Reflection for Sunday – December 19, 2021

Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 
Preacher: Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler

This lovely gospel narrative, beautifully pictured in art, is so familiar to us, isn’t it? We could recite it from memory, couldn’t we?

I’d like to look at the story by way of a couple of themes it brings to mind. First, God’s faithfulness to those who trust in God. Then, its implied social reversal and connection to Jesus’ mission.

The angel Gabriel has just greeted Mary with God’s request that she become the mother of his Son. Her initial reaction was one of confusion: “How can this be?” What must have been racing through her mind? Surely she knew society’s response to an unwed pregnant teen! Anything from  public shame to a painful death sentence. A difficult choice!  Did the angel call forth Mary’s faith and trust in God with Elizabeth’s story?  After all, being barren was also a source of shame in those days. Shame that God miraculously removed. Mary’s faith in the God she loved – and whom she knew loved her – enabled her to trust God’s promise.

Her immediate decision to go to Elizabeth is a bold and brave one. The cousins lived about 100 miles apart! Presumably, Mary had to walk much of the way. And someone must have accompanied her, for protection. She might even have wondered how her cousin would react.

We know that Elizabeth reacted with a joyful welcome. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:42), she already knew Mary’s news. As did her unborn son, John, who leaped within her womb with joy. “Blessed are you among women! And blessed is the fruit of your womb!” “Blessed is she who believed in the promise of the Lord.” Mary’s response was to give glory to God. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Mary’s trust, her praise for God’s love and care, never wavered. Despite her life’s many challenges.

What does it say about our God that God has chosen these two women? Women whom their society would have shamed. But women chosen by God to begin the transformation of the world!

Like Mary, you and I have heard God’s Word and believed. Can we, who have been given a spark of divinity (cf. last week’s homily) trust in God’s love and care? Can we, with that spark of divinity, then love and care for all of God’s creation? Can we give glory to God by our lives?

I think of Frances Haugen, the FaceBook whistleblower. Her educational background convinced her that the algorithms being used hyper magnified extreme content. Making it easier to hate than to be compassionate or empathetic. Prioritizing company growth and profits over the safety of its users. As a woman of faith, she struggled. What, if anything, could/should she do? She remembered a conversation with a colleague : “We solve problems together; we don’t solve them alone.” Long discussions with her mother, an Episcopal priest, ensued. She gained clarity in community. And trusted God’s faithfulness in making her decision.

I think, too, of an ordinary and everyday kind of situation. The kind that many people face these days. Situations fraught with difficulties. And upfront suffering. I have been touched to watch my nephews (and the fiancé of one) care tenderly and patiently for their dying mother at home. Proclaiming the grace and glory of God by their loving care.

You and I may never face such major decisions. But we make choices every day. Little things. Like being careful about phrasing our social media posts. Bringing dinner to a sick neighbor. Being patient in long checkout lines. Providing a kind word to someone who needs it.

Immediately after today’s gospel, Mary’s prayer of praise continues: “For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly…” God’s preference is for the lowly and unassuming. The reality is that God’s love is at work even among those whom society rejects or excludes.

Mary’s Magnificat connects us with Jesus’ mission. A mission really about transforming us and our perceptions into the people we were created to be: Those who trust in the love and care of our faithful God. And who glorify God by sharing that love and care with all God’s creation. Advent is a time for pondering and reflecting. How is each of us called to that sharing?

Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler
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