Year B Fourth Sunday of Advent Sermon to Pohick Church
Luke 1:47-55 and Luke 1: 26-38
Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi, Rector
Ever since I was a little girl, Mary has captured my spiritual imagination. Mary was the one God chose to bear his Son. And Mary was the one who said Yes.
It could be that my fascination began on May Day. I vividly recall my first-grade class singing Ave Maria and scattering flowers at the foot of Mary’s statue.
Quite likely, my love for Mary was ignited as I encountered the genuine devotion of my own Mother. She taught me the prayer echoing the Angel’s message to Mary: Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is With Thee…Blessed art thou amongst women, and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
During a trip to the Holy Land a few years ago, I visited the cave in Nazareth where the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary. Found underneath the floor of the Church of the Annunciation, the Grotto is believed to be Mary’s childhood home, in a time when Nazareth had only about 40 families. At the Grotto, I came upon a young Palestinian nun oblivious to my presence. Kneeling before that dark cave lit by a single lamp, her face was transfixed.
Tears filled my eyes as I recognized her sacrifice and devotion. Doubtless, like Mary, she’d had her own life disrupted forever, when she heard a most unexpected call.
I realized with a rush of gratitude, how many like her — men and women of all nations — have borne Jesus Christ to the world during the last two thousand years! How many, in their own way, have felt unworthy and yet followed Mary’s example of humility and trust in God’s plan. How many have uttered that one, simple word: “Yes!”
Sounds easy, to just say an immediate Yes to God, right? I wondered whether that young nun at the Grotto said “Yes” right away? Surely, she had her doubts, or needed more clarity. Maybe she even responded like Mary does, asking: “How can this be?”
How can this be, that the Creator of the Universe would choose this tiny village? How can this be, that an angel of the Lord announces to this unwed teenage girl she is chosen as Theotokos, as Mother of God?
How, indeed, can this be, and how can it be that she assents?
The Angel reassures Mary, telling her not to be afraid. Then Gabriel explains that God is able do anything with anybody, anytime, saying: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” Then he supports this claim, adding the shocking news that her aging cousin Elizabeth is pregnant: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mary responds with a song of praise and thanksgiving. Her Magnificat recalls the countless ways God has kept his promises, reversed people’s situations, and redeemed humanity. Mary answers her own question, “How can this be,” with this conclusion: God has been, and will always be, doing surprising things with unlikely people – including herself.
As Mary realizes she has been called to exit the realm of predictability and open herself to the unimaginable, she utters a resounding Yes!: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Notice how Mary responds with great wisdom for one so young: First she looks back to Israel’s past and gives thanks for what God has already done. Then she says Yes to her future: Bearing Salvation to the World. In saying Yes, she discovers her life’s meaning and purpose.
Mary’s remarkable response was echoed by the late Dag Hammarskjold, a United Nations Secretary General who wom the Nobel Peace Prize. He was killed in 1961 in a mysterious airplane crash over the Congo. Found near the wreckage, Hammarskjold’s journal contained his final entry:
“I don’t know Who – or what – put the question; I don’t know when it was put. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone — or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful, and that therefore my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”*
When has God nudged you to do something unexpected, unpredictable, even unimaginable?
There have been times Tom and I have been stunned by what God was asking us to do. Shaking his head, Tom told the Commission on Ministry in Texas: “I didn’t marry a priest, but today I know nothing gives Lynn more joy than being with hurting people.” And to this day, I am still “pinching myself” with joy, that I was called to this lively, historic Pohick Church. God does have a plan for our lives’ meaning and purpose. And daily, I am still learning to say Yes!
When have you struggled with saying Yes to God? You can consider this question in regard to your life’s calling. You can also examine your responses in your daily life.
Today we face all kinds of unexpected, unpredictable, unimaginable circumstances. We have been suffering nearly a year in a pandemic. We have been asked to surrender and say Yes to new and unsettling demands over and over again. We fear for our lives and families. And we find ourselves crying out, “How can this be?”
Hopefully we are looking down the final stretch of this global crisis. Salvation has arrived in the form of a vaccine. But we still have a few months of midwinter bleakness to endure. How will we choose to say Yes for the sake of the Kingdom of God?
Maybe we can practice saying Yes consciously as Mary did: First, giving thanks for all God has done, then trusting what He will do. We can say…
- Yes to the love, mercy and forgiveness the Lord offers unconditionally, even when we are at our worst, losing patience, losing hope.
- Yes to taking the vaccine when it’s available, for the sake of the world.
- Yes to social distancing. Such as persevering through home-schooling combined with tele-commuting for the sake of our families.
- Yes to caring for others, to reaching out. I know of several who have answered calls to do so. Recently a young woman in our parish shared she feels nudged to start a Bible study for mothers juggling careers and children at home!
- Yes to sacrificing in-person worship and fellowship. And ultimately, when all this is over, allowing God space “in our wombs” to bear Christ to the world in unexpected ways.
Presented with the unpredictable, unexpected, and unimaginable – Mary trusted and said Yes. Like Mary, I pray that you and I will continue to listen for God’s particular call to bear Christ to the world — and answer “Yes!”
I close with this poem by David Scott:
In such an ordinary room the angel came skidding to rest:
she on a bench of prayer he to get news off his chest.
Arriving can happen like that on the day that you least expect
when the washing’s on the line and you’ve no idea what’s next.
He was such a gentle angel with a lily in his hand,
and his eyes so meekly angled you have to understand.
The King is in search of a Kingdom; the time to be born is soon,
and God want you to house him in the byre of your womb.
She sat still as the chair staring at the cool, tiled floor
and the silence was deeper there, than she’d ever heard before.
Neither knew how to break it. Neither was wanting to press.
It was probably only a minute but it felt like an hour to say ‘yes’.
‘Yes’ was the shape of the farmhouse. ‘Yes’ were the trunks of the trees.
‘Yes’ was the gate on its hinges. ‘Yes’ brought the world to its knees.
(Beyond the Drift: New & Selected Poems, p. 173, Bloodaxe Books, 2014)
*From Markings, 1964, by Dag Hammarskjold