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.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
This morning, I’m thinking of a wonderful elderly parishioner, member of a church in which I served early in my ministry. A wordsmith, her wise insights were made all the more engaging because they were delivered with a beautiful Virginia accent. That woman could stretch out a simple word into a rich, melodic series of syllables. We talked often about liturgy and literature, but what I remember most was what she would say at the communion rail as she received the wafer in outstretched hands. Instead of saying “Amen” as many do, she simply said “Yes.” But that sweet yes went on for a long time. “Yay-yeh-esssss” or something like that.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. We celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation, recalling the story of the angel who visited the young girl who would become the mother of our Lord, theotokos, God bearer. The story from Luke’s gospel is included above. While I rarely remember sermons (including my own), I do remember a sermon preached on the fourth Sunday of Advent years ago. The preacher posited that maybe the angel visited a few other Galilean homes, approached a few other Nazareth girls with invitation to participate in the special work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe those other young ladies said “No thanks” or “Not me” or “This call is definitely a wrong number” or “I don’t see this as my career path.”
Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. It was not without posing the most logical of questions: “How can this be?” Yet in short order, Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In other words, she said yes. With that answer she changed history. She changed your life and mine.
Yesterday, on the third Sunday of Lent, we read about the call that came to Moses via the burning bush. Along with the story of the Annunciation, this story seems to be a key point in scripture, perhaps in the narrative of human history. Moses in the wilderness (We all know about wilderness, don’t we?) is tending his flock, minding his business, when the call comes to him through that burning bush. Scripture tells us that Moses said “I must turn aside and see what this is all about.” That turning aside is huge. What if Moses saw this thing and said: “What was in that soup I had?” or “Have I been out in the sun too long?” or “I need to consult a doctor or a therapist”or “I can’t be bothered.” Instead, Moses approaches that holy presence and says “Here am I.” With that answer he changed history. He changed your life and mine.
Again and again in scripture, God calls ordinary human beings who often say: “This call must be a wrong number.” Often they seem to try to clue God in on why the Holy One is a terrible recruiter: “I’m too young. I’m no public speaker. I’m a sinful human being.” By way of contrast, each in his or her way, Moses and Mary say yes, again to great consequence.
We each have vocation. God calls each one of us. Think today about where and how the call might be coming to you. Are we listening for that call? Are we listening to it? Do we need to turn aside, or do we just keep going? Do we ask “How can this be?” and let it end there? Or are we willing to say yes?
The yes can be a simple action. It may make no discernible shift in world history. It could be a turning aside from daily routine to share God’s love. It could be outstretched hands at the communion rail. It could be the prayer: “Be it unto me according to your will.” It could have consequence we’ll never see in our lifetime.
But it begins with yes, to the God who in Christ says yes to us. Let this Lent be about saying yes.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.