Speaking Words of Wisdom: Let It Be
When I graduated from seminary, it took a long time for me to receive a call to serve a church. Things didn’t go at all as I’d planned. Door after door closed and I wasn’t really sure what God was up to. I’d finished my seminary education, gone through my presbytery’s process, and, on paper, at least, I was ready. With no options before me, I found other ways to live out the call I believed God had placed on my life in the mean time. And three years after I graduated, I was matched with a small church in a small town in Kansas. They wanted me. They wanted me to be their pastor; not ‘a’ pastor, ‘the’ pastor. Well, that was something I hadn’t bargained for. That didn’t seem possible. Me? They wanted me? To be their one and only pastor? All by myself? What was God up to? I really didn’t know and I accepted the call anyway. I moved to Kansas alone. I bought a house. I was handed the keys to the church building and my office. I did many things I thought I’d never do. And on my first day, I sat in my new office, as the pastor of a church and called my mentor. “Hey, Andy, what do I do now??”
In the season of Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. We focus on things like hope, peace, joy, and love. This year we’ll try some different focus words: hope, wait, watch, and witness. If there is any better time for us to focus on hope, I can’t think of one. In this season, in this year, hope may be a far away flicker or the thing that we hold ever before us. We may be holding onto hope with white knuckles, at this point. We are certainly ready for some good news, some too-good-to-be-true news because so many things feel impossible right now. It’s been a waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop year. It’s been a grief-filled, lonely, upside down, disappointment of a year. We may actually be afraid to hope. We fear we’ll be disappointed and yet our sacred text tells us that hope does not disappoint. Real hope, grounded in God hope, hope that there is and always will be something beyond what we can see and hear and taste and touch. The season of Advent reminds us time and time again that nothing is impossible with God. That truth is the thread that binds every story we read at this time of the year. It’s the thread that runs through our story today. In it, a young unmarried girl receives the news that the impossible will happen through her. A woman long past child bearing age is living out the impossible in her very being. Angels bring tidings of great joy and equal amounts of trepidation. “What kind of greeting must this be?” Mary says when Gabrielle tells her she is favored. She is chosen. She will fulfill God’s great purpose.
It can be hard to know what to think or what to feel or what to say when we’re chosen. It can be hard to know what to think or what to feel or what to say when God calls us by name and whispers a glorious purpose into our lives. Most of us aren’t visited by angels. More often than not that announcement, that whisper comes in a much subtler way. You’re going to be…a doctor, a lawyer, a mother, a father, the CEO, in charge in some way, or in the background, a leader, a follower, a pastor, a nurse, a teacher. The life-altering moments aren’t always filled with joy either. Sometimes we feel chosen and set apart in unwelcome ways. “How can this be?” plays on our lips or runs through our heads. We’re very good at throwing around the word ‘but.’ We’re very good at throwing up barriers and determining what is possible or not. We’re very good at limiting ourselves and in turn limiting what we think God can do. We question and we bargain. One remarkable thing about Mary is her acceptance of something utterly life-altering. The gospel writer doesn’t let us into her inner thoughts. We can’t know what was running through her mind as the angel told her how God would use her. Why me? How can it be? What do you mean I’m favored? I’m not ready. I don’t know how. You can’t mean me. Surely, not me. I’m too young, scared, ill-equipped, and on and on. What we do know, what we are told:
Let it be, Mary says. Let it be. Words of wisdom, if I’ve ever heard any.
There’s something so wonderfully in the moment about her response. Let it be. Resignation or determination or simply saying yes to what God has already declared. And the angel tells her something that may just give her the confidence she needs to utter that, ‘yes.’ Did you notice? Gabrielle tells her that her relative Elizabeth, who was said to be barren, is also expecting a child and is in her sixth month. Elizabeth is further along than Mary in several ways and with this bit of knowledge from the angel, Mary wastes no time and hurries off to see her relation. “Hey, Elizabeth, what do I do now?” With her kinswoman, she finds someone who gets it, someone who knows, who understands what it is to experience something miraculous and inexplicable. Here is a woman who knows; who has experienced God’s possible in the midst of what seemed impossible and is living it. A clergywoman colleague, Rev. Beth Merrill Neel, counts Elizabeth among her matron saints. She calls Elizabeth the Matron Saint of Favorite Aunties, the ones who offer us home, love, and acceptance. Perhaps the ones who can offer us wisdom because they’ve been down a similar road before.
Elizabeth, too, wonders how it is that she is chosen to be visited by the mother of the Savior. None of us, I think, expect to be chosen to serve God’s purposes and yet we are all chosen for that very thing. There is something sacred in this moment between these two women. There is something very ordinary, too, and ordinary things are often sacred when we have the eyes to see. Elizabeth recognizes the holy in this moment. She literally feels it in her body and instead of explaining it away, babies move and kick often, she recognizes it for what it is: an indication of the holy in their midst. Sometimes we have to suspend our good sense and our skepticism in order to recognize God at work right in front of our eyes. After all, with God all things are possible and these two women know it. It is an immeasurable gift to have another person to walk alongside you. It is an immeasurable gift to know that you’re not alone. Mary must have been bolstered by this meeting. Her wonderous song, the magnificat, does not come first in this story rather it comes after she is welcomed into the home of her kinswoman. With Elizabeth by her side, she can sing of all that is to come. She boldly utters aloud the words that God has placed on her heart; praise for God’s mercy and God’s strength in lifting up the lowly and scattering the proud, overthrowing empires and welcoming the lost. She sings of the time when God will right the world. It is a song of hope.
Hope is a gift that we can give to one another. These days it can be hard to find so it is all the more important for us to share the hope that we have, to offer words of wisdom when we’ve been down a particular road before, to seek out the wisdom of others who can offer us an encouraging word. We know the great gift it is to rely on another for help and hope. We know the great gift it is to see love and acceptance in the eyes of another and to hear that love and acceptance in the voice of another. “You’ve got this.” “You can do it.” You’re not alone.” “You’re doing just fine.” are all words that we long to hear when we are overwhelmed and feel in over our heads. These words give us hope that God is, indeed, with us, that we are called and capable.
There is great wisdom in Mary’s “Let it be.” There is hope, too. We are reminded of the beauty in surrendering to God’s call and living in the moment of God’s presence. When we are overwhelmed and unsure, we seek out the wisdom of those who have gone down the road before us and help us to recognize the holy in our midst. In this season of hope, may we lift one another up with words of wisdom and encouragement and an assurance that none of us is ever alone. I don’t remember exactly what Andy said to me over the phone on my first day as a pastor. What I do remember is that I knew I would find reassurance and affirmation on the other end of the phone. I remember that I found love, acceptance, solidarity, and hope from someone who had walked the road before me. God doesn’t ask us to go it alone. God sends angels and aunties, mentors and friends, sometimes even strangers and the people we least expect to illuminate the holy and to lift us up when we’re not sure where to go from here wherever here may be. Isn’t that hopeful?
I was reminded this week that “let it be” is another way to say “amen.” In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, let it be.