Every seven years, the Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve. When that happens, like this year, there is certainly a temptation to skip past the Sunday morning service and wait for the Christmas celebration that night. No doubt many people will do that. Church twice in one day? Really? And those that do attend both services will be hopeful that Advent 4 will be quick so they can finish all the other preparations that await them, both within the church and at home. The temptation to look past Advent 4 is great. And it would be a huge mistake. Advent 4 is Annunciation Sunday, the story of Mary. It is certainly a story worth telling. One of the great stories of Christianity. So let’s take a few minutes to talk about it.
The only Gospel that discusses the Annunciation is Luke. Mark begins the story of Jesus with His baptism by John the Baptist, then goes straight to His temptation by Satan. Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus, then describes how an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him of the coming of Jesus, and skips to Epiphany, without mentioning Mary’s interaction with the angel Gabriel. John does what John does in his abstract way.
So it’s just Luke. According to Luke, the angel Gabriel is sent to Nazareth to see Mary, a virgin engaged to be married to Joseph. Gabriel provides Mary with a message full of wonder and mystery. But the first thing Gabriel does is attempt to reassure Mary by telling her not to be afraid. Who wouldn’t be taken aback if an angel showed up out of nowhere, and said Greetings! You are going to have a baby! Mary does what I think anyone would do: she asks questions! How can this be? Gabriel answers Mary’s question, explaining what will take place, but also tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth is with child despite her advanced age. Gabriel invites Mary to assent to what would happen, and through her faith, she prays that God’s will for her would be fulfilled.
Mary then goes to visit Elizabeth and learns that what Gabriel told her was true. This interaction, though brief in Luke’s account, teaches us much about how we are to act as Christians. Indeed, Mary should not be seen only for her role in carrying and raising the Christ child. She is much more than that: she is the first Christian follower! Mary asks questions, she investigates what she is told, and uses reason which leads her to believe. That is what we are taught to do. We should use Mary’s example every day!
We don’t learn much more about Mary’s story. We know she encouraged Jesus to perform his first miracle at Cana. We know she was present when Jesus was ultimately crucified. What a terrible experience that must have been. Mary gathered with the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
But we also know that Jesus supported and acknowledged Mary’s place among Christians. In Luke 11:27, a woman shouts to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” Jesus responds: Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and respond.” Through that, Jesus teaches that Mary’s importance isn’t just as the woman who gave birth to Him, but also as a model of Christian discipleship: Mary teaches us what it means to live the Christian life.
I conclude with the Song of Mary, which she says to Elizabeth during her visit with her: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 5He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 5 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
May we all live our lives by Mary’s example. Amen,