At the church where I serve, we've recently moved our weekly lectionary study to Tuesday nights. We used to study the week's scriptures just before service started. Each week, one of the people around the table would say something profound that could have, that should have, shaped our worship differently. A different hymn I hadn't thought of, a new perspective for the prayers, an enlightening thought to change the sermon, and each week, they were left out because our conversation happened too late.
Since we've moved to Tuesday, however, we've come together to discuss the scriptures as they relate to the service and how this liturgy becomes the work of the people every Sunday morning.
This week was no different. We read Luke 1:26-38, often referred to as the Annunciation. Two different people mentioned how struck they were that Mary's surprise came not at the angel who stood in her midst, but at the words. You see, this young girl's shock comes after the angel Gabriel comes to her and declares, "Greetings, highly favored one! The Lord is with you." Not at the heavenly creature in front of her. Not after Gabriel announces God's intention to bring the Messiah to bear through her, a virgin. Mary's shock comes at the greeting and affirmation of God's presence.
Without the input of others around the table, I would have missed this entirely. The conversation from the community around me helped to shape not only the Sunday service, and not only the sermon, but my own theological formation. Thank God for this gift.
Just as Mary needed Gabriel to remind her of her value in God's eyes and her proximity to God, so too we need one another in conversation and in community. We need the kind of relationships that strikingly remind us that God is with us, that God chose to become one of us, and that this declares an incredible amount of love for us. Not all of us will have the same kind of surprising news that Mary received - in fact, she's pretty unique in history as the Mother of God - but we each need the kind of intervention that reminds us who God is and who we are in the midst of God's creation.
This Sunday is Love Sunday, the last Sunday in Advent. Between now and Christmas, intervene for someone. Remind them they are loved, that there is a story of cosmic proportions that means they are valuable in the eyes of God, that they will not be left behind, but instead are children of the Living God and citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.
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Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.