December 15, 2019
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “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.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “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. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
I Grew up around strong women who regularly changed the world. These were powerful women who saw something they thought should happen, and did something about it. It wasn’t a question of what was easy or possible. Instead they gathered people together and asked “So, how are we going to do this?” When I was in High School I met Carrie, a member of our local Rotary club and a fellow Presbyterian. Carrie is one of those people who sees what needs to be done and figures out how to make it happen. She was one of my heroes growing up for many reasons, not the least of which was that her home had a library, complete with a card catalog. My senior year of High School, she and her friend and coworker Maryanne, another Rotarian, shared that they wanted to take a group of students to a small community outside of Mexico City, near the village of Ojo De Agua. Carrie knew some Rotarians in Mexico who wanted to run a free dental clinic, and they needed something called a Roto-Dent Chair. These chairs come in two metal briefcases, and with a small compressor, can provide almost everything a dentist would need to clean teeth and do simple dental surgeries in rural communities that don’t often have access to dental hygiene. I was excited for the chance to experience another culture, to live with a family for ten days and explore. I never thought to stop and ask why it was so important for us all to go, but figured Carrie and Maryanne, both lovers of Mexican culture, were just excited to share this special part of the world. And true, That was part of it. But as we started to prepare for the trip, I realized there was something else going on. We were taking the Roto-dent chair, but then we started to go around to local dentists to collect donated dental supplies. Once my Geo Prizm was packed to the gills, it suddenly occurred to me to ask Carrie how we were going to ship all of this down to Mexico. “Oh, David,” Carrie laughed,” no, you all are going to have these packed in your suitcases. You see, if we mail them down, we’re going to have to spend months trying to get them through customs, but if a bunch of kids take them down as gifts, well, it’s just a lot easier, raises a lot less suspicion. Let’s just hope you don’t get stopped going through customs.” And so that, friends, is how at 17, I sort of smuggled donated dental supplies into Mexico. It wasn’t illegal, it was just, well, easier, a quicker way to get the supplies to dentists who needed them. When we were packing, Carrie and Maryanne explained to us all how desperately these supplies were needed, and how our small risk could help children and adults suffering from tooth pain, and allow dentists to be able to get to the root cause of some of the dental challenges people were faced with. We got a quick lesson in how to pack our bags so they didn’t look suspicious, what to say if we got selected for a customs search, and agreed to take the risk. We landed in Mexico City, and after going through immigration we walked into a room full of poles, with lights on top of them, and a large button. We walked up, one by one to a pole, and pushed the button, a sort of randomized customs check. If the light turned green, you were able to enter the country without your bags being checked, and if it turned red, you would have to unpack our bags with a custom agent. We wanted to do our part to make this happen, and figured we could feign ignorance if we were chosen for a search. The six of us had a part to play, and we were game for the adventure.
Mary hears from Gabriel that she’s got a part to play in what God is doing in the world through the incarnation, and what I love is that, like Carrie and Maryanne, she’s not so worried on what’s possible and what’s not, like we heard about Zacharia last week, but instead wants to know “So how is this going to work?” She’s willing to risk quite a lot in this story; the physical strain her body will experience while caring and giving birth to a child, and the questions that will follow her and her child, along with her husband, around her odd pregnancy. She wants to know how this is going to work, but cares less about what’s possible. God’s up to something and she wants to be a part of that. But first, she wants to know what’s going to be required. Mary is part of a long lineage in the Christian and Jewish faith traditions of women being asked to play a surprising role in the drama of God’s love pursuing humanity. But there’s always a moment when these women have to discern if they want to be a part of making God’s dream a reality. And once she hears the angel’s response, she is filled with joy, and peace, knowing that she can trust God on this journey.
My High School friends and I, we decided to be a part of making Carrie, Maryanne, and our Mexican Rotarian friends dreams a reality. We got through customs without any red lights and alarms going off, and in a few days we were setting up the Roto-Dent clinic in a school in Ojo de Agua. You see in Mexico Dentists were required to provide free dental care in rural communities for a specific number of hours to receive their certification to practice. In 2004 though, many dentists were fulfilling these hours in places where there wasn’t much of a need, more dentists than patients, from years of dental students passing through. So Carrie’s friend in Mexico wanted to figure out how to provide rural communities with desperately needed dental care. Together, they figured they could make their dream a reality. It took over a year to figure out how to make it work, but here we were, setting up the clinic at a local school. The ingenuity of these dentists, and Carry and Maryanne, the tenacity with which they pursued justice, taught me the power of risking to ask “how can we make this dream a reality?”
Beloved, we are called to carry within us, and birth into this World, Christ’s everlasting presence, until he comes again. There is a call on our lives, and part of our journey as disciples is to discern what our part is to play in God’s love story with people. That can feel like an overwhelming task. But Jesus’ invitation to us is a real invitation; we can say yes or no. Because sometimes there is good work to be done, or ways in which we can grow, that isn’t ours to do, but is for others to take up. Discernment, deciding what calls are for us, and which are not, means that we ask the hard and true question “How are we going to do this Holy One, you who make a way out of no way?” We are invited to test and see if we understand God’s call on our lives correctly, and Mary’s question of “How will this be?” is a faithful one. If the answer we encounter brings joy and peace, what Ignatius of Loyola called Consolation, then it may just be an invitation to go deeper into our love of God and neighbor. But if the how brings on desolation, that’s a warning. When it’s hard, but we find joyful peace, that alerts us to the Holy Spirit’s Presence among us. But when we feel uneasy, and there is no joy or peace that comes through prayer and exploration, then we may need to keep discerning, or pass an opportunity by.
I wonder for you, what invitations, what calls on your life, you’re discerning. Whatever our life-stage, our relationship status, where we are on our personal journeys, there are invitations to be a part of what God is doing in our midst. I invite you this Advent to consider how the Holy Spirit is inviting you to be a part of Jesus’ incarnation in your own time and place, and ask “How can we make this happen?” Because this is a community of faith that can discern with you, walk with you, help your dreams become a reality, be it personally in your relationships with others, or yourself. We are a community that can walk with you as you explore how you want to be a part of Jesus’ revolution of love in the world, what part you could play. We’re fellow travelers listening for the voice of our Beloved who whispers “this is the way; walk in it.” Let’s see what we can do together. Amen.