Optional Reading: Psalm 113 or 113:9
How interesting to get to the Sunday where the Narrative Lectionary finally begins to dovetail with both the Revised Common Lectionary and some of popular culture. Today in the Narrative Lectionary, we see and hear (again?) the promises of the angel Gabriel and Mary's response.
Many of us are already preparing for Christmas as we loop back to the beginning of the story. I read the Narrative Lectionary lessons the morning after I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. What a remarkable television show, with Linus reciting, in the language of the King James Bible, the true meaning of Christmas. Year after year we watch this unabashedly Christian Christmas special that airs into a popular culture that usually wouldn't endorse a pro-Christian stance. And then there's the larger message of Christmas that drenches the whole story: that love can redeem us all, from the scrawniest tree to the most ineffective person to the most suffocating/repressive/brutal kinds of culture, whether that culture be a group of elementary school kids to the empires of the world.
The Narrative Lectionary has been reminding us of God's collision with the brutal world. God always has a better vision for us than we can dream for ourselves. God always has a need for collaborators to help with the redemption of the world. God can use the most unlikely humans, the ones the world would cast away. And amazing things often happen when those human outcasts say yes to God.
The story of Mary and Elizabeth is a classic story of God's call and human response. Here's a story of two women, two women unlikely to conceive, one because she is unmarried, one because she is barren. The angel reminds us, "For with God nothing will be impossible."
That message leaps out to speak to us in our cynical age. We've grown used to tales of those in government or big business who take bribes or steal money. With each new scientific or technological advancement, we wonder how it will be abused or go terribly wrong. A nation or people that commits genocide no longer has the power to shock--after the 20th century, you'd have to kill a lot of people to make it into the record books of murderers. We're a culture drenched in irony and knowing smirks. What we seem to lack is hope.
The angel tells Mary not to be afraid, and that, too, is a message we need to hear. Don't dance with your dread. Don't keep company with your fears, your worst case scenarios. Dream big. Think of the world God promises: God will fill the hungry with good things. The one who is mighty does great things for the lowly.
Listen to Gabriel again. God has a use for each of us, if we can hear the message through our fears and doom and gloom. No one is too insignificant. If God can accomplish great things by means of a young woman, a barren woman, a variety of wandering preachers and prophets, just think what God might accomplish with all of our gifts and resources.