December 2020

The Lord Is with You

4th Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020
2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

“Greetings, O favored one!” said the angel Gabriel, “The Lord is with you. But we are told that Mary was much confused and even frightened by this sudden intrusion and announcement of the angel.

I wonder how women would react today upon receiving word from a strange intruder that God wished to impregnate them with a child conceived of the Holy Spirit. And if we’re to place this message in the realm of the miraculous, it is not inconceivable that such news might also be directed toward men, especially if we accept the notion that with God nothing is impossible.

I further wonder how different relationships between men and women would be, especially in the workplace, if men were physically capable of giving birth. That would be a miracle worth watching that, I’m sure, many men would prefer to avoid while many women would savor in literally having men sharing the load.

The meeting between Gabriel and Mary in Luke’s Gospel is the stuff of tabloid journalism. Imagine Mary, herself a child barely in her teens, betrothed but not yet married to Joseph, possibly an elderly man since we hear nothing about him later on in any of the Gospels. Most likely, Joseph was not a man of Mary’s choosing but selected by an arrangement of her parents. Women had little choice on any matter in those days, but to make matters worse, God proposed through the angel Gabriel a scandalous act by which Mary would give birth before her marriage with Joseph was fully consummated.

If this is what Gabriel meant when he announced “The Lord is with you,” we might sympathize if Mary doused him with a can of pepper spray or counted herself among the “Me Too” victims of sexual harassment. However, Mary did not scream or attack this stranger, for she sensed in him, as he in her, a character and presence of the divine.

What does it mean for God to be with us? We often refer to the church or any place of worship as a house of God, but the Prophet Nathan instructed King David, and us as well, that such a house is not built for God by human hands, but rather by God for human dwelling; where we may abide securely in the faith that God is always with us. It is God who appoints the place and builds the house for those whom God loves (2nd Samuel 7:11-12). The psalmist proclaims that “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. And Jesus himself declared that “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).

Here the understanding of the Hebrew word for house, “beth,” is rendered as both literal and metaphor. Unless our literal house of worship is built and administered according to God’s will and spirit of compassion, ours is a house that labors in vain and cannot stand. But the Apostle Paul also speaks metaphorically concerning the sacred dwelling of the Lord. For those suffering a low regard of themselves, Paul provides a boost of self-esteem. “Do you not know,” he says, “that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1st Corinthians 3:16)

When it comes to our human capacity to embody the likeness of God, Paul goes beyond comparing us to a house, but regards us as a temple, “mikdash,” in which God’s Spirit abides. Wow, what a thought-provoking, mind-blowing concept!

What did the angel Gabriel and Mary see in each other that sensed the character and presence of the divine? It was the assurance that, come what may, God had built them into a dwelling place where their will and aspirations fully reflected those of the Most High, where they could rest secure, calmly in the faith that God was with them, and that God would somehow provide. 

Once again, the Apostle Paul offers illumination. “The fruit of the Spirit,” he says, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

Be it understood, my fellow siblings and offspring of God, that regardless of gender, God desires to impregnate each of us with the child conceived of the Holy Spirit that we may give birth, even as we ourselves are reborn, to the reality and truth that God can make of us whatever we will allow God to be in us.

Greetings and hail, O favored ones! The Lord is with you. Amen.