The fourth Sunday of Advent takes us back to the imminent birth of Jesus – to the angel coming to Mary and Mary’s extraordinarily trusting response – we probably know the story too well, and we add bits to it quite often but as Luke tells it – simply and with little detail – we find a young woman (probably just 13 yrs old or so – Year 9 in school) confronted by Gabriel and told she would be pregnant. We assume she was a well-brought-up girl – this will potentially ruin her life; if she was not well-brought-up then how remarkable that God would choose one like her.
And how extraordinary that God would take the incredible risk of being limited in a womb, growing towards birth, dependent entirely on Mary and the community around her.
Rightly the church makes much of this incredible woman – unlike any other human being she was Theotokos – the one who bore God in her womb. Many stories and views about this woman have sprung up – St Anne’s is named after her supposed mother. Mostly the further stories take us further from the young woman portrayed by Luke and the older woman who has to watch as her son, the special one from God is crucified and put in a tomb. Many of the stories turn Mary into some almost angelic figure, without sin, perfect, haloed, Queen of Heaven – I know why but these additions can obscure rather than reveal. Mary is the most amazing woman.
What is remarkable is that Luke tells us so little. She visits her relative, the elderly Elizabeth, though we are told she goes in haste. Mary wants to find out that what the angel told her about Elizabeth is true; that will reassure her about her destiny.
What is also remarkable in the way that Luke tells it, is that the miraculous inruption of God into our world – God breaking in not just to our world – that has happened often enough – but becoming one of us, human, mortal, limited – happens in the hlll-country, far from the great Temple, far from the seat of power.
Matthew will tell us that some foreign star-gazers make a connection and Luke will tell us that some night-watch shepherds will get invitations but God’s plan is worked out far from the centre, far from the normal levers of power.
So for us, this story should still catch our breath – the utter ordinariness of Mary, the risk involved for God as well as for Mary, her trust, and God at work in the most extraordinary way, and not the way anyone would have thought.
May we catch our breath, pause, lest we know the story too well.
May we begin with “here am I, a servant of the Lord” (1:38) and may we pause with “And Mary pondered all these things in her heart (2: 19)
Rev’d Peter Reiss