“Wake up and stay awake!”
“Prepare the way of the Lord!”
“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!”
These are the voices of Isaiah, John the Baptist and Jesus himself. They’ve been calling out to us all through Advent but have we heard them? Perhaps we think we don’t need to hear them. After all, what can they say to us born centuries later in a very different world and culture.
Or perhaps we’re like some of the many people who did respond to John’s message and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. They were baptized in the excitement and heat of the moment but then very quickly fell back into their old patterns of thinking, speaking and doing. They didn’t understand that John was calling them to make more than superficial changes to their way of life and to be obedient to God.
Or, again, perhaps we’re like some of the others who John baptised. They heard God speaking through John and their response was heart-felt and honest. They were committed to working hard to turn their lives around with God’s help.
So far Advent has been a season of wilderness, river banks, prophets’ voices and the promise (or warning) of a new age to come.
What a contrast all this is to the story of an angel and a young woman, well girl really. The scene is a quiet, simple room and the girl, Mary, is quite ordinary. There’s nothing about her to make anyone think she’s special. Or perhaps there is. Perhaps she has an attractive simplicity about her, an air of serenity behind which others sense a great strength and energy.
God doesn’t use a prophet’s voice to speak his words to Mary. He sends the angel Gabriel directly to her with his message. He wants to make sure she hears clearly what he wants her to hear.
God doesn’t challenge Mary about her lifestyle, he doesn’t call her to repent and be baptised. His angel Gabriel quietly and lovingly greets her as God’s “favoured one”, he reassures her that she needn’t be frightened and that God is with her.
John proclaimed that he would be followed by one who would be much greater and more powerful than him. He who would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
How different is Gabriel’s announcement of the imminent arrival of the Lord’s anointed one – the Son of the most High. The Holy Spirit will be working but not with fire and judgment. The Holy Spirit Gabriel speaks of will touch Mary in a deeply mysterious and intimate way. The One who is to come will be a tiny vulnerable baby and Mary will become a different person, a mother with a holy child. A mother who will love and nurture her son as he grows and I guess he never stops being her baby, her little boy. But she will also be mystified, hurt and utterly stricken with grief when he’s executed in front of her.
When she stands at the foot of the cross does she think, even if just for a tiny moment, that had she known what was to happen she would have said “no” to Gabriel, to God? We don’t know the answer to that. It’s something only Mary and God know just as for now only Mary and God know about the Son of the most High who is going to be born.
And sometimes only we know what God is saying to us, personally and intimately in our hearts. And when he does speak to us personally, telling us what he’d like us to do or be, we can’t know what will happen when and if we say “yes” or when and if we say “no”.
And we do have that choice “no” or “yes”. But if we want to say “yes” we must understand that God will change who we are, our lives won’t be the same again. That changing and growing might bring us pain and grief but it will also bring us ever closer to God and ever closer to being our true selves – the people God wants us to be. And it’s only when we are being our true selves that we will find true happiness, joy and a peace that the world cannot give.
We might want to say “no” to God because we don’t think we’re good enough, clever enough or don’t deserve such an honour.
We might want to say “no” because we’re quite comfortable where we are.
We might want to say “no” because it seems an impossible thing for us to do. If that’s the case let’s remember that nothing will be impossible for God and his promise is always “but I will be with you”.
If God is truly calling us for some specific purpose we can be sure that in his eyes we are the right person and we will be able to do it. But he does need us first to say with Mary “let it be with me according to your word” Amen.