The Rev. Melanie McCarley
The composer Mozart once insisted: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
In the lessons for today we are gifted with story and with song. The Story, of course, is the Annunciation, the visitation of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary with a most startling proposal from the Lord Most High. And the Song? This is the Magnificat, which we recited in place of the psalm in today’s lessons. It leads me to ponder; perhaps the real music on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, is held in the tension of the silence between Gabriel’s question and Mary’s reply.
As we listen to this morning’s reading, it’s all too easy for us to picture the scene as progressing quickly from one moment to the next. Gabriel arrives, lays out the plan, and Mary accepts and boom! The Son of God is on the way. Yet, I wonder. Is this really how it happened?
I picture Mary as a bit too thoughtful an individual to respond to Gabriel’s offer quite so quickly. After all, God didn’t choose Mary to be the Mother of his Son because she was gullible. Mary was chosen for her faith; and, if we pause to read (really read) the Magnificat, we see a picture of Mary that is dramatically different than the portrait of meek subservience that have composed most renditions of the Mother of God that have been handed down to us through the generations. Listen again to what Mary says: “God has scattered the proud in their conceit and has cast down the mighty from their thrones. God has lifted up the lowly and has filled the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.” This sounds less like a meek and humble maiden and more like a fiery revolutionary. Mary is outraged on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden; those mistreated by others in authority. It should make those of us who sit comfortably in our homes squirm with discomfort in our well-padded chairs.
Imagine the scene. Following his greeting, Gabriel lays out the plans of the Lord: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The words seem almost to tumble out in a rush, as though they are too preposterous even for an Archangel of God to speak aloud. And here, I imagine another silence. A long silence.
Mary listens, and ponders. And then she asks: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Interestingly, her query doesn’t question the power of God to make such outlandish plans, instead she wonders how (and this, mind you, is a very practical question), (how) this can be .
Gabriel rushes on: “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…. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Once finished presenting the offer with as much clarity as possible, Gabriel waits. I suspect angels are good at waiting. I do not see Gabriel tapping his foot, nodding encouragingly or rustling his wings in anticipation. (That would be me. This is how I would respond). Instead, I picture this angel waiting with expectation—patient, yet tremendously, utterly engaged. He would wait for as long as it took. For this was a decision that could not be coerced. Nor would resigned acquiescence be enough. The final decision, resting with this young woman, would have to be hers, and hers alone. It would have to be made with the whole heart—body, soul and mind. Then, the Gospel tells us, Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
From the moment of the proposal to the point of acceptance, all of heaven must have been waiting expectantly for an answer. In my mind, this waiting would have been a beautiful, long silence (an eternity held in those moments) as Mary pondered in her heart. And here is where the music is—because if Mary was to say “yes” it would not be because she was forced into making the decision; nor would it be because she was merely doing what was expected of an obedient young woman. It would be because her heart harmonized with the will of God.
Dianne Bergent writes: “According to ancient Christian writers, God waits for Mary’s “yes’ creation waits; Adam and Eve wait, the dead in the underworld wait; the angels wait; and so do we. With Mary’s “yes”, hope Is enlivened and history is changed. There is an unimaginable future for all people, a future that comes from God. … Salvation is created among us .... This salvation resides in the hearts of those who believe in the gift and who stay awake eagerly to know it is coming. With David we await it, with the nations we long for it, and with Mary we behold it.”
In the end, Mary’s “yes” becomes an example for you and me as well. Because, for each of us, Christ is offered as a gift; and in this offering, I imagine that God and Heaven also wait for our response. Listen again to these questions from our Baptismal Covenant: “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?” In those moments between the offer and our acceptance—in the silence of reflection, as we ponder just what our response will be, all of heaven waits. The music that results is ultimately dependent on our response—the response of our heart. May we each be gifted this holy season, with a heart like Mary. Gentle hearts, filled with wonder, joy and praise; practical hearts which look for how this can be; and hearts large enough to accept both suffering as well as hope; brave and courageous hearts, imaginative and eager to do the will of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.