Greetings, Favoured one! The Lord is with you! What a strange greeting, in the midst of such a strange year. What is to be favoured in this time of isolation and separation? What is to be celebrated with excitement and cheery greeting, in this time of death and sickness? We are on the eve of our darkest night church, a darkness both in our life and in our world, that as St John of the Cross reveals in his poem of the same name, leads us into the light of a new day, a new day enrobed in the mystical union with the divine. St. John, a 16th century spanish mystic and poet, in writing “ the dark night of the soul” sought to bring language to enable us to embrace the divine union with God in our midst. An embrace, a yes to God, that is taking place in the challenges we are now facing. One thing Advent has taught us is that darkness does not last, for every sunset there is a sunrise, and in the ebb and flow of that setting and rising we are given another chance to embrace, to say yes to, this mystical union with God. A mystical union Mary teaches us how to say yes to, today.
Mary’s yes comes through twice this morning, both in our canticle and our gospel reading. Luke does a marvelous job of making Mary seem irrelevant to the story, in the way it records her response. This passive conversation we hear has been unfortunately interpreted throughout history as a model for female obedience and piety, when in actual fact it's a statement of profound power. It's important for us to remember that Luke-Acts is focused on the intervention of God in the salvation of the world, it is God who acts not us, and thus does a robust job of making all humans seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things. For Luke-Acts, salvation and God's desire for salvation is paramount to human voice. So why do we hear about this on the cusp of Christmas, in the depths of Advent? We hear it now as a reminder of God's promise to us, a promise of presence that comes to us at Christmas, both the Christmas we anticipate in a few days and the Christmas yet to come. This is the tension of the Advent journey, in that we continue to look back in remembrance while we look forward in anticipation. So for us to hear of the mystical union presented through Mary's Yes to God, it's a moment of intense pause for us as we look forward in wonder at what's about to happen. We wonder, not just at the story, but about the practicality. Surely Christmas 2020 is canceled, yet God is still preparing God's self to come and Mary’s yes still rings out today just as loudly as the first day it was spoken, and that's just the point this morning. Mary's yes, in the midst of this time for us is a Yes to God’s ability and desire to go beyond our human boundaries and limitations to be with us. A desire which is both memorial and a birthday.
Artist and Storyteller Scott Erickson suggests that what we are hearing this morning, preparing for this week, is more than just a memorial of a long past moment- its a birthday. Memorials are funerals, times of the past, often of grief for unrealized potential, of moments which cannot be repeated. They are static. Birthdays… now birthdays are both a memorial of what has been as well as a desire for what is to come, right? We look back on our birthdays at all the things we’ve achieved, the people we meet, the jobs we’ve held, the ways we’ve failed and thrived, while looking forward to a year of growth and development- hopefully learning from our challenges and thriving in achieving our dreams. This birthday we prepare for however is about God’s dreams in God's time. God’s dreams and God’s time are the preparation we are making as we walk through Advent, as we see for ourselves just how present God has been through all our lives from the prophets and covenants right down to you and I today. We are seeing and hearing just how and where God has moved to embrace us in our world, to come into union with us, to fulfill God’s dreams of being closer to us, despite all the times we’ve ignored God. Mary could have easily ignored God, chopped this whole Gabriel moment up to a stress induced panic attack, and quietly carried on. Yet she didn’t, she saw the power of the union presented to her today and dared to say yes, a very human and very real yes, full of fear and strength, that is still reverberating in our ears today.
Mary so often is represented as this meek and mild woman, who just dutifully and silently accepts God's crazy message in the midst of so many challenges. Yet, as we get to know Mary more, we find her to be a human of fierce and incredible capacity. Luke is the only Gospel where Mary’s response is actually recorded. In Matthew, Mary is talked at. In Luke, Mary talks back and in this gospel women only speak 15 times- making what Mary has to say very important for us. Think about it for a moment. Mary, a young, unwed, socially and economically challenged woman, saying yes to something that would guarantee her shame if not death, in a world that demanded order and control. Women in the biblical world were the property of their husbands, and there to produce children and provide domestic support. They were not there to have a voice or even declare an opinion without permission. But this is just the point, in that God comes to us in Mary- the least likely of us- and announces their entrance into our world, an entrance that will and has upended our understanding of power, authority, and leadership. And it all started with a yes, a yes to possibility, a yes to life, a yes to a divine union with God today. A yes that is preparing the way for what is to come.
You see we have been given a glimpse, this advent, of this preparation of what John the Baptist meant as he’s prepared the way of the Lord within us. John has called us to return to God, and make room for the one who has and is to come. But what is about to come? Well, the inbreaking of the Kingdom, a kingdom of justice, joy, equality, dignity, and peace. A Kingdom where love is the mandate from which all action flows, and through which all humanity is redeemed and saved in Christ. This is why we look back and forward at the same time today through the eyes of Mary’s yes. We look back to see where we have fallen short to live in justice, joy, equality, dignity and peace, and look forward with anticipation knowing that we are not yet redeemed, to a deeper union with God in Christ where we come closer to the freedom offered to us in Christ for all people. It is this freedom, this grace, that Gabriel announces to Mary as dwelling with her. A freedom that opens the space within her for Christ to grow stronger in order to come to us and save us.
Our year, our world, and our lives may be dark today, but the light is coming. Mary's yes ignites a spark that will burn away all the darkness with the quenching new light of love in the birth of Christ. This love, this love promised to us, love given to us, love that comes at Christmas in the gift of grace we call Christ. The promise of love, made known to us in Jesus draws near to the manger again, for tomorrow he will come we are told. And Tomorrow he will come! A coming that will forever change our world, a coming that all started with a yes to a divine union with God. A yes we are asked to ponder in our hearts this week.