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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Advent 4 – Year C

In a few minutes, during the Offertory, the West Gallery Guitar Ensemble will present the song Let it Be, which was written by Paul McCartney in 1970 for the Beatles’ last album. Although the song’s lyrics are interpreted by some as being a hymn to Jesus’ mother Mary, McCartney wrote the song as a tribute to his mother, Mary, who died when he was fourteen. I love the song nonetheless, because it speaks to the heart of the Virgin Mary and to those of all mothers who struggle to bring life into this world and who struggle to bring goodness into the world of their children and grandchildren.

In the Gospel of Luke, the Angel Gabriel says to the girl Mary, “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. Mary then said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1: 35-38). Let it be with me according to your word, she said. Let it be.

The lyrics of McCartney’s song begin:
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Wisdom? One might ask: How does a pregnant teenager have the capacity for wisdom? Well, to understand how, we must not forget that in addition to being that mind-boggling, oxymoronic figure—the virgin mother—adored, elevated, worshipped and venerated by Christians over the centuries, she was, well a teenage girl. A sixteen-year-old when the spirit of God came into in her womb! We must not forget her humanity. Mary was and is every woman. Like you and me she knew what it meant to plan one’s life one way, then due to circumstances beyond her control (bizarre circumstances) find it heading in a totally different direction.

She is the young teenage girl from the ghetto of Nazareth who conceives a child before marriage and becomes the subject of scandal. She is the pregnant woman who must explain to her husband the circumstances of her unplanned pregnancy. She is the wife whose husband wants a divorce. She is the young mother who with her husband must flee into exile with an infant shortly after his birth. She is an ordinary girl called to forsake the shallow, external spirituality of her youth for a deeper wisdom that comes from within.

The lyrics continue:
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Mary grows into a 28-year-old woman struggling to understand why her 12-year-old son is so single-minded about his purpose that he deserts his family to pursue it. She is the family member who is made to suffer for her son’s politically and culturally subversive activities. She is a mother who helplessly witnesses her son’s suffering on the cross and his execution as a criminal.1 She is the mother who never deserts her son even in death. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Mary could have just said no. No to all this confusion and heartbreak. No! I mean come on: A stranger shows up one night telling me I’m going to be magically impregnanted with the savior of the world in a manner that doesn’t involve my husband? I’d react pretty much the same way I did two weeks when a woman approached me after church wanting money for a bus ticket to Ohio. She claimed that Greyhound did not recognize the fact that, as head of the C.I.A., she has free access to our nation’s transportation. Mary might have said to Gabriel, “You gotta be kidding. Nope. Can’t do it. My family would never accept this; you’d better find someone else.” She could have said no, and she would have been in good company if she had. Moses told God, “I’m not equipped to do the job.” Isaiah confessed, “I’m not good enough.” Jeremiah responded, “I’m much too young.” But Mary did not refuse. Through her obedience, humility and strength of purpose, she simply said, “Let it be.”

The second verse goes like this:
And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.

The scene of Mary and Elizabeth’s greeting is a blessed moment for womanhood. We see two miraculously pregnant women basking secretly in the quiet revolution that is to be accomplished through them. Two women incarnated the truth that, with God, nothing is impossible. McCartney’s lyrics embody the spirit of their greeting and the Magnificat—Mary’s glorious hymn of social revolution, a universal cry for God to be God in the world. Mary knew before anyone else, about the radical social upheaval that was about to be ushered in by the fruit of her womb, and nowhere is this more evident than in the words of the Magnificat.

“He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1: 51-53).

Jesus is the answer to the broken hearted people. With the birth of the Christ Child an indissoluble union is established between God and humanity, binding us together in a vision of common redemption and mutual joy. For when the rich are indifferent and the poor are invisible they are separated by sin. The Incarnation breaks through any barriers that will prevent the rich and the poor from sharing in Christ’s love and abundance together. Elizabeth, in her experience and wisdom, understood what it meant to be a vessel of God’s will. Mother Mary bears Christ for us in her prophetic longing for justice. And because they literally carried their Faith in their wombs, shepherds quaked, Herod raged. And together they nurtured a revolution. The tables began turning. Thrones began crumbling.

The final verse of Let It Be goes like this:
And when the night is cloudy,
There is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Just after Mary gives birth to the baby Jesus and after she swaddles him and lays him in the manger, a sign from God brightens the night sky in celebration. Shepherds living in the fields nearby, were awakened by a terrifying light. An angel of the Lord says to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” And the Magi, the Wise Men from the East, see the Christ Child’s star at its rising and follow it until it perches as a beacon over the manger. They come to pay homage to the king of the Jews. The light of Christ guiding them, Persian men, and shining the truth upon them as outsiders. And then there is Simeon who upon seeing the baby Jesus in the temple at his presentation and holding him in his arms proclaims: “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2: 30-32).

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

God keeps calling and, surprisingly, is often answered by the least among us, the most unlikely people from the provinces. It is the barren Elizabeths and the innocent Marys who hear and believe, and further God’s reign on earth. What they hear is that we can be held in the embrace of a love that is in fact the same Love that creates the Universe and holds it together. As many times as we turn away from their witness, God has put us together on the road to Jerusalem. Gabriel, Mary, Elizabeth, the Shepherds, the Magi, and Simeon all whispered words of wisdom. They answered God’s call and said “Let it be.” When God comes calling for you—do not give in to spiritual desolation and boredom by answering “whatever,” “okay, I’ll do it.”

But answer, “Bring it on!” because the truth is that it is never the right time, and we are never ready. Surrender to Emmanuel and know that He is with you. The burden may be too great for you to carry. But once you say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord,” the angel will depart, and the path will open before you. Let it be.

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