Fourth Sunday in Advent

by Crossings

Luke 1:26-38
(Fourth Sunday in Advent)
analysis by Michael Hoy

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for your have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The 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. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God. 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

DIAGNOSIS: Hearing unfavorable greetings

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Impossible
What is within the realm of possibility is that there are people engaged to be married, living in towns like Nazareth in places like Galilee. But visitations by divine messengers? That is beyond the scientific purview. And if you think that is impossible, consider the message that one particular virgin, Mary, would become the mother of God through the Holy Spirit and the overshadowing of the power of the Most High.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Immobile
To be sure, Mary doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But it’s not simply that she isn’t going anywhere physically that’s the problem. Even if she were, physically bustling about (as many of us are in the late weeks of Advent), she may still not be going anywhere. We, with Mary, are going nowhere, maybe fast. The problem is that when the divine greeter/greeting comes to Mary, she is perplexed and pondering “what sort of greeting this might be.” Notice that it is the salutation itself that leads to her anxious wondering: “The Lord is with you.” In our unfaith of deciding what is possible and what is not, we have shut God out of the picture — at least a God who is actually “with” us. That is more than we can bear. How can we bear God? Mary and we are asking the same question, but we are motionless in our fear.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Impassable
What Mary is aware of is that when God comes visiting, it is not necessarily a good sign. Having God “with” us is not necessarily good news. God, the holy, could be coming to hold us, the unholy, accountable, and we cannot traverse the gap between God and us.

PROGNOSIS: Hearing the good news: favored greetings

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Bridging the pass
But what if, as is in fact the case, this messenger brings “good” news, news of “favor.” God is not coming to judge us in our unholiness, but to make us, the unholy, blessed by the “holy” Child, Jesus, the Son of the Most High. He is to be born as one “with” us — a human being, coming in this form in order to give to us his holiness while sharing all our unholy prospects, even to the divine degree.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Budging
That prospect, in all its fullness, had not “crossed” Mary’s mind and heart, but when it does, then she can see new lights going on, moving her out of her immobility into a declaration of faith: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” Not only does Mary affirm that God’s new oneness with us is something promising, but that she is going places with this God, this Lord who is with us. That gets us off and running — and with God.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Conceivable
And the divine presence of God through our faith is now conceivable, among us humans. Nothing will be impossible. Think of that when you bring the salutation to another, as one of God’s own divine messengers, “The Lord be with you.” And wait with joyful anticipation for the response, “And also with you.” There is much favor — heavenly, holy, blessed favor — to spread about.


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