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Friday, December 19, 2014

Today’s 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)

The angel’s message is unprecedented, life-altering, and seemingly far beyond anything Mary would have anticipated as a young girl of humble situation in her time. Poet Ann Weems captures the audacity of the annunciation in her poem “Mary, Nazareth Girl:”“What did you know of ethereal beings with messages from God? What did you know of men when you found yourself with child?

In a memorable Fourth Church sermon years ago, reference was made to a Fra Angelico fresco of  “a wonderfully mysterious moment when heaven and earth momentarily meet and God chooses an ordinary young girl to be the instrument of God’s mercy and love and grace.” In a moment of profound presence, Mary offers herself to God’s service without recompense or certainty.

I Googled Fra Angelico’s serenely beautiful depiction of the annunciation. I’ve viewed it repeatedly for years, enthralled by young Mary’s composure and deference. 

While it would be gratifying to have angels gently yet assuredly attend us in our Advent waiting, seldom are angels present quietly and obligingly. The question I contemplate is whether I could, despite all my doubts and the reactions of others, navigate fear and judgment to respond in the moment as faithfully as Mary. 
Could it be there are messages for us if we have the faith to listen? My prayer is inspired by a favorite contemporary Christmas song, “Breath of Heaven,” written from Mary’s perspective wherein she questions if she is worthy of being God’s choice.

Do you wonder as you watch my face,
If one wiser should have had my place,
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.

Written by Laura Sterkel, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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