Fourth Sunday in Advent "The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus... Then Mary said, 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.' "
-- Luke 1:30-31, 38
Mary the Prophet
There is a long biblical tradition of the woman who desperately desires a child, but is denied year after year. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was an old woman and barren. The divine message came to them that they were having a baby in their nineties, and they both just laughed outright. Isaac (meaning "he laughs") was born and through him the covenant with Abraham continues.
Hannah was barren, ridiculed by her husband's other wife who was loaded with kids, and finally prayed that if God gave her a son, she would dedicate him to the service of the Lord. Samuel was born and he became the last great judge of Israel and the one who anoints David king.
Elizabeth was old and barren and -- with her husband Zechariah -- deeply desires a child. John the Baptist was born and became the last major (male) prophet in the Hebrew tradition.
But Mary is not like any of these women. She is not old but very young, probably thirteen or fourteen years old. (Gulp!) And she is not married, but only engaged. Under the law, she is required to prove to her betrothed her virginity (which, of course, a pregnancy would make extraordinarily difficult.) The penalty for dishonoring a future husband with no proof of virginity is nothing less than death by stoning at the doorstep of her father's house! (Deut 22:21) So having a baby for Mary is not a deep, long-seated desire. It's a nightmare! It means the end of her life as she knows it, and disgrace for her family. She is poor and young and a woman in a patriarchal world in which marriages were made at the discretion of the men.
Yet God does not choose the other women who are prepared. God chooses the one who does not feel ready or adequate. And so, when the angel Gabriel says to this young teenager, these shocking words to her, "You will become pregnant and have a baby," she wrestles with it, like any good Hebrew prophet receiving a calling. "How can this be?" she asks. And then, like any good Hebrew prophet, she responds, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
And so Jesus is born to Mary. Through her faithfulness, the world receives a light that lights our way on the path of love which compels us, along with the prophet Mary, to make ourselves vulnerable to the calling of God, so that something new can be born in us for our world. May we all be given the grace to move beyond our initial anxious response to God: "How can this be?" with the response of faith: "Here am I, Lord."
Amen, so be it!