Progressive Christian Channel
Waiting Together: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 2:39, 56
In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country and greeted Elizabeth . . . and Mary remained with her for about three months and returned to her home."
"The Lord is with you," the angel says when he appears to Mary.
Every Sunday, Christians around the world echo this salutation at the opening of the liturgy when a priest opens worship with the words, "The Lord be with you." The congregation replies automatically with the words, "And also with you." There is a comfort in its rhythm and familiarity, so much so that many liturgical Christians open prayers over meals with this call-and-response, believing it to be a grace.
In reality, though, it is almost more of a curse.
When the angel offers Mary this greeting, she is anything but pleased or comforted. Instead, she is profoundly disturbed and confused. This announcement might be good news, eventually, for someone, but in the terrifying immediacy of the moment, the idea of the Lord-with-us, of Immanuel, was anything but. The details of the angel's message do not make things much better for Mary. She has been chosen, she learns, to carry God's child, to have her genetic code spliced with the Almighty's, to have her body and blood feed the fetus of God.
It is quite possibly the worst news the angel could have given an unmarried woman, that she would become pregnant with a child that did not belong to her fiancé Joseph. If she were to quickly add up her circumstances, she would see nothing but subtraction: the loss of a promised marriage to a craftsman and the inevitable loss of her reputation. If word got out—and in a small town like this, word always gets out—she might very well be known forever as a whore. No one would believe the truth of things, that she was God's harlot, made so in order to save humanity and bring in the shalom society of God.
Not only that, but the Annunciation marks a break with her cultural history. Throughout the Jewish tradition, miraculous births were typically given to the barren not the virginal. Her pregnancy bore more similarities to the Greco-Roman myths that gave rise to the divinity of caesars. Further, if the circumstances of her coming child were made known, it would be seen as a fundamental affront to the Roman Empire and her unborn baby, a subversive rival king from a lesser, contentious people.
David Henson is a writer who lives in Augusta, Georgia, and is currently working on a novel. He received his Master of Arts from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. His meditations on scripture have appeared in Ready the Way: A Walk through Advent (2009), the Christian Century web site, and numerous other blogs. He authors the blogs Unorthodoxology. Find him on Twitter or Facebook.