December 1, 2019
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R Wright
Since 1968 riders of the London Underground have been cautioned with the phrase, “Mind the gap.” It could just as easily be applied to our passage.
Do you remember being twelve?
It’s a great age – a time of growing abilities and independence. It’s also difficult – your body starts to change, your hormones are in an uproar, you are not sure if you want to fit in or stand out.
It’s one of those liminal times in life when you stand on the threshold – no longer a child; not yet an adult – an in-between time.
Mind the gap.
Mary was twelve. There is no reason to think she was anything but typical. It was the standard age of betrothal in her day.
At twelve, she was a normal girl: by turns full of life or moody; chatty or silent; silly or serious; awkward or prematurely poised; girly or grown up; as perfect as she could be in every way.
As one poet put it:
“She was just another village girl
olive fleshed teen dressed in desert brown
sneaking out to meet up with friends
on familiar paths of Judean Hills
Until an angel swooped in
a rush of wings like a bird of prey.”1
Instantly she was shoved, stumbling, across the gap.
Debie Thomas notes three gaps in our text:2
First, there is the gap between Gabriel’s title for Mary (“favored one”) and the task he assigns her (to bear “the son of the Most High”).
Now few twelve year old girls feel like they are noticed favorably by anyone. To be noticed by God is flattering, but also frightening.
All the more so when Gabriel tells her what she is being asked to do, since being pregnant outside of marriage will mean scandal in her family, in her small town, and in her religious context. As Thomas puts it, “To say “yes” in this instance was to put everything — her reputation, her marriage, her very life — on the line.”
It is a gap that reminds us that being favored by God is no bed of roses. It will mean that she is called blessed by some, but most will call her much, much worse. She will know uncertainty and upset stomachs, pain and heartache, danger and doubt.
Mind the gap.
The second gap in the story lies between Mary’s question (“How can this be?”) and her consent (“Let it be with me according to your word.”).
Gabriel fills the gap with a rush of words:
He gushes something about the Holy Spirit hovering and swooping in like at the first creation;
He promises that the baby will be called Son of God, not a child without a father;
He points to her relative Elizabeth’s unlikely pregnancy as an example of what God can do;
and then he waits, with fingers crossed, hoping that he has said something that will …
calm her, convince her, cross the gulf between their two worlds, so she might consent.
Mind the gap.
The third gap ends this week’s reading: “Then the angel departed from her.”
It would have been nice if Gabriel had stuck around to silence all her doubters. It would have been nice if he had stayed to reassure her when she wondered if it had all been a dream. It would have been nice if she could have turned to him and asked, “What next?”
But the angel didn’t stay and Mary was left alone.
Thomas writes, “This is a ‘gap’ in my life with God that I both recognize and dread. It’s the moment when the prayer ends, the vision recedes, [and] certainty wavers. It’s the moment after the ‘yes,’ the moment when the mountaintop experience fades, and life in the valley begins.”
Do you know that feeling?
I wonder how Mary endured it.
Did she know it would all work out?
A popular Christmas song ponders what Mary knew when she consented to Gabriel’s request. It begins: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?”3
Did she know? Probably not. One scholar guesses that she knew just enough to get started. That’s all any of us know.4 But with each “yes” we follow God into a new world.
Mind the gap. Amen
1 “Mary, Mother” by Pamela S. Wynn, 2016
2 from “The Pause Before Yes” by Debie Thomas, December 2014
3 from “Mary Did You Know” by Mark Lowry
4 That’s Thomas again.