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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Here Am I

Advent 4, Year B
Luke 1:26-38
Announcements fill our lives, demanding our attention. There's junk mail that insists "OPEN IMMEDIATELY," and banners running across the bottom of the TV news as if the information conveyed by the reporter couldn't possibly be comprehensive and rapid enough; sirens warning us to beware and loudspeakers blaring in stores; even billboards soliciting from the sky. More personal announcements come to us as well: a tearful phone call, a jubilant e-mail, a pleading text message, a sick or scared family member crying out in the night. The more our media sources proliferate, the more announcements come our way…and, possibly, the less attention we pay to any of them.

I'm guessing that, in the absence of electronic devices, Mary was less assaulted by announcements than we are. However, then or now, I am pretty sure no one would anticipate a message being delivered by an angel, right there in front of you, apparently speaking clear as day. It's to Mary's credit if the extent of her reaction was "perplexed" as described in Luke's gospel; I doubt mine would be anything nearly that collected.

Have you ever wondered if God tried out this announcement on anyone before Mary, someone who brushed off Gabriel as a hallucination or fainted in shock or immediately concluded that the whole idea was so bizarre as to be impossible? Perhaps, by some gift of her personality, Mary was simply the sort of person who was predisposed toward listening, was really good at paying attention. Moses seems to have been like that; he noticed the bush burning but not consumed, and hung in there for all the commandments not just once but twice, and regularly chatted with God. So maybe, in part, God picked Mary because God knew Mary would at least listen to the announcement before making up her mind. Because if God could get her to hear, truly hear, this message that was part request and part proclamation, then how could she refuse her calling? This child was to be great, the Son of the Most High, on the throne of his ancestor David, reigning over a kingdom that would have no end. Really, how could you say no to that??

So Mary listened, and she said yes, and the world was changed, just like that.

If it could happen to Mary, why couldn't it happen to us? Oh, not another Messiah, but an announcement that calls us to an undertaking that changes the world, just like that, but in a new way. Can we trust that each one of us is every bit as beloved and essential and highly-favored as Mary, and with an equally important role to play in the work of the Spirit? I'm almost hesitant to suggest the idea, because it feels so weighty, so improbable, so…BIG. But if I don't say it, then I'm allowing myself to doubt that it could happen, to question whether the kingdom of God really is breaking into our midst, with us—the children of God—as part of that amazing process. So I'm going with saying it, and believing it, and maybe even daring to expect it.

I won't rule out the angel thing, but I think God has a lot of choices for making announcements to us, for calling us to participate in God's purposes. We might have someone speak to us, with an earnest plea or a casual remark, causing us to stop and think, or we may read something that has the same effect, the feeling that those words were meant specifically for us. A dream, an insight or intuition, a voice or vision that comes to us privately…all are ways that God calls us, if we're paying attention. It's worth asking ourselves also for whom we might be the messenger, the one God is using to give voice to a call for that person. No, the difficulty is not in the means of delivery, but in getting us to listen and to sort out the important messages in the midst of so many mindless ones.

Of course, there's a part 2 to this: will we, like Mary, assent to God's call? Ponder what God's favor meant for the rest of Mary's life; I'm sure she didn't anticipate the high cost, the heartbreak, of being chosen. Will we take the chance of offering our whole selves to God? Are we brave enough and foolish enough to allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Because I don't think God assaults us like a commando, compelling us to cooperate, I figure it's not enough simply to hear the call. We need to respond willingly, even if we're not quite clear on the details, which is probably the rule rather than the exception when it comes to God's business. God seeks our active participation in the creative process, and I can almost picture all the angels holding their breath while God waits patiently to see what we'll say.

The call may not seem nearly as dramatic as having Gabriel suddenly land in front of you, but the choice is still ours:
  • There's someone hungry…here am I, a servant of God, with a bag of rice or a box of cereal.
  • There's someone lonely…here am I, a servant of God, with an invitation to lunch or a phone call.
  • There's someone grieving…here am I, a servant of God, with kleenex and a listening ear.
  • There's someone being bullied or intimidated…here am I, a servant of a servant of God, with a protective arm of friendship.
  • There's someone suffering from injustice… here am I, a servant of God, with a voice and a vote.
  • There's someone whose life feels empty…here am I, a servant of God, with a gently-told story of the difference God’s love makes in my life.
  • There's someone who is too young, too old, too awkward, too poor, too different, too challenging to be noticed and included…here am I, a servant of God, to treat her as a beloved, essential, highly-favored child of God.
What if we all were to listen, and all say yes? The world might be changed, just like that.

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