God’s Surprises

This gospel from Luke is so very familiar to us. In fact, we just heard it a couple of weeks ago on December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On that day we interpreted the gospel within the context of the feast day, and focused on Mary’s holiness as announced by Gabriel’s greeting of her: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

"Mother of Life" Nellie Edwards, used with permission
“Mother of Life” Nellie Edwards, used with permission

Now, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent when we hear this gospel proclaimed again, we are drawn particularly to Gabriel’s annunciation that Mary would, by the power of the Holy Spirit, “conceive in [her] womb and bear a son.” Conception to birth: a time of waiting and anticipation, nurturing life and protecting it, preparing and hoping. Can we not imagine Mary and Joseph quietly sitting together during these wonderful months of pregnancy, wondering about this great mystery, putting their hands on Mary’s body and feeling “the child to be born” stirring in her womb? Each kick that a mother (and father) feels in the womb is an annunciation of life. Each movement is an annunciation of life eagerly bursting to come forth. In Mary’s womb, the Life stirring is the author of life and salvation, the very “Son of God,” announcing that a new in-breaking of God is happening. [Living Liturgy 2014]

God’s whole plan of salvation is a perpetual annunciation. In this gospel, there are numerous “annunciations” beyond Gabriel’s revealing to Mary that she would conceive “the Son of God.” Gabriel makes known that Mary is holy; that the child shall be named Jesus; that the kingdom of this Child would have no end; that this Child is “holy, the Son of God”; that Elizabeth has conceived; that “nothing will be impossible for God”; and that Mary is God’s faithful and obedient handmaid. Indeed, perpetual annunciation is God’s pattern of relating to us. How do we, then, relate to God? We do so by responding with a yes to God’s annunciations in our own lives. God chooses to be known to us, names us holy, and desires that we be filled with God’s Life. Our response, like Mary’s, must be one of openness and full-throated yes to whatever God asks of us.

God’s annunciations of saving Presence can come to us in so many ways. Yes, God speaks to us during times of prayer. But God also speaks to us through the everyday persons and events of our lives, in cries for help and forgiveness or in the jubilation of success and growth. God’s annunciations of salvation might be mediated by our struggle to make a just decision or our choice to walk away from a group engaging in negative gossip. Yes is not simply a word.

Deepening our relationship with God and others happens when our yes becomes a way of living.

We have only a few days left before we celebrate Christmas, the mystery of God becoming human. Now is the time to rehearse our own yes to God by imitating Mary’s faithfulness and obedience to God’s annunciations. Perhaps we could consciously think of our holiday greeting to others as a way to make generosity and joy concrete. Perhaps we could take a few minutes out of our busy days to listen for God’s word to us, say yes, and then put God’s annunciation into action, “enflesh” God’s Presence in the goodness of our own lives. God’s annunciations are perpetual and beg from us a yes response. Will this Christmas be a time to renew our own commitment to say yes to God and God’s offer of salvation?

Adapted from Renew International Prayer Time Year C

What’s In A Word?

Assemblylogosmall_000There’s an old story about a couple that was walking out of church one Sunday: The wife asked the husband, “Did you see the strange hat Mrs. O’Brien was wearing?”
“No, I didn’t,” replied the husband.
“Bill Smith badly needs a hair cut, doesn’t he?” commented the wife.

“Sorry, but I didn’t notice,” her husband said.
“You know, John,” said the wife impatiently,” sometimes I wonder if
you get anything at all out of going to church.”

People get different things out of going to church, depending, it would seem, on what they expect to get when they go there.

Today’s Gospel reading begins by telling us that when Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, that he went up to Nazareth – his home town – and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

What an interesting statement. He went into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.

Jesus grew up attended the synagogue in his home town it was his habit, his practice, his custom, to worship there on the Sabbath day and here he is, after his baptism and anointing with the Holy Spirit, here he is, after already having demonstrated his power and his righteousness, here he is, after showing through healings and teachings his connectedness to God attending weekly worship in the synagogue in his home town.

Why? What did he expect to find there in that experience? Surely he knew it all already? What did he get out of it? Why did he go?

I think that there are several reasons.

The first and most basic of these is that Jesus attended the worship held each Sabbath day because it is part of what it means to keep the Sabbath Day – because it is part of what God commands us to do in the ten commandments.

Second, I believe that Jesus went to the synagogue to hear the Word of God to be reminded of the Word of God and to be recreated by the Word of God this even though he was the Word of God made flesh!

I believe that is because Jesus knew that the Word gives life no matter what container pours it out – just as water from a chipped and dented mug is as good as water from the finest crystal.

Which brings me to another reason: the Word feeds us. The people of Israel in our first reading, and Jesus by his example today in the gospel reading, call us today to pay attention to the God who addresses us –
it really means the difference between a life of exile or a life of, meaning and community; it means the difference between being fed and not being fed.

Jesus went up to Nazareth – and on the Sabbath day, he entered the synagogue – as was his custom.

I think he did this for many reasons – he did it so he might have fellowship with God; he did it to keep the commandments of God; he did it so he might be fed – so that he might be instructed and counseled.

He did it too because it made him a part of God’s people, a people who were not only defined by the name they took and the law they obeyed but by the fact that they gathered together to hear and to pray to the one who named them. The one who said that they would be his people and that he would be their God,

Today the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing as well.

Our ministry? Transpose Jesus’ teachings from words on a page to a way of living. Who are the poor, the captives, the sightless in our midst? Who needs the glad tidings of God’s mercy and presence preached to them? Do our lives bear out our certainty of the Word enfleshed in us?

Christian living is none other than taking God’s Word and making it concrete by the way we live. Our daily living is the Word made flesh among us.