Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent Reflection: Mary Our Model for Joining the Story

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b]the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

When did you stop anticipating adventure, dear reader? When did you cease hoping for surprise? How is it that you came to expect only that which has been before? When did you stop trusting the Supreme Storyteller?

The storytellers of our world tells us what to expect: the same old. You know, death, taxes, and a lot of entertainment in between. The storytellers who would prefer to make profit off of us this Christmas season tell us not to expect surprise or anything New, but rather to expect the same old shopping experience, the same old politics, and the same old dreams.

It is no wonder we stop listening for a different story.

Mary, too, could not dream of any New Story. Her first and natural response is reasonable: How can this be!? Mary's natural response is guided by the status quo. She knows all too well the old story of the pax Romana: Roman client kings and pseudo-priests in the Jerusalem Temple trying to push their own agendas. She knows the plight of her exiled and scattered people. "How long, O Lord, before something different?" Hence her natural response: But how?

Perhaps the messenger doesn't reveal how the Story will work because the Story doesn't operate within the laws of the status quo. Could Mary even understand it if it was explained? The messenger does not offer a logical strategy; instead he offers hope: Your formerly-barren relative, Elizabeth, is in her sixth month with child! New things are possible!

Mary's ultimate response is our model: "Let it happen to me according to your word." Her words Let it happen to me demonstrate that Mary is going to join in on something that God is already doing; not that she's going to go and carry out something on her own volition. The Greek word translated "Let it happen" is γένοιτό. It comes from the Greek word γίνομαι, which essentially means "to come into being" or "to become." Hence, Mary is finally understanding the way God's Story unfolds: it is radically New. It does not come from past events or out of the status quo; it is that which has never been that comes into being.

God's Story is S U R P R I S E . Do not look for it in the fabric of the "same old." It comes to us in the invitation to the New.

Mary qualifies her response by stating, "... according to your word." This, too, is exemplar for us because Mary demonstrates that responding to God's Story requires believing in it. Mary illustrates that in order to respond to God's invitation we must dare to hold God to God's promises. "Let it happen to me according to your word." The offer to join the Story demands precisely that we hope in it.

Again, I remind you, reader, that Advent means "Coming." Kind of like that word γίνομαι, which means "to come into being." What is coming? A New Story. Something different than the same old. A Story that never ends. Who is coming? The One who brings the New. The One whose reign shall have no end.

What's this? A surprise? A better story? Let it happen to me according to your word.


  1. Thanks for the reflection, Josh. For obvious reasons I've been focusing my advent reflections on the story from Mary's perspective this year and it's been refreshing and beautiful- a reminder to be hopeful, obedient, and to embrace the overwhelming love and adventure that comes when one chooses to follow Christ with all they have. And in mary's case, this was only possible because of the hope she had..."The offer to join the Story demands precisely that we hope in it."