you understand that God always works toward good and more often than not uses the poor and lowly as the messenger  because they listen and hope for something more.

In the Magnificat, there are five reversals: 1) how Mary understands herself; 2) God will build up the lowly and scatter the prideful, 3) bring down the mighty from their positions of power and lift up those without status or rights; 4) God will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away with nothing; and 5) Israel will receive God’s mercy and compassion. In short, God has a preferential option for the poor and is unimpressed with our social status.

The idea that we can live quiet lives in out of the way places so as to insulate us from the extraordinary is refuted by the surprise visit to Mary. How could a young woman engaged, not married, but in the sixth month of her pregnancy do anything but try to stay away from public scrutiny and familial critique? But when the Holy Spirit is aiming at you, there is no place to hide.

Mary’s vocation and life’s work was to hold in her arms the God of love that we might hold in our hearts, the love of God.  Thus, following the example of Mary, we too share the call to bear Christ’s love to a hurting world.

If you want to see a miracle, open your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit of God.

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