The angel Gabriel was sent out from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth. Gabriel was sent to a young woman who was engaged to a man named Joseph (a descendant of David). The young woman’s name was Mary. Gabriel arrived and said to her, “Greetings to you! You are most fortunate! The Lord is with you!”
She was bewildered by these words and wondered why she had been greeted like that. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, because you’ve found favor with God. Listen! You’ll become pregnant and give birth to a son and you’ll name him Jesus. He’ll be a great man and they’ll refer to him as the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor, David, and he’ll rule over the House of Jacob forever. His reign will never end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How’s any of this possible? I’m a virgin!”
The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High, will overtake you and will cast its shadow over you. Therefore, the child that is conceived will be called the Holy Son of God. Listen! Your relative, Elizabeth, who’s said to be unable to have children, has become pregnant in her old age and she’s carrying a son. What God says is the way it is and the way it will be, no matter how impossible it may seem!”
Mary said, “Listen! I’m the Lord’s servant. Let everything happen to me like you said it would.” Then the angel left her.
The priest who preached this morning chose to focus on what is usually focused on – the “how” of Mary being pregnant. Mary herself asks the question. But the Archangel Gabriel answers her question, so that is not the great mystery.
The virgin birth is a miracle, but what if the miracle is not just that a virgin became pregnant? What if the miracle is that the virgin agreed to become pregnant. All this must on some level be terrifying. We know the story, but Mary did not know it. Imagine being told that if you say yes, you would suddenly become pregnant and would give birth to someone who will change the world. That is a lot of pressure.
But what strikes me most this year about The Annunciation is the waiting. It is not like Mary is told she will be pregnant and she suddenly looks pregnant. A person can be pregnant for months without much noticeable physical change. So to say “In nine months you will give birth” is a promise that has nothing to point to its fulfillment. It is waiting nine months for birth. It is waiting possibly months to show the pregnancy. During that time I wonder if Mary questioned this visitation. I wonder if she ever thought she must have dreamed it. Then when she shows, how will people react and respond? How will Joseph respond? There must have been a lot of feeling like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then once the baby is born, he does not stand up and change the world. There is more waiting. She waits thirty years before Jesus begins his teaching. She waits at the foot of the cross. She waits between his death and his resurrection from the dead. And like the rest of us, she waits for her son’s return until the day she dies.
This annunciation is a promise, but it is a promise of a lot of waiting. It is a promise of waiting and never really seeing the full completion of that waiting. All that waiting always seemed to lead to something that brought about more waiting.
In the hospital there is a lot of waiting. Patients and families wait for news. They wait for doctors. They wait for tests. They wait for procedures. They wait for the day when they can go home. They wait for healing. Many never see the full completion of what they are waiting for. They go home, but it is not the same. Some go home because medically there is nothing else that can be done. In the trauma area anxious families wait for someone to tell them anything, imagining the worst while they wait. And chaplains wait. They wait for pages and news and that call to go where no one else really wants to go and do what no one else really wants to do.
The miracle as I see it is not that a virgin became pregnant. The miracle is that God, through Gabriel presented Mary with a future of waiting and discomfort and disappointment and heartache and the reality that she would be going where no one else would want to go and live through things that no one else would ever want to live through – and she said yes to it. The miracle is Mary said yes, and with that yes, the waiting begun, and in the course of that waiting, the world continues to be changed.
Advent is about waiting. It is not waiting until the coming of Christmas; it is the waiting until the coming of our Lord. We look at the past to see into the future. We look back and celebrate Christ’s coming in humility as we look forward, celebrating Christ’s coming again in glory.
God’s promise, like pregnancy, take time to show. God’s promises, like children, take time to grow and mature. God’s promises, like Christ, may not be what we were expecting or what we thought we were waiting for. But the promise is somehow kept, even if it only leads to another promise.
Mary said, “Listen! I’m the Lord’s servant. Let everything happen to me like you said it would.” May we also learn to say these words with her, and find the Lord in our waiting and watching.