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12.16.18 Luke 1.26-38 There’s Something About Mary Sermon Summary

by on December 17, 2018

Scholars tell us that Psalm 131 might have been written by a woman. That came home to me in 1998 when I learned that my Lola (“grandmother”) had died and I was preparing her funeral. Lola was a humble and faithful woman. Her motto in life, through eight pregnancies and seven childbirths in a remote village in the northern Philippines was, “God will provide.”

Like the author of Psalm 131, Lola “did not occupy herself with things too great for her, but rather quieted her soul like the weaned child that was with her.”

My life, and maybe yours also, is such a contrast: I am very occupied. This may be especially true during Advent but if I’m honest with you, it’s true all year long. I’m so occupied, I am pre-occupied. While I’m occupied with one thing, I’m already doing another: Standing in line, and answering email; praying about one thing, worrying about another.

My soul is occupied. A synonym for occupied is possessed. That has concerning implications. What I need is to be dis-possessed, to let go of things, to not hold them so they do not hold me. I need to be more like the author of Psalm 131, more like my Lola, more like the preacher to the Hebrews.

That sermon ends with practical advice: “Show hospitality to others, for in so doing some have entertained angels unaware.” When we’re not occupied, when there is room in our lives, there is room for others. And where there is room for others there is room for angels. And angels are merely messengers from God.

St. Benedict (6th C) was the founder of Western monasticism. He takes the principle of Hebrews even further. In his famous “Rule” (community agreements) he speaks of the hospitality for which Benedictines are famous. We’re told to receive guests as if receiving Christ, to even adore Christ within the guest, for the guest is to us Christ himself. (Rule 53:1, 2, 7)

Perhaps the “rule” for us today is this: Christ is more likely to appear when we expect him. And we make room to expect him when we are not occupied. When we’re more like the author of Psalm 131, more like the preacher to the Hebrews, more like the Benedictines, and more like Mary.

My appreciation for Mary has grown over the years, and it’s not because I went to Notre Dame. I knew that there’s something about Mary before that—actually about the same time the movie came out. It took a while because of my anti-Catholic bigotry, but then I met sincere and faithful Catholics whose devotion to Christ was not infringed upon by their devotion to Mary. In fact it was enhanced by it.

Now I see that Mary is the premier New Testament example of faith, after Jesus, and alongside Abraham, the premier Old Testament example. The evidence for this is in her attitude towards Gabriel. Here is Mary minding her own business, being not too occupied, when she is visited by an angel and shows hospitality.

She does not reject or dismiss the angel. Instead she is “perplexed” and “ponders what kind of greeting this might be.” Is this good or bad? Is this safe or threatening? Is God pleased or displeased?

Her attitude towards Gabriel reflects her attitude towards life. She is open and available. So she finally says, “Here am I; let it be to me according to your word.” And then she is the first person ever to receive Christ into her life.

I wonder if we can be so open? Advent is intended to open us up, to dis-possess us before the light of Christ’s birth fills us. But instead we fill up Advent to overflowing. Can it be different this year? I believe it can be, and the way is through contemplation.

Pope Gregory the Great (6th C) was inspired by Benedict. He wrote that, “Either we fall under ourselves with sinful thoughts, or we are lifted above ourselves by the grace of contemplation.” (Dialogues II, III) This was true of Benedict, and of the author of Psalm 131. It was true of Mary, and can be true of us.

Contemplation is the opposite of occupation. In contemplation we spend time pre-occupied with God. We shut out other activities, quiet other voices, and make ourselves open and available to God’s angels, to God’s messengers, that is, to God’s Word.

Often people will engage in contemplation at the beginning of the day. But it can be done at any time of day. Through the centuries people have found that certain things help them in their contemplation: Candles, beads, isolation, repetition, icons, a cup of tea.

It doesn’t take a heroic effort to practice contemplation, just the time it takes to put a child to sleep according to Psalm 131. And some moments of reflection. This is what happened with Mary when she was perplexed and pondered.

Following her example, contemplation could even occur at the end of the day. You could, before going to bed, reflect upon the inconveniences, interruptions, or perplexing situations you experienced? What was God saying to you? What is God still saying to you?

This Advent I invite you to contemplation as the opposite of being occupied. We may discover with Mary, who surely anticipated being a mother, that God uses our ordinary expectations, when coupled with openness to his Word, to accomplish something as marvelous as the salvation of the world. “For none can guess God’s grace, till Love creates a place wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.” (Come Down, O Love Divine, v. 3)

After the visitation from Gabriel, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, her much older, six-month pregnant relative. Why? To verify? For solidarity? Whatever the reason, what she realized was that God was already at work. The announcement of her pregnancy was news to Mary, but God was already at work in Elizabeth. God is always already at work.

We come to this table each week towards the end of our worship service. It is already set. It has been set for an hour. It’s like God has been expecting us, for God is always already at work. I invite you to come to this table open to receive, like Mary. For here it is not angels whom we receive unawares, but Christ himself. Amen.

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