The Gospel reading for the fourth week of Advent comes from Luke 1:26-38, where the Angel Gabriel visits Mary, announcing that she is chosen to bear God’s Son. In verse 34, Mary is struggling to believe Gabriel’s news, she says to the angel, “How will this happen?’ … ‘I’m still a virgin!’” Gabriel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” To which Mary responds in verse 37, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary’s response to the Angel (and in turn to God) are some of the most courageous words in Scripture. Mary was likely aware of what could happen to her. Being a young single pregnant Jewish woman in first century Palestine would not be easy. Yet despite all the risks, Mary responded, “Let it be.”
Mary had courageous faith. She was willing to trust God no matter the consequences. Through the history of the church there have been many followers of Jesus who have said the same thing, even to the point of death. It reminds me of people such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said “let it be” to God as he resisted the rise of Nazism in Germany or Martin Luther King who said “let it be” to God as he fought against unjust laws in Birmingham Alabama. They practiced radical courage.
We need that kind of courageous faith today as well. Our “let it be” may not be on the scale of a Bonhoeffer or King, but we need courageous faith everyday, even in small ways–in our home, our work, our school, our church, and our community. God needs women and men who are not afraid to trust him despite the consequences. Mary said, let it be. And because of that she embraced the awesome responsibility of bearing God in her womb. In a sermon about Mary’s response to God, Barbara Brown Taylor once said:
“If you decide to say no, you simply drop your eyes and refuse to look up until you know the angel has left the room and you are alone again. Then you smooth your hair and go back to your spinning or your reading or whatever it is that is most familiar to you and pretend that nothing has happened…. Or you can set your book down and listen to a strange creature’s strange idea. You can decide to take part in a plan you did not choose, doing things you do not know how to do for reasons you do not entirely understand. You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body.
- From “Mothers of God ” in Gospel Medicine
Thinking about Mary’s “let it be”, reminds me of the classic song from the Beatles by the same title. At one point in the song, they sing: “And when the brokenhearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.” May we alongside Mary, hear with awe and wonder that the God of all the universe has strangely decided to act through us, and with Mary may we ponder what all of this means, and may we have the courage to respond, let it be.
Advent 4, Year B, 2011