‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’
I wanted to begin with these verses which precede those we have heard today. We have of course nearly completed our Advent jigsaw puzzle. We have these last few weeks pondered some of the themes of the season. This morning we turn our thoughts to Mary, to Jesus’ mother without whom the puzzle cannot be finished.
Mary is often depicted as serene, beautiful and sad in so many statues, icons and pictures. She looks tidy and neat. Many of these don’t quite ring true for me. They’re just too perfect and also she often looks too old. She was after all a young girl, 16 or 17, perhaps a little older or even younger.
And like most 16 year olds probably had hopes and dreams for her life. She knew this carpenter Joseph and could imagine a life with him. But then the Angel Gabriel appears and invites her to see that the life to which she is being called is going to be different.
He tells her ‘to not be afraid’ but unless he left her with a pot of ‘no fear potion’ I cannot imagine that the fear she felt at Gabriel’s appearance just vanished. Instead it seems more likely that the fear and anxiety would be part of her journey.
Consequently along the way Mary needed support and encouragement, from Joseph (let’s not forget all his plans were overturned too) and Elizabeth whom she visits in our Gospel this morning. These moments of encouragement helped the yes she gave to Gabriel became part of her daily life.
But back to that encounter with Gabriel when Mary said yes not fully knowing what it would mean, not knowing how she’d cope, not knowing whether it would be ok in the end but knowing enough to make that leap of faith, to risk everything and say ‘let it be with me according to your word.’
In the jigsaw that is our life of faith, each one of them slightly different, we like Mary strive to say yes too, amidst all the challenges and distractions we know. Part of that yes is by our being here this morning when there are so many other things to do.
And like Mary when we say yes, we also do that not fully knowing what that means, not knowing what happens next. We say yes without a promise of some reward but simply because we want to.
By doing that we make ourselves vulnerable because to say yes to God day by day is to strive to resist the temptation to calculate gain or risk assess, to let go of that sense that we need to get everything sorted before God might want to use us.
For as Mary reminds us, together with so many other strange characters in the bible, time and again God exalts the humble and meek not the tidy and neat.
Gabriel didn’t visit a mature and wise woman, articulate, academic, well versed in many languages and with a great variety of skills, indeed for all we know she may not have been much of one for church either.
Yet she was the one, perhaps part of the reason for that was because she was so young and possessed an open heart, full of youthful inquisitiveness, untarnished by layers of scepticism.
One of the things a counsellor is trained to do is when seeing a client is not cross their legs or fold their arms for these are defensive and threatening positions, instead they are to adopt an open posture, ready to listen and be attentive.
As we approach the end of Advent Mary invites us to be adopt an open posture as we come to the crib.
To be prepared to take a risk or two as we follow this Jesus. To not, symbolically at least fold our arms and cross our legs and play things safe. Instead we endeavour to open our hearts and minds, as she did, to God’s life and love.
In my life of faith I know that at my best my prayer is Come Lord Jesus, I let go, open my heart and mind and come home. At my worst, I close up shop, think I am utterly self-reliant and have no need of God. In one I find my true self, in the other I am lost.
Mary’s example is one we are all invited to follow, to say yes day by day and work out together, encouraged by our fellow pilgrims, the Josephs and Elizabeth’s for us.
It’s a daily challenge to let go of our fears and anxieties, to turn away from some things and resist others and with open hearts and minds say for ourselves ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word’.
It’s risky but what God might have in store for us, one thing is certain, it won’t be dull.