It is hard to imagine what it was like for Mary to have an angel appear to her and greet her with a word of pure grace.
Mary is largely a mystery to us, even though she is revered throughout much of Christendom. Much has been written about her. Some of the most beautiful pieces of church music are set to the words she says in the Gospel of Luke in the verses that follow shortly on the Gospel reading appointed for this day.
My soul magnifies the Lord! My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant!
The scriptures tell us that Mary was a young girl when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Many translations use the word “virgin” instead of “young girl.” That’s how she has been traditionally known—the Virgin Mary. And so it is in Luke’s narrative of the annunciation: Mary has not yet crossed into that realm of womanhood.
From what Luke tells us it does seem that Mary knows what is on the other side of the threshold between childhood and womanhood—the conceiving and bearing and nurturing of children, a life she would share with a man.
And so she is understandably perplexed when the Angel Gabriel tells her she is to bear God’s Son, the long awaited Messiah. She asks, but how can this be, when I have not yet been with a man?
How can this be? It’s a question many of us have, not only when we hear the story of the Nativity, but throughout the year. How can this be?
We stand on one side of a threshold, between where we are now, and where we long to be, and can’t imagine any way across that threshold except for what we’ve been told must happen first. Things can only happen the way we think they’re supposed to happen.
And that’s what Mary must be thinking, until the Angel tells her that God’s power will come upon her and the Holy Spirit overshadow her. And he tells her, “nothing is impossible for God.”
Any time we cross a threshold of any significance, there is usually a question in the back of our minds, will we be able to do this? Do we have what it takes? Are we good enough? Are we doing things the right way?
The answer we hear in Mary’s story is that our limits, real and imagined, do not limit God. Each of us have limits, each of us falls short of the glory of God. God’s grace is stronger than any of our weaknesses and inadequacies.
Mary was certainly limited by her age, gender, and marital status. Yet Mary had the grace and favor and love of God. It didn’t matter that she was inexperienced. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a member of the privileged class. What mattered was that she said yes to God’s love, yes to the Holy Spirit, yes to the belief that nothing is impossible for God, yes to the presence of God growing inside her.
Each of us has been given the same grace and love that Mary received. Because of Mary’s yes, all of us have been chosen and accepted by God. And we, like Mary, are called to cross the threshold into a new maturity and fruitfulness, and be Christ-bearers in our own day.
This is not something we can do on our own, any more than Mary could have conceived and brought forth the Christ child on her own. It is something we look to God to do in us—and with us—and through us as we go through this holiday season and into the New Year.
But this year (I don’t need to tell you) it’s especially hard to see how God is calling us to set aside our assumptions about what God can and cannot do.
The threshold we are looking at today is a worsening pandemic and the uncertainty over when it will be safe for us to regather with our families, our church and our community. Maybe we are thinking, as we await the vaccine, that that’s when we can cross the threshold. That’s when we will know it’s safe. That’s when we will open our hearts to the seeds God will plant in us for that new spring, when everything will be okay.
It is hard to imagine God using this time to plant God’s seed in us, like Mary, who bore a Son in times no less terrible than our own. God has already planted his Word in us.
We don’t need to wait for the pandemic to end before we can feel the Christ child stirring inside us. It is happening already. Just like it says in today’s Canticle: “My Soul Magnifies the Lord!”
When we help to bring about God’s mercy and justice—when we embody and act on the hope that lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things—when we extend the mercy and favor we have received to bless those who do not know God or God’s love—when we find ourselves opening our hearts to God’s blessing and favor toward us—that’s when we feel the stirrings inside us. That’s when we know the Christ child has come to us again.
Through the grace of God, we have been given the opportunity to bear the Christ child and bring him into the world. There isn’t anything more important or more wonderful than this. This is where we find our happiness, our peace, and our joy—when we say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”