It has almost been two months since I began ministry as a pastor at a local church. I did not grow up in a tradition that followed the Church Year Calendar. One of the aspects of keeping in rhythm with the Church Year is how it aids our focus on the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection & ascension of Christ. Advent will always be a special time of year for me, especially when I preached my first sermon at my local church during this season. As a Minister of Word of Sacrament one has the privilege of partnering with the Spirit in the moment of proclamation. As Ministers, we have an active role in centering the hearts and minds of people on “things that are eternal.”
Advent is a season of waiting. And that is why our church decided to do a series entitled “Waiting…” Each week we wait with persons in the Scripture who wait as the redemptive plan of God unfolds right before their eyes. Last week we were waiting with Elizabeth and Zechariah. This week we are waiting with Mary. I have included an excerpt from my sermon “Waiting with Mary.”
God’s redemptive plan is unfolding but here is the second thing we learn as we watch Mary wait: Mary believes & accepts God’s call/invitation to be a part of this unfolding, redemptive plan.
Mary responds to God’s messenger, Gabriel, by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to thy word.” God desires for you and I to participate in God’s reconciling work in the world. That’s what happened to Mary. And God’s invitation or God’s call comes without us fully knowing the details of “How can this be?” And even though Mary spoke those words, “Let it be with me according to thy word,” I believe that there were challenges along the way.
The gospel of Luke doesn’t give much detail about the challenges that Mary faced. But if we stepped down into Mary’s life situation, she was a young woman who was pregnant before she was married. In addition to that, Mary had to explain why the child she carries is not biologically Joseph’s child. This is scandalous!
Every step since that glorious visitation from the angel Gabriel (who delivered a heavenly message), was another step into God’s divine plan. Yet Mary had to step into a world, step into her community and there waiting were social and cultural expectations for a woman her age.
Elizabeth alludes to a form of these gendered expectations earlier in Luke 1. Elizabeth praises God for the birth of her son John. She says, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Elizabeth has experienced disgrace among her own community because for so long she never gave birth to a son. Mary and Elizabeth lived in an honor/shame culture overwhelmed by imposed gendered expectations. Mary’s situation didn’t line up with cultural expectations that were common in her community. These expectations were unmet expectations.
In the Good & Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith reflects, on unmet expectations joined with fear. He writes, “Unmet expectations and fear, when united, ignite into a strong emotion. Unmet expectations are the occasion for anger.” (pg. 71) Fear, coupled with unmet expectations, reflects a threatening feeling that we are not valuable or what we value is not important. Many times what comes from unmet expectations and fear is our invoking shame, ridicule or disgrace upon others. Nothing good or holy can come from this. This was the experience of Elizabeth and possibly Mary’s as well.
Another thing that happens as a result of unmet expectations coupled with fear is that together they give birth to false imperative narratives or what Smith calls (FINs). These are narratives that run contrary to a Jesus kind of narrative. False imperative narratives believe untruths like, “I am alone; Things always have to go as I want them; I must be in control all the time.” (pgs.72-73)
For a moment let’s go back to Nashville with Mary and Christina. Mary received the devastating news that Christina was in ICU after a fatal car accident. Mary recalls that when “she learned of Christina’s accident, the Spirit of God promised life and wholeness for her daughter.” But she says, “But that was God’s part to bring to pass. One question I did not dare to ignore was clear: What was my part to help our family walk through this devastation into a miracle? Her prayer that day was:
“Father God, I know You spoke to my hear t, life and wholeness for Christina. I don’t know HOW You’re going to do it but I want You to know that I believe You will do this. But if You ask my opinion, I think right now would be a good time to do it! She goes on to say, Apparently, however, God wasn’t asking for my opinion. He asked for my trust.” (Mary Frances Varallo’s Walking Through a Miracle, pg.30)
Sometimes in challenging situation, in our brokenness, we impose our expectations on the Creator and on others. But here is the Master’s expectation of us: we must surrender beliefs like “I am alone or I must be control or I must have things my way” to Christ centered living that says: “We are never alone, Jesus is with us always; Jesus is in control.”
We’ve got to believe that God is in control while we wait for God’s plan to unfold in our individual lives, as the redemptive plan of God unfolds in life of the world, even in the life of this community of faith.
Mary, the Mother of our Lord, was only able to speak the words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to thy word” because she believed she was not alone, she knew that God was with her and she knew that God was in control.
Rev. Kenita R. Harris serves as Pastor of Spiritual Formation & Leadership Development at Christ Memorial Church in Holland, MI.