December Eighteenth — Third Tuesday in Advent
Luke 1:26-38 NRSV In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
“How can this be?” Mary’s first words in reply to the angel are the archetype for all of God’s people, who down through the ages, have come to the conclusion that, as incredible as it seems, God is in us! How can this be? Indeed! How can the great God who fashions the vast universe fit into my smallness? How can the holy and righteous one find a home within my frame – cluttered as it is with so many petty and unlovely inclinations? How does the Prince of Peace reside in one so often at war with myself and my neighbors?
It is a profound mystery, no doubt about it. Reason would say that it is not possible – as unlikely as a child born to a virgin, even. And yet, Gabriel is not the only one to speak of God choosing to make God’s home within us. Jesus, too, will instruct his disciples that he will abide in them in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Mary who the early Christians entitled theotokos or “God bearer,” becomes the first to have the honor of bearing Christ into the world ... but she is far from the last! Indeed, very quickly the early church began to speak of the church as the “body of Christ.” We are now the incarnation of Christ to the world! We bear in our words and actions the hope of God for the redemption of all.
The life of Christ, which was growing in Mary, was small and fragile and needed to be nourished and nurtured carefully by her if it was going to come to term and be borne out into the larger world. So it is with us too. The life of Christ is within. It can grow and begin to show in us, but for this to happen we have a role to play. We are responsible for nourishing the life, for nurturing the life of Christ, which so eagerly wants to grow up in us. By God’s mercy we are not left to do this alone. The Holy Spirit will come upon us as needed, but we too have an important part to play.
When I ponder the grace of God which chooses to make its home in little ‘ol me, and which honors me so profoundly by trusting me to care for the life of Christ within, I am humbled, and not a little overwhelmed, and I am joyfully grateful that God is so good to the little people. How can this be? Well, “with God nothing is impossible!”
God of the little people, you have always surprised us by choosing to make your home among us and even within us. May your Spirit shape and mould us daily so that we grow ever more completely into your image. Let the life of Christ within well up and spill over until every word we speak and every action we take is a reflection of your will. In the name of the one who promised to abide in us, even the Christ. Amen.