Materials for Worship on the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Nerys writes: Today we light the Candle of Love and, as we listen to Luke’s account of God’s calling of Mary and her response, we reflect on the challenge of its message for us personally and as Christ’s followers.

God of perfect love,
you help us to face our fears,
to know the truth about ourselves
to be set free to grow and change.
You call us not to be afraid.
Meet us where we are,
speak to us through the words and the silence,
touch us with your healing love
so that we may share your peace
in and though Jesus, the child who is to come.

Today I invite you to deviate a little from the lectionary and to reflect on all of the story given by Luke surrounding the conception of Jesus, rather than Mary’s response to the angel’s message only. Read Luke 1.26-56.

Something wonderful happened to me this month. Since the age of three I had dreamt of being Mary in a Nativity play. Year after year, when I was in Primary School, I would get my hopes up only to be disappointed. When I was five, I was cast as the second Wise Man and after that I was usually a narrator or sang in the choir until I was too old to play the part, or so I thought. But this year, at the grand old age of 59, I got to be Mary as part of the Christmas Journey event. I got to dress in blue and sit at the manger with Joseph, gently cradling baby Jesus in my arms, smiling serenely at the shepherds and the wise men as I received their gifts. And it got me thinking …

It got me wondering, is this passive, gentle, agreeable person, put on a pedestal by so many, the Mary I have got to know over the years? Is this the Mary of Luke’s Gospel? The story you’ve just read, and especially her song, the Magnificat, the longest speech given to a woman in the New Testament, insist on a very different picture …

Mary was a nobody . She was a poor girl living in a rural village in an occupied country. Everyone around her would have discounted her. But God did not.

Mary has no special qualifications to have been chosen by God. She was an ordinary young woman. She could have been anybody. She is chosen simply because she is chosen. She was given an invitation from God’s unconditional love, to receive a gift.

Mary could have refused God’s gift. Instead, she held out her hands, received it and unwrapped it. It is her response to God’s approach that singles her out. She said yes to God’s risky and seemingly impossible plan.

Her cousin Elizabeth was part of that plan. Both women had shared the ancient dream of their people. A dream that one day all that the prophets had said would come true. Both women had searched the scriptures, soaked themselves in the psalms and prophetic writings that talked of their faithful God of mercy, hope and compassion coming to the rescue at last. And now they celebrate together what God is going to do through the sons God will give them.

Filled with God’s Holy Spirit, both mothers-to-be pour out their delight in shouts and songs of blessing, praise and prophecy. Mary’s song speaks of a world turned upside down. A world where the powers that kept their people in slavery would be toppled and the economic and social order transformed. The poor would become rich and ordinary people would take the reins of power. Mary echoes her son’s preaching and promises of coming of God’s kingdom.

Mary’s own life would be turned upside down as God’s promise grew within her. Her son and Saviour would bring her tears and pain as well as great joy as he brought his Father’s kingdom to birth, through his life, death and resurrection.

Mary’s song challenges us to respond as she did to God’s invitation to join in with his plan to make things right in our lives and in the world. Pray for those in need today and for those working for justice.

To finish you may wish to spend time with this Orthodox icon of Mary with the Christ child and with a personal prayer of commitment based on the words of Annie Heppenstall-West.

Grow in me, love child.
Grow and fill me with life;
make me your home.

Grow in me, Christ-child;
be born of tears and pain
in unshakeable love.

Grow to fullness in me;
open me and live through me;
I am yours.