I cannot believe we have made it to the 4th Sunday of Advent. I am not used to preaching so far into Advent – worship is usually filled with the cantata and Christmas pageant … this year it was just Nathan and me telling the story with words and music. Not a bad thing. <3
Here is my sermon, as well as the video of worship. My sermon begins at the 21:30 mark.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
December 18, 2020
It Is Okay To Hesitate
I went down a little bit of a rabbit hole this week when I was putting together the order of worship for this morning’s service. When I read this passage out of Luke – the call of Mary – it made me think about this song from a musical I remember from the early 2000’s. The musical is called, Child Of The Promise – A Musical Celebrating The Birth Of Christ; it is, as you can probably presume from the title, a musical dramatization of the Christmas story. It never really took off; my rabbit hole did bring me to a, shall we say, lackluster review of a live performance, which might explain why there are not a whole lot of traces of it on the internet.
There is one song, however, that I have always loved, that was sung by Mary. The song is called, Let it Be to Me, which is, of course, a nod to the words of this scripture, where the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will conceive a child and name him Jesus, and that he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. Mary initially responds by asking the angel how this is possible – and the angel explains to her that nothing is impossible with God. Then Mary responds with these powerfully humble and obedient words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
My rabbit hole then took me to a live performance of this song where the singer offered a reflection on Mary before she began to sing. She talked about these words and about Mary’s willingness to follow God, despite the gravity of what God was asking her to do. The singer wondered if she, too, would respond with such trust and conviction.
To be fair, I have often thought the same thing; if an angel came to me and said, “God needs you to do ‘insert something as significant as giving birth to the Messiah’ here,” how would I respond? Would my response mirror Mary’s obedience? Or would I fumble with words before finally spitting out, “I think you meant to call someone else,” and walk away?
I’m tempted to think it might look something closer to the latter.
But here is the fascinating thing about Mary’s call story, something I think we often overlook. At first she hesitated; she questioned how it was all going to work out. When the angel said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus,” her first response was, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
Mary had some questions. Mary had some doubts. Mary wanted to know how it was all going to work out; she needed some reassurance. It was not until the angel Gabriel explained to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that her child would be holy and that nothing is impossible with God that Mary said those words that penetrate so deeply within this story and our reason for the season, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
You all know that I have a strong affinity for Mary; so what I am about to say takes nothing away from the deep reverence I have for her and for what she did for our faith and for our world.
But Mary hesitated at first. She had this very human and inquisitive response to the angel’s call. She had legitimate questions about how it was all going to play out and what was going to happen next and do you know what? The angel did not fault her for asking those questions; Gabriel answered those questions and then Mary said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
I think it is okay if sometimes we hesitate. I think it is okay if sometimes we have questions. I think it is okay if we need reassurance that things are going to work out. I think it is okay if we need an explanation about how those things are going to work out. This does not make us less faithful, it just makes us human.
And needing the hope and the promise of Christmas now, more than ever.
We have been asked to do some really hard things this year; some of these things are hopefully temporary – some might be more permanent. And we have all tried to be strong and faithful and obedient.
But we have all had our moments. We have all had our moments of anger and frustration, of doubt and confusion, of longing and desperation. We have all had our moments where we have demanded answers, even if we have not gotten them yet. We have all had our moments where we were not sure that we could keep moving forward. We have all had our moments where we needed to know a little bit more of the story, because from our vantage point, there were a whole lot of gaps that needed to be filled in.
And so I think we can all take comfort in Mary’s initial response to the angel. I think we can all be reassured that it is okay to hesitate. I think it is good for us to be reminded that asking questions will not take away from our humble obedience to God and what God is asking us to do. I think it is okay if we want to know what is going to happen next or how it is going to happen.
We are all doing the very best that we can right now. And while I do think the Christmas story reminds us that the story of God is a story about ordinary people being called to do extraordinary things, additionally I think it is also a story about those people looking around at seemingly impossible circumstances and wondering what the heck God is up to.
Believe me; right now I, too, am wondering.
It is okay if you have questions or doubts. It is okay if you need reassurance or explanations. Christianity is not an all or nothing thing. We are not judged by our first impressions or the questions we might ask before we say; the point of resurrection and redemption and reconciliation is that we keep going and that we keep working at it and that we try again if we do not get it right the first time.
I know we are all tired and weary and wondering when – and how – things will start to get better.
It is okay if we ask those questions. Asking those questions will not make us less faithful; it will just make us more ready to eventually say, “Okay God, I am in.” A little bit of hesitation might give us the courage and strength to eventually say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Like I said, we have been asked to do some really hard things this year; and even with the joyous and hope-filled vaccine distributions that began this week, we all know that we still have something of an uphill climb before we find ourselves on the other side of this.
And we are ready; I know we can do it.
But it is also okay if we have a little bit of hesitation first.
So may we, in addition to her humble obedience, also have the questions and the inquisitiveness of Mary. And may we find answers to those questions in the most unexpected ways and places – perhaps even a manger on Christmas morning – as we seek to live out God’s call for us in our lives and throughout the world.
Thanks be to God!