Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox
One of my favorite movies around this time of the year is the 1947 film “The Bishop’s Wife” starring Cary Grant. Grant portrays an angel named Dudley, who comes in answer to a prayer by the Bishop, played by David Niven. Throughout the film, Dudley has moments where he scares the daylights out of people by suddenly appearing behind them, and as they turn they jump in surprise. And his response is always the same: “It’s all right, don’t be afraid.”
“Do not be afraid.” Or in the old translations, “Fear not.” This commandment (for commandment it is) appears more frequently than any other in the Bible. I suppose the people of God needed to hear it more frequently than anything else. For it is fear—not doubt—that is the enemy and antithesis of faith. Fear can stop us in our tracks faster than any other adversity or challenge, it can (and does) paralyze and destroy peoples and communities and nations. And so, over and over through the scriptures, and especially when the angels come to call, we hear the words: Fear not: Do not be afraid. Fear Naught: Do not be afraid of anything. For God is with you.
“How can this be?” Mary asks Gabriel. She wasn’t expecting anything of the kind. It was, as far as she could tell, an ordinary day like any other. Nothing special or unusual marked it as being the day when her life would change for ever.
And yet it did change. For Mary of Nazareth, and for all of us gathered here this morning, half a world and two thousand years away, life changed that day. Mary’s word of “Yes” is the Yes that transforms the universe and everything in it.
She had no warning, no time to prepare a response, no time to really even think about the consequences that would follow. And the truth is, she could have said “No, thank you.” That’s one of the marvelous things in this story. In spite of the dangers she knew she faced (social ostracism, the possible breaking of her engagement to Joseph, the physical dangers of childbirth itself) and the dangers and risks she could not even imagine at the time, she said yes.
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me as you have said.”
It is no accident, I think, that in our stained glass windows here at St. Augustine’s, the prophet window with Isaiah encountering an angelic messenger and commissioning is immediately adjacent to the Nativity Window, wherein Mary also encounters an angle and is commissioned to tell what she has heard and seen. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”
In our keeping of Long Advent here at St. A’s this year, we’ve had seven weeks—almost twice as much time as everyone else!—to think about, and pray about, and study and ponder over what it is we are getting ready FOR, which is just beyond our sight, just over the horizon. It’s not just about the baby in the manger; it’s definitely not about the overconsumption that is driving us to be mauled at the mall.
Rather, it’s about God coming to us. Now. Today, and tomorrow, and all the time. On the utterly ordinary, commonplace days when we least expect, when we are not nearly as ready as we think we ought to be or might be if we had had more notice.
And yet, God comes. Expected or unexpected, Ready or not, God comes.
So ready or not, may our answer be the words of Mary: ”Here I am—as you will.”