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The writer John Shea says that the Annunciation text in Luke is like a Lamaze class – it is a manual for giving birth to God in our lives and in our world. What this time of year tells us more than anything else is that God has so embraced our humanity that the spiritual journey is much more like giving birth to what is already here than worshipping a God “out there.”

Luke paints an intricate portrait for us that operates like a five step manual. The first three steps simply ask us to be aware and observant of things that arise in us. We stay with the pattern if we simply hang in there. The final two steps ask us to participate. If we exit the pattern we miss the birth of God. The choice is ours. If we stay with the pattern to the end we can change the world.

God’s Movement and Our Reaction

The pattern starts with God taking the initiative to break into Mary’s life. Mary was not praying for this to happen, she did not send to heaven a business plan on being the mother of Jesus. The Sisters of Notre Dame reference this text in their Constitution by saying “Mary is the model for our daily surrender to the ever new call of God.” The pattern can start anytime, any day, as God keeps speaking.

Some of you are discerning calls to ministry that definitely were not your idea. Doesn’t it seem that most of the time our encounters with God seem like spontaneous gifts, fleeting moments of clarity, love or connectedness? We are like Mary when stay with the pattern and do not run away, or dismiss the encounter as our imagination.

If we wake up to this initiative of God we move to Step 2: Mary was “greatly troubled” by God’s messenger. This is a universal human reaction to the divine in Scripture. Recall how many times God begins a conversation in Scripture with “Be not afraid.” This is an easy place to leave the pattern. Who likes being troubled? In fact in our weakness we like to treat God as a 911 call to rescue us from troubles. What if we look with new eyes at what is troubling us in our lives? Maybe Reality is breaking in there.

I read about a national survey about Ferguson and related events that reported 37% of people in America being “troubled” about their reaction to these stories. This population reports being conflicted and confused about their inner reactions and those of their family and friends. Although I wish the percentage was higher, “being troubled” in this context could be a great thing and it may be God at work.

If we stay with the revelation we come to Step 3, which is my favorite. Here is where our ego makes a last stand and cries out like Mary who in essence told the angel “That’s impossible!” When we hear this echo inside us we know we are close to Reality. “Start an inclusive Catholic, community of faith with 10 people? Impossible!” “Become a women Catholic priest? You have to be kidding!” “Reconcile with my father? No way!” Address unconscious racism in St. Louis? Not in my lifetime!” “Gay marriage in St. Louis? Ridiculous!” When we find ourselves reacting “that’s impossible” and do not abort, we are deep into the pattern. Reality is nearby.

Two Decisions of Faith

The angel in the story is not discouraged by Mary’s reaction thus far. He is not critical. He gets creative and throws Mary the lifeline of community by saying miracle births have happened before! It even happened to cousin Elizabeth. If we stay with the pattern we get this lifeline as well. We need the tradition, the Scripture, our faith community, our small group to reflect back to us that what we are experiencing has happened before, we are not crazy! Mary embraces the call to community and in the verses following our text today Mary travels to have church with Elizabeth (I will leave us to ponder for another day the fact that the believing church at this stage of the game is two pregnant women!). Mary then receives the most precious gift we can give one another – recognition of God’s life in us. “Blessed are you among women……” says Saint Elizabeth.

We finally arrive at the final step. We have experienced the initiative of God, we have paid attention to troubled feelings, we have observed the ego’s defense, we have looked to our past and present community of faith for verification and recognition. All that is left is to say yes or no. “Let it be done to me according to your word” says teenager Mary. Love needs a yes. Love cannot control. If Mary said no, God would have had to come up with another idea to bring Jesus into the world. The story would be different. Our “yes” is not preordained. Our “yes” makes a difference every day. Our “yes” brings Life into the world.

Is the pattern of Mary’s journey good news for you this season? Do you see yourself anywhere in the pattern? Perhaps there are some troubles that need to be reimagined. Perhaps you are walking away from something because it seems impossible. Perhaps you need to accept the invitation to seek recognition of your experience in some form of faith sharing with others. Perhaps you are on the verge of saying yes in some way. Wherever you are, no matter how many times you left the pattern behind, God is new today. Love wants to be born anew today through you.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Saturday evening, December 20, 2014

Focus text – Luke 1:26-38 (The Annunciation)

Photo by Jan H. on flickr.com

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