Advent 2021 | First United Methodist Church of Rockwall
The Weary World Rejoices
Week Two, December 5 — Let It Be, Rev. Larry Gipson
Foundational Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. – Luke 1:26-38
Most of us who grew up in the church are familiar with the story. We know that the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary with the good news that she would give birth to a son by the Holy Spirit. And we know that Mary responded to this good news with faith and fortitude. Time and again we’ve heard about Mary’s concluding words — “I am the Lord’s servant… May your word to me be fulfilled” — as emblematic of the straightforward, trusting response that God wants from all of us. However, I wonder if we’ve misunderstood Mary. I wonder if we’ve flattened her faith to suit our needs rather than understanding her as a complex person with struggles of her own.
If you read Luke’s account of Mary’s conversation with Gabriel, you’ll notice she responds to the angel’s good news in a variety of ways, not just trust. She’s confused by his greeting and questions the possibility of her pregnancy. She might have even struggled to understand how it was “good news” for her to become pregnant as a teenage girl out of wedlock, with a fiance, a family, and a society who would struggle to believe her account of things. Even her concluding statement, “May your words to me be fulfilled,” can be read as less a jubilant cry and more of an accepting acquiescence. She trusts God enough to go along with the plan, but she still has concerns.
Thinking about Mary in this way reminds me that faith isn’t always a joyful leap forward — it can sometimes be taking the next shaky-step because that’s the only way we can move. In 2019, after three years of long distance dating, I felt that God was calling me to move from Boston to Dallas to live in the same city as the woman I love. Even though I had no job in Dallas, I told my congregation that I would leave them in June of 2020, giving them seven months to find a replacement and allowing me to end the school year with my youth. Little did I know that this timeline would have me traveling across a country ravaged not just by COVID-19, but by protests and unrest centered around racial injustice. Like Mary, I feared what my journey might bring, but I knew I had to move forward. Thanks be to God that I did so. I now serve an amazing community of faith (that’s all y’all, of course!), and my fiance and I have set our wedding date for October of next year. While I’m excited for our life together, there’s still a good deal in our world to be nervous about — COVID-19 and racial injustice still among them. My encouragement for all of us, myself included, is to be like Mary, trusting in God, even as we take that next shaky-step of faith.
For Further Reflection:
- It’s pretty wild to think about an angel visiting a young woman and delivering the kind of news Gabriel did to Mary. Reflect on a time that you found yourself in an extraordinary situation. How did God provide in the midst?
2. Mary’s response to Gabriel at first was one of shock and worry but as the story progresses you can see her move from fear to acceptance. In the end Mary declared herself “the Lord’s servant.” When is a time this year that you’ve moved from fear to acceptance to commitment in serving the Lord?
3. Gabriel serves as God’s messenger in this story, but you don’t have to be a celestial being to speak love and truth. Who has served as one of God’s messengers in your life? Reach out and thank them for their meaningful presence.
4. Mary’s faith serves as a good example of our own faith. It is imperfect and messy and hopeful and ever changing. How has your faith evolved over time?
5. When have you taken a big step in faith without knowing how it was all going to turn out?
Spiritual Practice: Lectio Divina (Divine Reading)
Lectio Divina is a slow, prayerful, deliberate reading and re-reading of Scripture. We suggest using the passage from this week’s Advent study Luke 1:26-38. Each day this week take some time to delve deeply into Scripture.
There are 4 steps to this spiritual practice:
In this step, the key is to slow down and focus fully on the passage at hand. Read through it slowly and intentionally.
After one slowly and deliberately reads and re-reads the text, they move to the next step — mediatio, or “meditating” on the text. In this read through, one continues to “sit with the text.” Circle or underline any words or phrases that stand out to you.
Oratio (Praying the Text)
This step of Lectio Divina is often conceptualized as “having a conversation with God” about the text. As you read through the text again, particularly reflect on the words or phrases that stood out to you in your last reading. As Christians we believe the Bible is a living document. What is God inviting you to hear in this text?
In the process of Lectio Divina, contemplatio is often referred to as resting in God. During your last read through of the text, rest. Breathe deeply, read slowly, and give thanks to God for this time together.
Family Advent Moment:
This week’s service opportunity is mainly for teens and their parents, but indivduals and even your entire family can get involved, too! Every month, First UMC Rockwall Youth partners with One Man’s Treasure, an organization that provides clothing for men just released from prison to help them get a fresh start on life. Our teens sort clothes and write out motivational Scripture verses to inspire these men. Teens and parents can sign up on our website to join us on Tuesday, December 7 from 5-7 PM, and family members of all ages can write out Scripture verses on index cards and drop them off at church. If you don’t know what Scripture to use, just choose one or two verses from the many Scripture passages in this devotional. As you write out these verses of Scripture, know that you are taking on the role of God’s messenger, like the angel Gabriel, sharing good news with people who desperately need it!
To sign up for the One Man’s Treasure service opportunity, please go to