Weekly Gospel Reflection — The Fourth Sunday of Advent
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, G‑d sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a young woman named Mary who was promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord’s with you and has greatly blessed you!”
Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and wondered what his words meant. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; G‑d’s been gracious to you. You’ll become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you’ll name him Jesus. He’ll be great and will be called the Son of the Most High G‑d. The Lord G‑d will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he’ll be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”
Mary said to the angel, “I’m a virgin. How, then, can this be?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and G‑d’s power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of G‑d. Remember your relative Elizabeth. It’s said that she can’t have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she’s very old. For there’s nothing that G‑d can’t do.”
“I’m the Lord's servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you’ve said.” And the angel left her.
I can still see the image of former President Bill Clinton on the television screen —
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
We all knew he was lying. This was just the typical spin politicians use all the time to remove the spotlight from themselves and focus it on someone else’s faults.
That the way a lot of people see today’s Gospel lesson. “There’s no way that’s true,” they decry. “It must have been a made up story to cover up the fact that Mary was pregnant out of wedlock.” In other words, we’re too smart now to believe that obviously made up story.
But as Tom Wright points out when he commented on this passage —
“The ancient world didn’t know about X chromosomes and Y chromosomes, but they knew well as we do that babies were the result of sexual intercouse, and that people who claimed to be pregnant by other means might well be covering up a moral and social offence. Yet Mary’s story is told by both Luke and Matthew, in version so different that they can hardly be dependent on one another; in other words, the story seems to have been widely known in the very early church, rather than being a fantasy invented several generations after the fact. Why would these two writers, and devout Jewish Christian congregations that passed on such stories, have done so, giving hostages to fortune in this way, unless they had good reason to suppose they were true?”2
Why would they indeed? If someone was to “make up” a story, they wouldn’t have made it so incredulous (The same goes for the stories about the resurrection. There’s a great story about a debate between Origen and a pagan king about believing the resurrection because it came from the testimony of women!).
There’s also the political aspect of this story. Gabriel states that Mary will give birth to the world’s true king. That revelation had major implications for Luke’s world. If Jesus is the world’s true king — and embodies what kingship really looks like — then that means Caesar isn’t.
That revelation reaches through time into our day, too. If Jesus is the world’s true ruler, then all the world rulers really aren’t — President or Prime Minister or Dictator, it doesn’t matter. As I’ve stated before, the story the New Testament tells is that Jesus is the true Ruler of Creation — it doesn’t matter if one believes that or not. That’s just the way it is.
All of that to say, I know we’re supposed to talk about nothing being impossible for G-d, but that’s not what struck me about this passage. What stood out to me was the beginning of the second paragraph, “Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message…” Why would Mary be “deeply troubled”? Gabriel had said to her, “Peace be with you! The Lord’s with you and has greatly blessed you!” Why was this troubling?
Maybe she thought her life wasn’t “greatly blessed” or even “blessed” at all, for that matter. I know I can relate to that. There are times when I think my life is so full of trouble — bills, emergencies, personal conflicts, helplessness, stress, rut, boredom, being taken advantage of, forgotten, unloved, etc., etc. Sometimes the day-in-and-day-out of life just seems to press on me until it feels like it’s trying to grind me into pulp. And I never have had an angel drop by to say, “Hey! You’re greatly blessed by G-d!”
Or maybe I have…
Maybe I’m just so focused on other things that I don’t see the blessing in front of me. I have a wife who loves and supports me. I have a daughter who is so caring and kind. They both help me to be a better person. I have faithful friends. I have loving furry companions. I’m healthy, have a roof over my head, a warm bed, and food to eat. I have a job that I love and I have the privilege of serving others.
Maybe, like Mary, you too may think that you don’t have much blessings in your life. On this last day of advent, let’s pause and look over our lives and, with eyes wide open, see all of the blessings that G-d has given to us. As the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is, ‘Thank you,’ that would be enough.”
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. Scripture quotations marked (GNT) are from the Good News Translation in Today’s English Version — Second Edition. Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.
2. Wright, N. T., Luke for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone), pg. 9. Copyright © 2001, 2004 Nicholas Thomas Wright; SPCK.