Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2011
For nothing will be impossible with God. Luke 1:37
Imagine you wake to a bright light and this pronouncement: “We now interrupt your regularly scheduled life for a message from God. You, favored one, are about to be shaken up, turned inside out, never to be the same. Your world is about to turn.”
What would you do? Rub your eyes and wonder what kind of dream you just had? Chalk it up to paranormal activity? Hope the UFOs weren’t really landing? Or might you just possibly fall to your knees in wonder, awe, and considerable fear in the presence of the Divine. Could this be a glimpse of life beyond the usual?
“Oh, sure,” you might be snickering. “God doesn’t work like that in real life. Get a grip!” Can you really be so sure? In our gospel reading from Luke, the angel reminds a young teenage girl from a dirtwater town that nothing is truly out of the realm of imagination or possibility when God’s in the mix. Why is it that we 21st century folk have such a hard time conceiving of a God who works in powerful, mysterious, and yes, even miraculous ways?
Rationalism attempts to tame God within the limits of the logical, thinking intellect and to consign God to a pale construct of the irrational mind–to explain away any mystery and wonder. Too often the world views ecstatic and emotional faith with suspicion and more than a little discomfort. It dismisses faith in a Divine Creator as irrelevant and impossible, a touch naÃ¯ve. Consider the poet Robert Lowell’s withering observation of the Divine in the sonnet “Watchmaker God:”
There’s a pale romance to the watchmaker God
Of Descartes and Paley; He drafted and installed
us in the Apparatus. He loved to tinker;
but having perfected what he had to do,
stood off shrouded in his loneliness.
The world as we know it spins on in the cosmos, and if God is even really out there somewhere, divine involvement ceased before the closing of the scriptural canon. O.K., enough gloom and doom. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this you believe in a God who is active in our world, whose reign broke into our lives with the lusty cry of an infant born in humble circumstances. If you don’t quite believe, then I trust a strong measure of hope is pushing back the dank creep of reason. We stand again at the fourth Sunday of Advent to hear the words of the young Mary in the Magnificat and to recount the story of the angel’s visit to her and her subsequent participation in the divine plan.
The question is what are we going to do with it, with this day and with this story? Is it simply going to be a nice, tame story on the way to Christmas joy, or is it going to be an incarnational moment for the worshiping community? What does the gathered community need to hear and embody from this story to back into the rough and tumble world in which we live?
Our greatest challenge this week (well, really every week) is to open the windows of our hearts and minds to the wonder and awe, to the real presence of God among us. We must see, hear, taste, and experience that the Lord God is active, present, and leaving the building with us. How truly we need to hear that we, like Mary and because of that precious baby’s birth, are favored by God, beloved of God, and part of God’s plan for redeeming the world. When we think of Mary’s story as related to our own journey as disciples, how God might be working in, with, and through us, then life as we know it suddenly becomes something entirely different. Divine interruption, the advent of the turning of the world, and life beyond the usual all become very real indeed. Now that is some very good news.
Consider including the hymn “The Canticle of the Turning” by Rory Cooney (1990, GIA Publications Inc.) in your worship this week. The tune is the traditional Irish “Star of the County Down,” and the words are a fresh take on the Magnificat. For ELCA Lutherans, it’s ELW #723. Click here for a version created by Michelle Sherliza OP featuring the music of Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney and Theresa Donohoo.
Consider the question “What does it mean to be a God-bearer to the world?” Eastern Orthodox Christians call Mary “Theotokos” (Î˜ÎµÎ¿Ï„Î¿ÎºÎ¿Ï‚) or “God-bearer.” How do we as Christians (little Christs) bear God into the world? Can we be filled with the Spirit of God in a way that allows it to shine from us in all we say and do? Can we through our life and witness point others to Christ? How do we do this within and using our own pop culture?
Explore what it means to be a “favored one” of God. The angel, Gabriel, announced to a young Mary “Greetings, favored one! The LORD is with you” (Luke 1:28b). Remind children that as children of God who received the gift of God’s Spirit in baptism, we are favored ones of God, too. Talk about what it means to be favored–to be loved, cherished, and blessed. We are favored ones of our parents, of aunts and uncles, people in the congregation, but most importantly, we are favored ones of God. We also can say “yes” to God and follow God’s will for our lives, sharing good news, healing and hope with the world.