20 Dec The possibility of life (Fourth Sunday of Advent)
The possibility of life (Fourth Sunday of Advent)
It’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and it might just feel like everything is about ready for Christmas, but in fact the story is just beginning and one of the central characters moves to centre stage: Mary, mother of Jesus.
And so, the stage is set, ready for the perfect story of Christmas to begin. Except it’s not perfect at all.
Reading – Luke 1.26-38
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, favoured 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 favour 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 for ever, 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.
Reflection by The Revd Canon Dr Sandra Millar
As you put all your decorations around the house and on the tree, do you find room for that one that you’ve kept for years, or that one the children made, all wonky and torn, yet so very precious? In my family, it’s a small musical plastic crib , well over 60 years old. The shepherds and wise men go round and round the little family in the stable. But the sheep have fallen off and a wise man keeps keeling over. We still display it, because although it’s broken, it’s full of memories.
As Christmas draws close, it might feel more than a bit broken. It might feel broken because you can’t travel to be with people, because you have no work and can’t provide generously; because your relationships have fractured under the strain of the last few months, or because those we love are just not with us any more.
The expectations that we pile on ourselves can make us feel that these next few days have to take us to an unrealistic perfection, so that it’s hard to admit that we might feel sad.
The story of Mary is not a perfect story. It is the story of a young unmarried woman, living in a small village, who will be criticised, will journey far from home and give birth in a stable. Her cousin, Elizabeth, has not had a perfect life either, for there has been the terrible pain of longing for years for a child that never came. It is to these two women that God speaks the promise of a future, of healing and of light in the darkness.
As we light the fourth candle of Advent today, we acknowledge that in the joy of Christmas preparation, there will also be brokenness, and that it is to the broken that God will speak the promise of new life. The words of the angels to Mary are just the beginning of the story, and the beginning of hope.
Sandra Millar is Head of Welcome and Life Events for The Church of England.
Is there someone who might be feeling that Christmas is a bit broken, whom you can get in touch with, listen to and do one small kindness to show that God’s light is coming into the world? What’s stopping you doing that today?
As you spoke words of promise to Mary and Elizabeth,
Speak words of hope to us today.
Where we’re afraid may we find courage,
Where we are anxious may we find peace,
And where we are sad, may we find comfort.
Help us to be ready to see the light of Jesus
Coming into the world.
Watch weekly online services from the Church of England
Explore the reading and reflection featured here by watching our “Blue Christmas” service for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, broadcast on 20 December.
Introduced by Rev Kate Bottley, this service for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is in partnership with Marie Curie.
This online service pays tribute to those suffering from illness, bereavement and mental health setbacks.
You can read our next reflection for the last week of Advent, from Rowan Williams, Chair of Christian Aid, on 22 and 23 December. Our daily Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas reflections featuring full audio and music begin on 25 December.