Advent IV

“But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” I bet she was. Mary was taken totally off guard by the angel Gabriel, as you might imagine, but in Luke’s telling of the story, it was Gabriel’s words that made the most impact.

“Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” That’s a strange greeting. Anyone, Mary included, when confronted with a portion of the glory of God, would expect something more like “Hail, you scoundrel, count yourself lucky to be alive, given your manner of life!” But no, not in this case, not in this scene.

“Biblical scholars call passages like Luke 1 “type scenes.” A modern kind of “type scene” might be something like this: one evening while channel-surfing, you run across a movie already in progress. It’s obviously a Western with two cowboys standing about thirty yards apart in the middle of a dusty street. Each man is glaring at the other, one hand slightly raised and angled toward his hip. Even if you have no idea what movie this is—and even if it’s a film you’ve never before seen—just seeing that set-up immediately tells you that what is about to happen is an Old West-style shootout. Y ou don’t need to know what the movie’s larger plot has been about: the boilerplate set-up of the scene conveys what you need to know–you even have a strong idea of what’s next.

“There are a number of similar type scenes in the Bible. For instance, if you run across a scene where a man meets a woman at a well, it probably means they will soon be getting engaged and then married. If you encounter a story in which someone is driven into the wilderness or up onto a mountaintop, you can assume that some new revelation from God will happen there. And if an angel appears to a woman (especially a woman who has never before been a mother), what often comes next is the promise of a child.

“Yet Luke 1 is different from other such stories in interesting, and also instructive, ways. Unlike all of the other women in the Bible for whom the announcement of a child is such incredible news, Mary has not been pining away for years to have a baby. She’s not even ready to have a baby yet! She’s still very young, having gained the physical ability to become pregnant in probably just the last year or so. Further, she’s not married yet–like most girls of that era, her marriage had been pre-arranged by her parents long ago, so there was no question that she would be wed one day. But it hadn’t happened yet.
So Gabriel’s announcement of an impending pregnancy was not the answer to Mary’s prayers (or at least the timing mentioned in her prayers). It did not solve a long-standing problem with infertility. In short, this simply was not the time for Mary to have a baby. But that is at least partly the point of this story: it’s not about Mary’s time or plans but is simply and solely about God’s timing, God’s plans, and God’s work. God is intervening in this world, upsetting schedules and re-aligning lives because that’s what it takes to get God’s premiere work of redemption accomplished.”1

Advent carries with it the connotation of realized time; time realized as in fulfilled, and time realized as in realizing that time is given to us, time is passed and wasted and used wisely. This story that Luke just passed on to us, he made sure that he set it in a certain time, a certain place, but he didn’t tell us how long of a scene this was. I find that interesting, that we don’t know how long this conversation took. Did it take just as long as it takes to read it? It took me 50 seconds to read this story out loud; it couldn’t have possibly taken 50 seconds for Mary and Gabriel to have that conversation. Did Gabriel speak very slowly so the girl could hear and understand every word? Did Gabriel speak Aramaic with a Israeli accent? How long did it take Mary to answer? Did she stare Gabriel in the eyes when she spoke? How long can an angel hold his breath?

In that first Advent, that first coming of Christ heralded and begun at the Annunciation, Mary found herself in a quandary, in quite literally an awkward time. She was young but not a child, betrothed but not yet married; she certainly had dreams and hopes, she certainly prayed her heart out every night that she would find Joseph to be loving and that she would find babies on her knee, but those things were for tomorrow, for tomorrow. How many of us are living in an awkward time? A time in-between, a time when we dream and hope and pray for the future? Give us these things, Lord, but not yet? Like St. Augustine prayed, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” The truth is, we are all in an awkward time, stuck in an Advent between the two great Advents, and if we learn anything from this Gospel, let it be that the Lord so often chooses our awkward times to show up, to turn our lives upside down, to ask us to do things great and small, to ask us if we are willing to say “Yes, Lord,” when he calls. Mary did. Will we?

1. Scott Hoezee, This Week

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