Meditation on Luke 1:26-38
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
Pastor Karen Crawford
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Dec. 20, 2020
Here are audio files of the Luke reading and the message:
Jim and I watched one of my favorite movies this week, The Sound of Music. I don’t know what I like best about it. It might be that the story is based on the true story of the governess Maria and Captain von Trapp, a Naval hero in Vienna during the Nazi occupation in WWII. It could be the cast—including a beautiful, young Julie Andrews with a powerful voice and dashing Christopher Plummer—and it could be the wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein music. It could be all of these!
Though it had been years since I had seen the movie, I couldn’t help but join in the songs I had sung as a child. Jim sang along, too.
“The hills are alive with the sound of music. With songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music. My heart wants to sing every song it hears…”
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings:
These are a few of my favorite things.”
I remember thinking when I was a young child how strange it was to be watching a movie and, suddenly, the characters burst into song. “That doesn’t happen in real life,” I told my mom. But the songs in The Sound of Music flow naturally, moving the story forward and helping the characters express their feelings.
This is the case with Edelweiss, after Captain von Trapp’s children beg their father to sing, something he hasn’t done since his wife passed away years before. The gruff sea captain who calls his children with a whistle reveals a gentle, sweeter side as he sings to them, gathered around him on a rug. We see Maria’s face soften as she watches and listens from across the room.
“Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever.”
The young novitiate who didn’t fit into the structured, restrictive life of the abbey will tell the 16-year-old daughter that the important thing is to find God’s will for your life—and do it. The advice is as much for herself—as it is for Liesl. For Maria had run away from the von Trapp family, returning to the abbey, without saying goodbye on the night she dances with the captain and blushes in his arms.
“I felt, I’ve never felt that way before, I couldn’t stay,” she tells the Reverend Mother. “I knew that here I’d be away from it. I’d be safe… I can’t face him again… Oh, there were times when we would look at each other. Oh, Mother, I could hardly breathe… That’s what’s been torturing me. I was there on God’s errand. To have asked for his love would have been wrong. I couldn’t stay, I just couldn’t. I’m ready at this moment to take my vows. Please help me.”
The Reverend Mother answers, “Maria, the love of a man and a woman is holy, too. You have a great capacity to love. What you must find out is how God wants you to spend your love…No, you must find out and you must go back… These walls were not built to shut out problems. You have to face them. You have to live the life you were born to live.”
The Reverend Mother sings, “Climb every mountain. Search high and low. Follow every byway, every path you know. Climb every mountain. Ford every stream. Follow every rainbow. Till you find your dream.”
Do you ever wonder what Mary’s dreams were before the angel Gabriel shows up and, suddenly, her life goes in an unexpected direction. This young woman of humble means and growing faith would give birth and be mother to the Savior of the world.
What was she doing that day and where was she, other than in the small town of Nazareth, when the angel came? Was she at home? Was she taking a walk? We only know when, for her older relative, Elizabeth, previously barren, is in the sixth month of her miraculous pregnancy. Her husband, Zachariah the priest, is made unable to speak till the birth of their son, John, because of his unbelief. “How will I know that this is so?” he asks the angel. “For I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.”
Only in the gospel of Luke do we have this exchange between the angel of the Lord and Mary and actually hear Mary’s voice—both speaking and singing! She responds to the news that she is God’s “favored one” by being “much perplexed by his words” and pondering “what sort of greeting this might be.” She does more pondering in Luke 2:19, when the shepherds meet Mary and Joseph and the child, lying in the manger, and they tell them what the angels had said about Jesus. Mary treasures all these words and ponders them in her heart.
Mary has only one question for the angel. How? “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Her question is not like Zechariah’s, coming from a place of unbelief.
The angel responds to Mary’s question with a how answer.“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore, the child to be born will be holy and will be called Son of God.” The young woman accepts this explanation without question or comment, along with the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The angel says—for Mary’s benefit and for ours, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mary doesn’t need to know anything more. She places her complete trust in God, though becoming pregnant out of wedlock would make her an outcast—and could put an end to her arranged marriage to Joseph.
She makes a decision that day to live out God’s will for her. She doesn’t argue with the angel. She doesn’t say, like Moses does, “send someone else!” She professes to be not just a servant of the Lord, but His slave. The Greek word doulos means “slave,” not “handmaid,” as some translations say. Ponder this! Mary is Christ’s first disciple. She believes! Her trust is based not on her own goodness or wisdom but on her understanding of God’s faithfulness, of his love. She joyfully surrenders her life to him and knows to whom she belongs. “Let it be with me according to your word,” she says.
She’s so happy about it, that she goes in haste to see her older relative Elizabeth in the hill country. What does she do when Elizabeth confirms the wonderful news? She sings!
She bursts into a song of praise for the God who has “looked with favor on the lowliness of his slave.” Magnificat is the Latin word that begins the phrase, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The world has been turned upside down with the angel’s announcement. The proud are scattered, the hungry are filled with good things; the rich are sent away empty. None of this has happened, yet, in Mary’s lifetime. But still she believes. She praises God’s strength and “mercy for those who fear him from generation to generation.” She is one who “fears” her Lord, holding God in awe and wonder, worshiping him, obeying his word.
Friends, I am challenged by Mary’s example to be more faithful, to live in obedience to the God for whom nothing is impossible! Are you challenged and inspired by Mary, too? Are you living the life God wants you to live? Do you know how God wants you to spend your love? If you ask the Lord, He will show you.
On this Fourth Sunday in Advent, we light a candle for love. We are stirred to remember the love of God who sent His only Son to be born, not with a fanfare of trumpets and a worldly, kingly welcome, but in a stable, from the womb of a humble, faithful young woman.
We remember the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—not just one time at our baptism, but continually refreshed in us as we seek him and walk with him each day. This love poured into our hearts is a love desperately needed by our hurting world, especially now, when so many are grieving the loss of loved ones. More than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 alone this year!
I can’t imagine what that must be like—your loved one dying and you not being permitted to be with them, holding their hand.
The brokenness in this world can only be healed by LOVE, a love that responds to the Lord’s invitation to serve and trust in him, be comforted by Him and live for Him,
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we magnify your holy name! We praise you for Jesus Christ, our Savior, and what you are doing here in our church, in our community, in our lives, in our hearts. We can’t see what is ahead for us, but we know you are with us. Thank you for your mercy and faithfulness to all generations. Help us to fear you and be obedient to your will. And when things look dark, teach us to trust in the One for whom nothing is impossible! In your Son’s precious name we pray. Amen.