Sermon for Advent 4B: Praying on the Spaces

This is it. This is the last Sunday of Advent. In a few days, we’ll light all the candles on the Advent wreath, and we’ll sing to the baby as we light the big white one in the center. But we’re not there yet. Right now, we are with Mary, who is talking to the angel Gabriel. He says, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Gabriel hasn’t really told her anything, and already Mary is confused. The people in that time and place were indescribably poor. What reason would there possibly be that she was anointed in some way…………….?

Praying on the spaces.

Luke says, “she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” To me, it was the entire reason she was willing to submit to Gabriel’s words in the first place. She could take by faith that whatever he said, it was going to change her life in a way that nothing else would. After living in hardship, she’d seen the path of her life change in front of her eyes, and she didn’t even know what Gabriel was going to say.

I trust Luke’s assessment of the situation; he was a doctor, and doctors tend to be very pragmatic about their subjects. But still, I wonder what was in the spaces more than the words themselves. To the observer, it seems as if she is having a moment of doubt that she is worthy of such a visit. Why should she be? Nazareth is basically an armpit and no one famous has come from there so far…………..

Praying on the spaces.

I can hear Mary’s mind calculating as the scene unfolds. I’ve seen it, and so have you if you’ve seen even one episode of Doctor Who. It’s the look on the companions’ faces when they find out the enormity of scale involved in what they’re being asked to do… and then there’s that second look. The determined face of a companion who runs toward the big blue box no matter what is waiting for them inside.

Mary saw the angel coming, and was ready to say yes before he even started to speak. Whatever the angel needed, if she was capable, she was willing. Gabriel saw that look in her eyes, because the first words he spoke to her were, “fear not.”

She could rest in his comfort, see with her own eyes that an angel was asking her to serve. He told her the magnitude of what her sacrifice would mean (no matter whether the pregnancy is wanted, it’s still a sacrifice, amen?). She emerged from that conversation a different person than when it began.

Some theologians say that Mary had doubts; I will not go that far. Just because you have willingness doesn’t mean you don’t get to be curious about the process. No matter what anyone asks of you, saying yes doesn’t mean you lose the right to ask questions. Mary’s cry of “how can this be?” is not of doubt. It is of process. How can God change me so that this can happen……………….?

Praying on the spaces.

In our first week, we were waiting for the baby. In our second week, we were watching for the signs. In our third week, we changed directions and explored what to do while watching and waiting. This week completes the diamond and we run toward home (praying on the bases?). In these scriptures, we learn how to interpret all of the signs that we’re seeing so that when our own angels show up, we don’t waste time on our own disbelief.

Mary didn’t.

If believing that a virgin agreed to carry a holy child is just too hard a leap for you, believe this. The more you cut yourself off from light, you don’t have the ability to see providence, either. Mary did not respond to Gabriel with fear. She was surprised that she had been chosen, but beyond that, her willingness was assured. She said yes out of belief, and not of proof. She could see the things that would be, not as they are.

And that is where you come in. The more you limit yourself from possibility, the more you cut yourself off from life in its best definition… the kind that rises above survival. The kind that gives you a third-person omniscient view of the world and your place in it. You can only see things as they are, and not how they would have been if you’d been willing to say yes.

Mary did.

Her belief in herself has led to a wonderful legacy. Her “yes” has become a symbol of motherhood everywhere, because her belief in herself allowed her to believe Gabriel when he said, “nothing is impossible for God.”

My question to you on this last Sunday of Advent is “what are you going to do with your ‘yes?’” Mary’s allowed her the strength to endure pregnancy at a time when bringing a child into the world was fraught with danger, even if no one knew who he was. Mary’s agreement set in motion a movement that would last centuries. It is only the limitation of your mind that determines what you’re going to say with yours.

In Mary’s case, an angel literally walked in and started talking to her. She was moved because he was obviously, well, an angel. In modern day, how do we decide who our angels are? How do we decide where to place our “yesses?” It is not a one-time process. It is literally putting yourself out there, over and over, because angels and demons are rare in the human race. Everyone has elements of each.

President Lincoln wrote one of the most famous lines of all time in his first inaugural address pleading for unity. “…touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

“Touched… by the better angels of our nature” is emotional shorthand for the parts of ourselves that are open to the possibility of birth. New ideas cannot flourish in a barren landscape. Our better angels are the selves that talk about all they can do rather than what they cannot, and that shred of self-worth starts to multiply until we can sing our own Magnificats because we have said “yes” before the question is even asked because we are presenting our own better angels in reception of others. Our light is your invitation, just as Gabriel’s was for Mary.

The thing about one “yes” is that it often leads to a series of fortunate events.

Waiting for the baby.

Watching for the signs.

Praying on the spaces…………………………………..

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