December 3, 2017
The Rev. Hannah Hooker
If anyone follows the lectionary closely, they’ll know I substituted today’s gospel reading. This is perhaps not the most faithful way to begin a new lectionary year, but I wanted you all to have the same gospel reading as the folks attending Lessons and Carols, because this year, the fourth Sunday of Advent will return to this same passage about Mary. When I realized this, I realized that this Advent, I have a unique opportunity to invite everyone into a contemplative, devotional consideration of Mary, the mother of our Lord.
Mary is one of the most well-known and frequently characterized figures in all of human history. The Roman Catholic Church has exalted her so much that many accuse them of worshiping her like a God, while the Protestant church often ignores her altogether. Hopefully we can find, in our own Anglican tradition, a healthy in-between.
There are several ways to explore the witness of Mary. Sometimes, people like to focus in on her role as a mother and what we can learn about our God and our world from her loving, familial presence. Some prefer to focus on Mary’s womanhood, and they way that in the face of all the doubts and denials and infidelity of the male apostles, Mary, along with Mary Magdalene, never waivers in her devotion to Christ, and thus has something to say about the strength and faith of females everywhere. Still others like to focus on her role in the birth narrative, as an instrument of God’s work in the world, lifting her up as holy because of what, or rather whom, God placed in her womb.
But I think these familiar narratives are missing a crucial aspect of Mary’s life and witness. Instead of focusing on her motherhood, which not everyone can relate to, or her womanhood, which, again, not everyone can relate to, perhaps our gospel passage this morning is encouraging us to focus on her discipleship, which indeed everyone can access. Even before Mary’s son became the Christ, God gave Mary a task – a very, very difficult one – and she sacrificed and endured, she followed and she obeyed. Would that we could all say that about all the tasks God has given us. But being a disciple means following and obeying. And so many would argue, and I have become one of them of late, that Mary’s holiness comes not from the child she bore but from her willingness to bear him. Several times throughout the Luke’s gospel, Jesus himself alludes to this idea, saying that blessed is his mother, and any mother, who hears the word of God and obeys it.
In this light, we can back up and see that our gospel passage for this morning is not only a birth narrative, it’s a call narrative. Like Abraham, like Moses, and like David, Mary is called by God for a great task, in which she must leave everything she knows and lose much of what and whom she loves, trusting that God is guiding her on the path. So how do Mary and her call story speak to us in Advent? Well, God calls Mary, Mary responds with a disciple’s heart, and as a result, Christ comes into the world. The pattern that she shows us is “calling, discipleship, incarnation.”
As we begin a new liturgical year, as we embrace this new beginning and start to tell our Christian story again, this time in lectionary year B, let’s take a lesson from Mary in Advent. Let’s remember that just as Mary ushered in THE incarnation 2000 years ago, incarnation today, which is us being the hands and feet of Christ in the world, comes after responding to a call with discipleship. What a wonderful way to begin Advent, with such a beautiful witness and example of how to be Christ-like and live into the Kingdom of God on earth. Calling, discipleship, incarnation. Amen.