Excerpted from A Season of Hope. An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
It is Christmas Eve. The celebration of the birth of the Christ child is imminent. The reality of the child’s arrival is more real than it has ever been; the joy is tangible, but the current reality is messy. It is sweat, tears, groaning. It is pain that overcomes the body. It is anxiety and fear and ceaseless prayer. Hope for the immense potential in this little life that is being born. The water has broken, the labor pains are intensifying, the celebration is nigh. It is near, but not yet. How often in our lives do we yearn for what is to be, while overwhelmed by the current reality?
Our reading for today is of the moment Mary first hears that she is going to have a child. I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant—the simultaneous shock, fear, excitement, disbelief, and amazement at the miracle. How much more must Mary have felt these things to be given the news by an angel? When she “pondered what sort of greeting this must be” I would bet that what the angel said next was not among her wildest imaginings of what he might say, “you will bear a son . . . of his kingdom there will be no end.” Surely this is news that would change everything. Framing this passage are statements made by the angel and Mary, respectively. The angel’s initial greeting ends, “The Lord is with you.” Mary’s final words to the angel begin, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Between these assertions comes the announcement of the coming Christ, the hope of this passage, the hope of the world. This hope, the promise of the coming Christ, is bookended by a reminder of God’s presence with us and our presence with God. Like Mary, we need to show up as we are called and say, “Here am I.” Between “The Lord is with you” and “Here am I” hope is living.
The ultimate hope of Christ’s unending Kingdom and the current reality that the angel proclaims may live in tension, but the angel reminds us that, “nothing is impossible with God.” When God shows up and we show up, we are a part of ushering in that hope to be embodied more fully in our world. The birth of the child is imminent. Hope is living as we remember the Lord is with us. Let us respond, “Here am I.”
Prayer: God of hope, as we experience exhaustion, suffering, injustice, and pain—as we feel the pangs of labor—let us not lose hope: peace and justice are being born. We know that when we face the insurmountable, we have the hope of the God of the impossible. You are the God of the barren and the virgin conceiving, the God of the power structures of this world being overcome, and You are with us. We are here, ready to do our part. Lead us in your ways, and fill us with hope and joy. Amen.