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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, April 4, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:26–38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (NRSV)

Author Malcolm Gladwell provocatively suggested in his 2008 book Outliers that research suggests 10,000 hours of practice are required for someone to feel confident mastering a new skill or subject. While the point remains much debated, I’m actually struck by how little preparation many people have in God’s story. So many of the persons surrounding the birth of Jesus considered themselves improbable contributors to the sacred story of redemption unfolding around them. They associated such lofty endeavors with those who had the right credentials, heritage, or who fit the popular model of change makers.

Their natural reaction to their unlikely inclusion as an instrument of God is neatly encapsulated in Mary’s “How will this be?” Anyone contemplating their own shortcomings might be familiar with her sentiment. Many of us might have whispered something similar under our breath when encountering a formidable situation that calls for our involvement. “I’m too old,” we say. Or “I’m too poor.” “I’m not well-versed.” “I’m not yet ready.” But “How will this be?” is also a place scripture holds for us to hallow our feelings of doubt, disbelief, and earnest longing while the Spirit does its work in us.

The good and troubling response to our unreadiness is that God is indeed ready. It’s not according to our schedule or appointments but according to God’s indelible sense of timing that we are being prepared for a mission that will propel us to be more than we thought we could be. I doubt Mary stopped doubting in that moment when the angel told her what was to come. But in spite of her air of hesitancy, she responds, “May it be.” May it be a comfort to us that God does not ask us to be 100 percent prepared. God does not ask us to be fully assured of the outcome, only ready to begin.

You invite us, Holy One, to join you in the adventure of a lifetime. Remove from us our hesitancy. Bolster our courage. Help us remember that we are capable of that to which you call us. In your Word and through your Spirit, we have strength enough to follow you. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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