This Sunday we read the story of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about the birth of Jesus. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, the liturgy shifts our attention from John the Baptist to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both John and Mary serve as important figures for our reflection during the season of Advent; they both played instrumental roles in preparing the way for Jesus. This week we reflect upon Mary’s example of faith and obedience to God, traits which permitted her to receive the angel’s message that God’s Son would be born as a human person, as one of us
Scripture is filled with God showing up in the most unlooked-for places and the unlikeliest of people. People have encountered the God in bushes that burn, raging whirlwinds, pillars of fire, and under starry night skies, on the tops of mountains, at wells in the noonday sun, and strangers bearing gifts. No matter how often we look for God in the familiar places, God will somehow be revealed in the unexpected, the unlooked-for, and the unpredicted.
Jesus’ birth to an unwed teenaged mother, in a backwater town a little north of nowhere, was perhaps God’s biggest surprise of all. No great kings or rulers to welcome the Messiah. No fanfare, just a manger bed on an average night, punctuated by the message of the angels and the bewilderment of shepherds. God surprised the world in the extraordinarily ordinary birth of Jesus.
As we make our way once more with the shepherds and angels towards Bethlehem, we celebrate God’s favour for the last, the lowest, and the least. At Christmas, with this tiny helpless child in Mary’s arms, we see God making the common holy, the mundane mighty, and the everyday extraordinary.
This is the good news at Christmas and beyond: that God is found not in a mansion but in a manger, not in a palace but in a poor house. The Good News about Jesus that we, as the Church, here, now, today are called to preach, is that we will be surprised at who God chooses to deliver the message of hope.
In a world filled with wars and rumours of war, injustices, and violence, we need the message of the angel. God finds us in our need and raises us up.
As we turn toward Christmas, the question we who look for and follow Jesus must ask is this: Have we heard the stories so often that we fail to see or share the surprise? Have we drained so much of the mystery from the world that we are no longer able to be startled by the workings of God?
If so we leave little room for God to work in and through us. When the mystery of God is regimented, regulated, and relegated to be contained within four walls on any given Sunday, we have ceased to seek the surprise of God’s in-breaking into our world. And yet, God still finds a way to get our attention and fill us with surprise.
As people of God, we are called like Mary to let our lives, our hearts, and our eyes be open for the divine so that we may follow in the way that Jesus has led.
To be amazed by God means that in Christ Jesus there is no work, no ministry, no person beyond our compassionate reach. If we are to be interrupted by God, we like Mary and Joseph must risk stepping out in faith into an uncertain future, knowing that God is out there waiting with just one more surprise.
Like Mary, when we encounter the divine mystery, we can only respond in joyful song. As we journey to the manger once more, may we seek once again to be surprised by a God who finds favour in us, who has lifted the lowly and filled the hungry with good things. May we in our lives and our living magnify the Holy One, may we be messengers of God who seek the divine amid the ordinary and may we in joyful song proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Amen.