December 16, 2018

3rd Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Philippians 4: 4-7
Luke 1: 26-38

God of Joy

Listen to this reflection

Luke 1: 26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


In the first and second weeks of Advent, we discovered God’s preference for speaking in paradox, as we wait for Christ to arrive into the world at Christmas.

In the Advent of Hope, we witnessed how God speaks through hardship and even tragedy to tell us about the coming kingdom of God.

In the Advent of Peace, we discovered how God calls on us to move out of “peacefulness”; out of “inactive peace” and into an active peace that calls for Christ’s justice to reign.

This week, in the Advent of Joy, we are invited once again to discover how God speaks in paradox: the paradox of news that is both joyful and challenging, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth.

In the story we have just heard from the Gospel of Luke, the Angel Gabriel has arrived into the life of a young woman named Mary, in the town of Nazareth, to give her the joyous, good news that she will soon give birth to a baby named Jesus.

For us, for all of humanity, this is no doubt joyous news!  God is about to arrive into our world in swaddling clothes, we are about to meet God’s only Son!  Hallelujah!

It’s good news for the world, but it’s troubling news, at least, for Mary.

Luke tells us that the trouble for Mary started even before the Angel Gabriel gave her the Good News of Jesus forthcoming birth. Gabriel had only just arrived. He had only given his greeting:

“Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!”

And already Luke tells us: Mary was much perplexed by his words and wondered what sort of greeting this might be

This story of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary is such a wonderful and joyous story.  It’s a story that has inspired countless people to think and to pray and to create beautiful works of art; about angels and mothers and Jesus and God coming into our lives to bring us good news! It’s a time-honoured pre-Christmas story. It sets up, so wonderfully, all of the beautiful things that are about to take place at Christmas.

But—I think we can agree—that from where Mary’s sitting, it is also a challenging story.

Who among us would volunteer to take Mary’s place in this story?

Who among us would like to be sitting at home one day, minding our own business, only to have an angel of God burst into the room with “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!”

Luke says: Mary was much perplexed

And anytime I read this story, I always find myself wanting to insert: No kidding!

But it’s not just challenging for Mary (and really) for the world, only because seeing an angel is a great surprise. That’s part of the challenge, but not all of it.

After Mary receives the full Good News from Gabriel that she is to become pregnant and bear a boy named Jesus, Son of the Most High, and that this boy will sit on the throne of his ancestors in a “kingdom without end.”

Mary—not surprisingly—has a couple of questions.

But Gabriel, how can this be?!

But Gabriel, how can this be since I am a virgin?  Gabriel I am only engaged to Joseph, I can’t be pregnant!

In that moment in young Mary’s life;

In that moment of anxiety;

In that moment of utter confusion;

In that moment where everything inside her is saying “Hey, wait a minute, can we stop the ride, I want to get off!”

Mary experiences, for herself, for all of humanity, and for us, the language of God’s paradox:

The joy and the fear

The good news and the challenge

The faith and the questioning

that every person who comes to know God (by the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love of His Son Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for our sins), that every person who has ever called on Jesus’ will also know.

Mary experiences the language of God’s paradox: that the Good News is not only joyful but also challenging, that the Good News of our salvation-in-Christ is not only faith-inspiring but also question-raising, that everyone who walks with Jesus in this life and prays to God and reads Scripture and tries to live in His Light will at some point come to a point of: “What?!”


I’m pregnant?

You want me to go through that?

You want me to forgive them?!

You want me to follow you where?!

Like Mary, God calls us into challenging calls and experiences.

However, it is through these experiences.

It is through the experiences where God comes too close or too unexpectedly or asks too much that we grow in faith.

The wonderful and (again) paradoxical thing about God’s work in our lives is that God will do it all if we will let Him:

God will bring the unexpected voice, the challenging call into our lives.

God will listen as we struggle to understand, as we struggle to muster the faith to respond.

And finally, if we let Him, God will give us that necessary faith.

The most amazing thing in this story,

The most amazing thing in a story about a young woman and an angel and a miraculous child who will one day save all of humanity is that—in the end—Mary responds with simple faith:

“Here I am, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.”

In the end, we realize that this story includes many kinds of joy:

The joy of Gabriel’s arrival to bring the Good News.

The challenging joy as Mary listens to what is about to take place in her womb.

The joy for all of humanity that we are about to welcome the saviour into the world.

And finally, the joy that, even though God asks us to sometimes take on more than we think possible, even though God asks us to have more faith than we think we have, God doesn’t leave us there.

God brings us the Good News, the Saviour, the Call, AND the faith to see it through to the end.

Today, in this Advent of Joy, let us give thanks to God:

For Good News we receive: from Angels named Gabriel, from Scripture, from prayer, from friends, from strangers, from those we thought were enemies;

(let us give thanks) for Jesus Christ, the Saviour who is yet about to arrive into the world once again to cast out fear and draw all near to Him at Christmas;

(let us give thanks) for the Calls that God places in our lives—to live with righteousness, to walk humbly and upright, to defend justice, to care for the marginalized and the oppressed, to care for ourselves.

And finally (let us give thanks) for the faith that God gives us to make each of these things possible.

Let each one of us.  Whether we believe without reservation, whether we waver between faith and faithlessness, whether we struggle to believe any of this incredible story and wonder how others can, whether we aren’t sure just what we believe.

Let all of us experience the Advent of God’s Joy and receive the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love of Christ, the Son of the Most High, the One who makes nothing impossible.


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