I think that most of us like a surprise gift at Christmas; something we hadn’t expected, something different from the usual socks, jumpers or chocolates.
When we read Luke 1:26-38, I don’t think surprise could even begin to describe what Mary must have felt at the news she received.
According to an angel, she, an unmarried young girl, will by the power of the Holy Spirit, have a baby, to be named Jesus. He will be the Son of God. Now, that’s what you call a surprise!
It was news which, initially, she had difficulty in understanding because it defied human logic. How on earth could it possibly be true? “How can this be”? Mary asked the angel. (1:34).
Well, of course, there was no way on earth this could happen. But God is not confined by the rules of the world. He makes the rules, “For nothing is impossible with God”. (1:37)
So, Mary put her lack of understanding aside and responded in faith and with acceptance and obedience to God.
And when Mary told the news to Joseph, her fiancé, to say he was surprised was probably an understatement. Yet, in an act of complete faith and trust, he too accepted God’s will.
There can be times we may be prompted or asked to do something; to become involved in something different or new.
We may think about it, pray about it, and carefully weigh everything up before coming to a decision. On the other hand, we may simply and immediately say ‘No’.
Regardless, what sometimes concerns us most is doubt. We may question our ability to take on this work or, perhaps feel that the responsibility is too daunting.
What we forget too often, however, is that when God calls us to His service, we do not depend on our own strength but His. As Mary was told, “For nothing is impossible with God”: nothing!
Each one of us has work to do in God’s service. Each one of us has a part to play which is ours and ours alone. It is work which has our name on it. But sometimes fear or doubt hold us back. “It is too much for me”, “I can’t do it”. We allow our doubts to defeat us.
Advent is about looking forward to the birth of Jesus. It is also about being prepared for Christ’s coming again – the Second Advent.
While the preparations may take us to Christmas, the greater preparation is to welcome Christ on his return.
And that is a challenge to the Church and its Mission. It is a challenge to us as we play our part in God’s work.
The birth of Jesus, his living, death and resurrection are life-changing; they are world-changing. Archimedes once said, “Give me a place to stand, and with a lever I will move the whole world”.
Those who stand with Christ, the Church, have been given a lever to move the world. It is the Gospel that came to the World at Christmas with the birth of Christ.
It is the Gospel of Hope; the Gospel of Peace, of Joy and of Love. It is a Gospel which surprises. It is a Gospel which transforms. It is a Gospel that forgives and makes new.
It is a Gospel in which we see ordinary people playing a key role when they respond to God. Just think, if Mary had said, “I can’t do this. It is too much for me”, what would have happened?
If Joseph had rejected Mary what would have happened?
This episode reminds us that ordinary human beings were part of the extraordinary plan of Salvation which God has for the World. That is the real surprise.
God invited, and still invites, ordinary people; it’s unbelievable. God invites you and me, everybody, to be part of His on-going plan. We each have a part to play.
Surprising? It’s astonishing! But is something we should get used to because “nothing is impossible with God”.
Loving Lord of all, as we wait to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, we know that, like Mary, we have a challenge from You. You ask us, weak and imperfect as we are, to help transform the world by love. You challenge us to show Your love, in our love for one another.
May we accept that challenge by sharing in the joys and sorrows of those around us and by caring for and comforting those going through difficult times.
As angels await to sing the Good News of a holy birth may we, like the angels, be prepared to share God’s news in our lives.
May our commitment to Christ be re-energised this Christmas and may we be inspired by Your Spirit to live lives of selflessness, thoughtfulness and love.
Amen and may we all know the peace of God, in our waiting, our living and our working.