As we approach Thanksgiving, and the weeks that seem to race towards Christmas, there’s plenty to be grateful to God for in our lives. Thanksgiving invites us to take time to consider all of our blessings. While some of us may be thrilled with the material things of life, many of us look around and realize that the most important things in life aren’t things at all. They’re our relationships. That’s our relationship with God in Christ Jesus, as well as our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Shortly after Thanksgiving, Christians begin another season of intentional reflection: the season of Advent. Since we’re giving thanks and taking time to celebrate all our relationships, let’s take a closer look at the one relationship that changed the world.
Two words: pregnant pause. Do those words conjure images of an awkward dialogue between characters in a book? A romance novel maybe, where two young lovers are immovable in the electricity of the moment, caught between propriety and lust. Or perhaps the words come from a suspense novel, where the reader is driven to anxious anticipation for pages and pages, not knowing whether the character will live or die. Maybe the words are plucked from a scene in a murder mystery. The cunning detective has finally caught the murderer in a lie; the truth circling around to bind our literary villain. What if it’s a story about an unmarried teenager who suddenly claims to be pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though she’s engaged to a much older man? Friends, family and neighbors may well pass knowing glances (if you’ll pardon the scriptural pun). That is if they can resist the temptation to gossip openly.
The story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is entirely unique in the history of the world. Yes, scripture is full of miraculous pregnancies — look at Sarah’s, Hannah’s, or Elizabeth’s stories. Yet each of these conceptions was achieved through the usual intimate relationship, even though God made the pregnancy possible in the face of physical impediments. However, only Mary’s miraculous pregnancy is breathtaking in its implications. For a poor peasant girl from an obscure backwater town to be chosen by the Creator of the universe to be the otokos, God bearer, is practically beyond belief, at least in this age of rampant rationalism, and studied skepticism. According to Karl Rahner, “If God’s incomprehensibility does not grip us in a word, … if it does not call us out of the little house of our homely, close-hugged truths… we have misunderstood the words of Christianity.” In modern parlance, no one can possibly prove the facts of this glorious gift to Mary, and to the whole world. What we know is that our God is an awesome God, who loves us beyond our wildest imaginations. God’s love extends to sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, born of Mary to be the word made flesh, knowing that Jesus would also give up His life on the cross for the sake of the world.
Advent is the season to experience a deeper reality: God’s steadfast love, mercy, grace, and constant presence in our lives. It’s the season to contemplate the implications of living in God’s constant presence, guided by the same Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary. Advent gives us the opportunity to give God thanks and praise for the wonder and mystery of the growing holiness within us. Will we say “yes,” as Mary did, to our transformation, our spiritual growth, and to a new level of faithfulness being born within us? Even as we look forward to Christ’s return, let’s relish the mystery of our Savior’s incarnation, which is a tangible expression of God’s abundant love.
Mary’s words of assent come from the Gospel of Luke 1:38: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s words invite God’s creative presence, and growth within her body. Let’s give thanks for her example, and take time to welcome God’s graceful gifts in our own lives, transforming each of us from the inside out. It’s truly a privilege to be a servant of the Lord. We’re most fully alive when we put our faith into action, and when we’re engaged in our ministries. With deep gratitude, I wish you Thanksgiving blessings, and offer prayers for our spiritual growth during the mysterious season of Advent.
• The Rev. Susan E. Wilmot is priest-in-charge at St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church, 975 E. Warner Road, Tempe. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (480) 345-2686. Visit www.stjamestempe.org.3333.