Here at St. Edward the Confessor we have a beautiful practice during Advent and Lent – Evening Prayer on Tuesday evenings at 7 PM. While we have thought about doing this outside of the liturgical seasons mentioned, we have not done so. And there is something special about bracketing these times when we are called to a particular kind of attention.
Last night I was privileged to once again offer the reflection and I am reprinting the text of my reflection here. Please note, if you were present, I do read from the script, but I do deviate from it as well. Thus – this may be slightly different than what you heard!
Thank you to everyone who has attended evening prayer so faithfully! Thank you to everyone who has come just once! Thank you everyone – presider, helpers, music ministers and other reflectors, for another beautiful season of prayer.
Are You Ready? A Reflection on the Gospel According to Luke, 1:26-38.
The question is everywhere… I am asked it and although I say that I am not going to ask it, I do… You know, you have said it yourself – I’m pretty sure you have either asked or been asked this at least once this week…
After all, we have this nice long Advent, the one in which that last purple taper gets to burn down a bit, just like the others, thanks to the fourth Sunday being followed by 6 entire days. More time to – get ready. Whatever ready means! Ready for what?
Do you ever wonder if Mary was ready for what happened to her? I find it impossible to not think about that. I don’t recall hearing Gabriel asking her about her readiness.
Finding out that you are pregnant is pretty huge news all the way around. All the more so when you are young, unmarried and living in First Century Palestine; a place with very strong social, cultural, moral and religious codes. This went against every one of them!
And when you also hear that you will bear the Son of God… That’s pretty significant and beyond out of the ordinary.
In terms of time or context, Mary did not have a calendar or a wreath to remind her of the promise of a long Advent. Mary did not have an iPhone and a to do list or plans for what the Christmas meal would be. We do not know just how Mary was “ready,” but when informed of this news, ready is exactly what she seemed to be pretty quickly.
How can anyone possibly be ready to bear the child who is the Christ?
In November of 1991, I had the chance to go to the Tate Museum in London. In one of the galleries, I saw an image of the Annunciation, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The image was so different from traditional Annunciation scenes and at first I found it a little shocking; However, it remains one of my favorites today… In the scene painted by Rossetti, Mary looks like she was woken up abruptly and her eyes are cast down. She seems a bit withdrawn, shaken. It is quite a change from the typical reverent and attentive girl and angel scene that we are so familiar with.
Seeing this image was important for me – because as a result of it, I started to see Mary in a new light and I will forever be grateful for that. I think about that painting, and I imagine someone asking that particular Mary, “are you ready for Christ to be born?” In this seconds-before-the-fiat moment, she looks anything but!
Are any of us ever ready? Ready for what?
While we busy ourselves with the business of trees, cards, cookies, gifts and meals, Christ is waiting to be brought forth in all of us – each and every one of us. Yes, here we are – awoken out of sound sleep, we are the great unready ones!
We are all asked, like Mary in today’s Gospel, to be a dwelling place for the Lord and to bring forth the Lord. Who is ready for that? I’m pretty certain that no one is rushing to the head of the line to go first. I know that I’m not.
Yet, God has always uses the most unlikely characters in the most unlikely ways and in the most unlikely places, to bring forth God’s message. And we know that when God approached, not everyone was so happy about it.
In a long list of God’s people from Moses (hey, my brother Aaron would be a better choice!) to Jonah (he flees to a boat and ends up in a whale!) to the Samaritan woman at the well (Excuse me Jesus, you can’t talk to me, I am a Samaritan and a woman!), and so many others who God choose to be messengers and prophets. No not everyone is jumping at the prospect, but like the others, Mary does say yes. Let us remember that Mary’s role is unique indeed, but we are all asked to do something similar.
We don’t have to literally bear the Christ Child; we just need to do our part.
Are we ready for this?
God has also chosen the most unlikely places to be made known – in the vast desert of the Sinai, in Babylon during the exile, in rooms full of tax collectors and prostitutes and in a filthy, stinking food trough in a backwater town on a cold, dark night.
These places were no more ready than the people who dwelled in them, but God presses on always, full of hope and full of promise in this great unready and unlikely landscape.
While we work ourselves up to whatever this “ready” is, God is here among us, filled with that same sense of hope and promise, asking us all to go forth.
How do we do this?
One way may be to simply find a moment to allow ourselves to be like Mary in the Rossetti piece – awakened. It may be startling and disconcerting, but we are shaken from our sleep for a good reason.
I am reminded of my stepdaughter who is 15, probably about the same age that Mary was during the Annunciation. She is a great kid, but I can tell you that even after 12 hours of sleep on a weekend, if I wake her up, she is cranky. That’s just the way it is and I have come to accept this. It is sometimes hard to remember that God created all of this, all of us – cranky and unready as we are – and God can figure out how to work with it. But we are asked to respond and cooperate and that is what we are called to be ready for.
But… Are we ready for that?
Speaking of crankiness, the second thing might be that we need to just sit with the sense of discomfort that comes from being called out of sleep. The cranky feelings may pass, but one still feels potentially disoriented, not anchored – truly unmoored. We do not feel good or right – or ready.
But, who said this was supposed to feel good all the time anyway? That is a fallacy if ever there was one. Despite the urge to pour a glass of wine, go in search of Christmas cookies, or just zone out in front of the computer or TV, maybe it is just about waiting – even just for a few brief moments – in this rather uncomfortable place.
This waiting may illuminate a path of holy discomfort and God will guide us into how we might lean into that place and follow that path instead of fleeing from it. And that means whether we feel ready or not. And honestly – who ever feels ready?
A third way might be to accept that God has chosen the potentially least swanky place in town to set up house – in me and in you. Nothing personal, but we are not Mary.
Forget that rush to straighten up before the cleaning person arrives. The Divine Cleaner has come to the Biggest Mess. Open the door, usher God in and see what happens. I cringe at the thought.
Anyone who knows me knows I am absolutely phobic about having anyone over. Oh – some of you have been there, but I always go on about how I wish my house were cleaner, nicer, bigger, or whatever. It makes me reconsider how I invite – or do not invite, God in, as a result.
So tonight, I ask you to imagine, just for this moment – that we are that Mary in the painting… groggy, cranky, disoriented, and perhaps even a little afraid – and totally not ready for Christmas. But somehow, a very short while later, a few seconds really – Mary says yes, and the world is changed forever.
We don’t have to do as much as Mary did, but we do have to reconsider what “ready for Christmas” means and find a way to say, “Yes. Yes, I am ready for Christmas. I am ready for Christ.”