From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
When God calls us, God equips us with holy strength and human support. No one bears God’s word alone, and yet, nothing can make us available to God but the state of our hearts and spirits. The refiner’s fire can have many manifestations. It is a call to repentance, introspection, and communal engagement. During Advent there is a need to be called apart from and called into a journey with the community of God.
No amount or configuration of words can do justice to the experience of the Annunciation. How does one describe the descent of a message-laden angel to the home of a seemingly average teenage girl to tell her that the Spirit of God will soon inhabit her youthful womb and she will give birth to the Son of God? There are not enough words in any language to capture that event. And yet what we have in scripture affords us some idea of what God is like and what faithful servanthood resembles.
In chapter one of Luke’s gospel we learn that God is not bound by our expectations or limitations. God presumably believes that we are more capable than we think to endure certain experiences and to assist God in divine work in the world. God also anticipates our needs in fulfilling God’s desires for us. The fact that Mary found favor with God indicates a previously existing awareness and attention to Mary before Gabriel’s visit. This is a good reminder when we are tempted to think God has forgotten us. God is always aware of us. God embraces our questions and is capable of responding to us regardless of what we think of God’s response.
We see varied aspects of the faith journey played out through the responses of the Advent characters. Zechariah’s questioning of Gabriel hints at our normal tendency to doubt what sounds too good to be true and what is beyond our capacity to imagine. Elizabeth’s seclusion and John’s sojourn in the wilderness suggests the wisdom of acknowledging that certain seasons do call us to time apart with God. In the Annunciation narrative, Mary’s quiet courage, boldness of spirit, and obedience to God speak greatly of her devotion to God.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
- How might Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s surprising visit have been different?
- What other emotions might we have expected from someone in Mary’s situation?
- Meditate on verses 19-20: And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believes not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
- Think outside of your immediate community and consider to what group of people today could this passage be good news?
Spend some intentional time in prayer over the next week asking God to open your eyes to someone whom you might normally pass over. Reflect on why you have not paid attention to this particular person before. Ask God if there is anything for you to learn about what it means to be a part of God’s family from this new awareness.