Advent: Fourth Sunday
In the Fourth Sunday of Advent our attention moves from John the Baptist and his cries for repentance to a young Jewish girl named Mary. The final Sunday of the Advent season hones our focus on the Angel Gabriel’s message to this young lady and her response of obedience: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Despite her questions and astonishment, Mary responded in faith instead of shrinking in fear. Mary’s faith has given us a holy model of our life with God. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Over the years, as the Church grew in number and age and its theology became more refined, leaders sought a way in which to describe Mary’s relationship to Jesus. In the Council of Nicaea intricate statements were agreed upon and adopted concerning Jesus divinity and humanity (notice the Nicene Creed which we often say in weekly worship.) Later, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, Mary was designated as Theotokos. In short, this means “God-bearer,” or as historian Jaroslav Pelikan has said, “one who gives birth to the one who is God”. The beautiful reality displayed by Mary’s position of Theotokos is that each of us, by the grace of God, is called to bring forth God in our life. As we respond to God’s call on our lives in faith and obedience just as Mary did - “let it be to me according to your word” - the power and very life of God through the Holy Spirit is made manifest in us.
In the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent we pray for this reality: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. (Book of Common Prayer, 212)
During this final week of Advent before we celebrate our Savior’s birth, may we be purified and purged and made ready for the coming of our Savior. And, like Mary, may we be used by God to bring his healing presence into the world.
Liturgy for the Sundays of Advent:
The First Sunday: The Last Days – Jesus tells us not even he knows the day or hour
The Second Sunday: John the Baptist – we learn about his special ministry calling people to repentance
The Third Sunday: John the Baptist – recognizes that he is not the Christ
The Fourth Sunday: The Annunciation – Gabriel reveals to Mary that the glory of the most high will overshadow her
Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004).
Lawrence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).
Family Worship Resources:
Robert E. Webber, The Book of Family Prayer (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996).
Gertrud Mueller Nelson, To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration (New York: Paulist, 1986).
The Book of Common Prayer