Luke 1: 26-56
At the Wesley Foundation, we talk a lot about call stories. Time and again, we notice that when God picks someone out to call forward into the next part of life, into the promise of God, into more life than they thought possible before the call – time and again we hear these people say, basically, “Who? Me?”
Moses tries to get out of his call for a long time. Who am I to go to Egypt? Well, who am I supposed to say sent me? What if they don’t listen to me? You know, I’m a horrible public speaker (Exodus 2 -4:17). God says to Jeremiah, I have known you since before I formed you in your mother’s womb and I appoint you now as a prophet to the nations. And Jeremiah responds? You can’t be serious, God. I am only a boy! (Jeremiah 1: 4-5). Senior citizen Sarah hears the angel telling her husband Abraham that she’s going to have a baby and she laughs out loud: Right, with a husband his age?! (Genesis 18: 1-15).
It’s the thing most biblical people – and maybe most of us, too – have in common: the absolute clarity of conviction when God comes a-calling that we are positively, definitely, no-wiggle-room, not the ones for the job.
And then we come to Mary’s story. Among the traditions is one that has Mary quietly reading when the angel Gabriel appears. He flutters in and announces greetings from God, calls her “favored” (Lk. 1: 28), and tells her that God is with her.
All of our biblical training before Mary would lead us to think she might say something like, “Sorry, Gabe. I don’t think you mean me. You must be looking for Rachel in the house next door. I’m just Mary.” But instead, Luke tells us, “she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (v. 29). Perplexed, but open, still listening, waiting to hear where this is going.
And Gabriel lays it all out. She’s going to conceive and have a baby boy named Jesus, whom God will give the throne of David. Jesus will be called the Son of the Most High.
And Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34). I think there are some who read this question from Mary as a “Who? Me?” moment. I think some people hear her saying, dismissively, “How can this be? Don’t you know I’m a virgin? Impossible!” It would make sense. Mary’s heard all those biblical call stories, too.
But it’s not how I hear her. I hear wonder and awe in her question. You know how a small child is when he picks up something new and shiny and delightful? You know how he will just look at it, take it in, and marvel at it? He might even say something like, “How can it be this pretty and shiny?” That’s awe. That’s wonder and delight.
And that’s how I hear Mary’s question: How can this be? Mary asks this one awe-filled question – and then offers herself as a vehicle for God.
Advent is the time we set aside to prepare ourselves for Christmas. It’s for watching and waiting and trying to stay awake to see how God will sneak or stride into our lives next. Commercials and pop culture are incessantly focused on the wonder of Christmas – and it is wonderful. But it will be wonderful when we arrive there, especially having taken the road through Advent. Especially having invited awe and wonder and delight into our days of waiting.
As you observe these days of Advent, I leave you with a poem by Robert Siegel called “Annunciation.” May this attentive, awe-filled, wonder-struck Mary be a real and helpful companion to you on your way (from A Pentecost of Finches, Robert Siegel, 2006, Paraclete Press: Massachusetts, p.34):
She didn’t notice at first the air had changed.
She didn’t, because she had no expectation
except the moment and what she was doing, absorbed
in it without the slightest reservation.
Things grew brighter, more distinct, themselves,
in a way beyond explaining. This was her home,
yet somehow things grew more homelike. Jars on the shelves
gleamed sharply: tomatoes, peaches, even the crumbs
on the table grew heavy with meaning and a sure repose
as if they were forever. When at last she saw
from the corner of her eye the gold fringe of his robe
she felt no fear, only a glad awe,
the Word already deep inside her as she replied
yes to that she’d chosen all her life.
Thanks be to God!
© Deborah E. Lewis 2010