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Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee

by davesandel on December 20th, 2021

Monday, December 20, 2021                                     (today’s lectionary)

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee

Isaiah cried out to King Ahaz, “Do not weary my God! The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. She shall call him Emmanuel.

On this Monday of the final week of Advent, our eyes shift from human arrangements (which have failed since the ancient prophets) to the initiative of God. Fleming Rutledge, preaching on today’s text, points out the meaning of the word “annunciation” in the Bible: “Thus saith the Lord: stand aside and watch what I am about to do” (Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, p. 368)!

Gabriel delivered God’s message. Mary received it. We did not move toward God, but God moved toward us. This is what always happens. Wars, rumors of wars, cruelty, poverty, and even disastrous Christmas dinners have always been part of life on earth. Our human arrangements have failed and continue to fail. “There is nothing new under the sun,” wrote Solomon, resignedly. Under the endless, boring sallow sky, nothing moves.

Rutledge writes of the dramatic moment when Gabriel appeared, and everything changed. “What Emily Dickinson called the ‘bisecting messenger,’ cleaving between life and death, between mercy and judgment, has arrived. Is his power for us or against us?

This is the announcement: Emmanuel, God-with-us. We are NOT abandoned. The power that created the universe with a word and could equally destroy it with a word is not against us, but for us. God has moved!”

I imagine the centuries before, thousands of prayers rising into heaven out of Hebrew huts scattered across the desert or gathered in villages, sometimes woeful and sometimes filled with joy. Come to us, our Lord and King! Brighten our faces and lift high the gates of the city of Zion. We are caught in misery and sin, but still we’ll sing. Always we will sing.

Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory. Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He whose hands are unstained with sin, whose heart is clean, whose desires are not proud. Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.

At last their countless prayers are answered. “Stand aside and watch what I am about to do.” Not that anyone expected this baby in a manger. Mary and Joseph had no idea what would happen next. Joseph helped Mary onto the donkey and they headed down the path to Bethlehem, a hundred miles, step by step, watching the sky and the road ahead, eating the food Mary’s mother prepared for them.

For our children, this week is so exciting (and for us too)! Are Mary and Joseph excited on their journey? Will Gabriel re-visit them while they walk, or while they sleep?

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Your child will be called holy, the Son of God.

Surely it was cold on those nights, surely the wind blowing across the desert nearly extinguished their smoldering fire, surely their blankets were not enough to protect them, and they could hardly carry a tent. These new parents remembered the psalm they repeated as children, and then memorized for the rabbi: “My soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psalm 130).

And the dawn broke over the hills, and the sun rose, and they continued on the path God had set for them.

 (Isaiah 7, Psalm 24, Luke 1)

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