I like Mary. She’s trouble. She’s good trouble.
There’s a way to tell Mary’s story that portrays her as a nice, sweet, polite young woman who does not cause trouble and who does not make waves.
So when Gabriel—that angel of the Lord—appears to her and tells her, in no uncertain terms, that she will bear a son, and name him Jesus, and he will be holy, and he will be the son of God… she does what a nice, sweet, polite, absolute doormat of a young woman might do. She acquiesces. She lowers her eyes, and curtsies, and quietly says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
This is the fourth Sunday of Advent. This is the Sunday when we light a candle for love. And there’s a way of talking about love that makes it into something nice and sweet and polite, that does not cause trouble and that does not make waves.
And sometimes, love is nice and sweet and polite. And there is a time and a place for love that is nice and sweet and polite.
But, on this particular fourth Sunday of Advent, there is a tension in the air. It’s a tension that has been building for a long time. It’s a tension that has been building for years… for decades… for centuries…for millennia. It’s a tension that has been building since… forever.
We are in a strange, amorphous, wibbly-wobbly moment. On the one hand, we are a people who are longing for normal. We are a people who are longing for tinsel and carols; for hometown Christmases and family visits; for sleepy adults and wide-eyed children waking up to presents piled under a tree; for a calm and holy night, and a nice sweet polite virgin mother, and a baby who is tender and mild.
And I get that. I really do. Because I am longing for normal.
I am longing to see the faces of people paying rapt attention to the sermon; to hear our praises fill this sanctuary to the rafters; to catch up with people during fellowship; to sit around the table at Bible studies, and in book groups, and at Lions Lunches. And I’ll tell you the truth: I miss all of you. I miss each and every one of you.
And just like you, I am counting the sleeps until the world snaps back into place; until the world gets back to normal.
But, on the other hand, we are a people who are longing for something more than normal. We are a people who are hoping for peace and joy and love to come crashing through the firmament into the world; for God to look at the line between the creator and the creation and step over it; for Christ.
Because we know that normal was not okay. And we know that when the world snaps back into place, normal will still not be okay. Normal holds pain. In some places, that pain burns in bright visible technicolor. In some places, that pain burns in mellow under-the-surface monochrome. But it is still there. And it is still here. And the normal that we long for—that I long for—is still profoundly broken.
And so, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light a candle for love. And maybe what the world needs on this particular fourth Sunday of Advent is not love that is nice and sweet and polite, but love that is willing to cause trouble… that is willing to make waves.
There’s a way to tell Mary’s story that portrays her as a nice, sweet, polite young woman who does not cause trouble and who does not make waves. And maybe Mary is those things, sometimes.
But not today.
You see, Mary knows who she is. She is a descendant of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And Mary knows where she is. She is in the land that God promised to her ancestors and the descendants of her ancestors.
She is in a land that was once a small and proud nation. She is in a land that sits at the crossroads of its part of the world, and that had always been small… and proud… and surrounded by empires. So there had been the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the Persians and the Ptolemaians and the Seleucids.
And now there are the Romans. And Mary is a young woman among a dispossessed people in an occupied land. And she knows what the prophets have prophesied; she knows what God has promised. She might not know all of it. She might not understand all of it. But she knows enough.
And there is a song welling up in her heart.
So when Gabriel—that angel of the Lord—appears to Mary and tells her, in no uncertain terms, that she will bear a son, and name him Jesus, and he will be holy, and he will be the son of God… Mary knows what that means.
And there are nuances in Greek that we can’t quite capture in English. There is a way of hoping. There is a way of wishing. And there is this song welling up in Mary’s heart. And it hasn’t reached her lips quite yet. But when it does…
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
You see, when Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” what Mary means is, “Revolution? Really? Yeah. I’m in.”
Because Mary is trouble. She’s good trouble. And she knows that God is on the other side of some good trouble.
This is the fourth Sunday of Advent. This is the Sunday when we light a candle for love. This is the Sunday when we realize that we are in a strange, amorphous, wibbly-wobbly moment… and we have been a strange, amorphous, wibbly-wobbly moment for a long time.
It is two-thousand-and-twenty years after Christ came into the world, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land, amid the animals and shepherds, to a family who couldn’t find a room for the night.
And it is five days until Christ comes into the world, among the sleepy parents and wide-eyed children waking up to a brand new day.
And it is nine months before Christ comes into the world. He is growing in a young woman named Mary, who is visiting a relative, who hears some good news, whose song escapes her lips.
And it is who-knows-how-long until Christ comes into the world in glory to usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God.
And in this strange… amorphous… wibbly-wobbly moment… we light a candle for love. Not a nice, sweet, polite love that acquiesces to normal; but a love that is wild and dangerous and full of grace, that causes trouble and makes waves for normal, and that calls us to something better than normal.
We light a candle for a love that brings the powerful down from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; that calls us to eat together at one table with one host, where we are all filled with good things.
We light a candle for a love that casts aside fear and calls us into something new.
And as we hear the call of that love, I hope and I pray that we all can say, “The kingdom of God? Really? Yeah. I’m in.”