Advent 4

May the Lord, when he comes, find us watching and waiting, Amen

Whenever we reach the fourth (and last Sunday) of Advent, as we do today, our focus is on Mary, the mother of Jesus. For it was Mary, with Joseph alongside her, who made the trek to Bethlehem from Nazareth when she was about to give birth. Mary was a young woman, husband to an older Joseph, and so this journey (to register for Roman taxation) wasn’t the way she likely wanted to spend her last days before the birth of her first child. However Joseph had to return to his hometown, Bethlehem and so he brought his wife, sitting on a donkey to make the trip.

The story surrounding Mary and Joseph is told by Luke in today’s gospel passage. Luke tells of an angel (messenger) coming to visit Mary to tell her of the news of her impending pregnancy.

When Mary is perplexed and pondering the messenger’s greeting, the angel says these words: Do not be afraid. This is one of those sayings in the bible that we need to take to heart, especially at the moment. Yes, there are many things happening, of which we have little or no control. Yes, the world is in the middle of a pandemic and people are sick and in hospital, others are in care facilities where there have been outbreaks. Yes, people have died. Yes, the financial situation for some is very difficult and relationships have become strained. There is no reason to downplay this pandemic, but we have to put our trust in God, to remain connected, and do all we can to regulate our mental health and care for ourselves as well as for one another.

Mary was a young woman (perhaps only 17 or 18) when she heard from the angel that she was going to be the mother of Jesus. She had every reason to be afraid, but she trusted in God and the angel who came to see her. Mary placed her trust in God and agreed to be the servant of the Lord, and that is our calling as followers of Christ.

We don’t know very much about Mary. We know she married an older man, who probably died before Jesus began his ministry. So her life had heart-ache. Remember when Jesus aged 12 stayed behind in Jerusalem when the family had gone to the city for Passover; Mary and Joseph had started for home and had to come all the way back to Jerusalem where they found Jesus asking and discussing theological issues at the Temple. And Mary was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when she urged him to provide wine when it ran out at the family wedding in Cana. And imagine her feelings as Mary witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross.

But back to the gospel passage of the day and Mary’s encounter with the angel. After some initial anxiety Mary was reassured by the angel and the words: Do not be afraid. We know these words worked for Mary, because of her ability and desire to trust in God. So having been told she was to have a baby at a tender age and having been comforted by the angel Mary says: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

This is exactly how we should approach our own journeys of faith. We have to listen to what we think God is saying to us, and even if what God suggests seems way beyond us, we have to trust and pray we will be given the means to carry out our work. Like Mary we should offer ourselves to God as servants and say as Mary did: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Mary is often spoken of as the God-bearer because she gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God. I was very taken with this short passage from Brother James Koester, Superior of the Society of St John the Evangelist (based in Boston). He says this …

We say yes to so many things. And sometimes, we say yes to the very thing for which we have been destined from all eternity. When we say yes to God, our yes echoes that of Mary, and like her, we become God-bearers.

This really struck me. Our lives are full of saying yes to so much; many things that are simple and straight-forward, others complex and life-changing. So we might say yes to the second cup of coffee or tea, or we may say yes to getting married, yes to a new job, or yes to retirement. Whether we have another cup of tea likely won’t change our lives, but saying yes to getting married, or yes to a new job or retirement will certainly change our lives.

In the past, there was often a mistaken idea that clergy, medical practitioners and teachers were the people with vocations. Not to say they don’t, but the truth is we all have many vocations in our lives: to change jobs, to train for a career, to enter into a long-term relationship and sometimes to end one, or to live in that city or move somewhere new.

In the Christian way, we understand the notion of the call to assist us to think carefully and pray before we take actions that affect us and other people. My wife once gave up a new job as a Hospital and Hospice Chaplain to enable us to move to Canada for me to take a job that lasted less than 18 months. That seemed like a call from God, but my next job, where I have been for more than 18 years, was more likely the call and the other job was the stepping stone on the way.

Koester says; ‘sometimes, we say yes to the very thing for which we have been destined from all eternity’. So as we think about our lives we may decide in retrospect that the choices we have made, decisions we have taken, are things that ‘we have been destined from all eternity.’ It may be coming to this church or moving to the town where we now live or meeting a particular person who influenced our life and encouraged us to make a change or take some particular action.

And when (in small ways or not so small ways) we say yes to God, our yes echoes the yes of Mary, (says Koester). Mary, who said she would be the bearer of the Christ-child, and therefore became the God-bearer.

As Mary said yes to God, this week, we also have the opportunity to say yes, in opening our hearts and lives once again to welcome the Christ in, for when we do, we too are God bearers, those who bring Christ into the world, to be our light and life, and to be the light and lives of others.