We can either have apples or oranges.
We can either leave the lights on or off.
We can either be liberal or conservative.
We can either be right or wrong.
We can either make choices that are good or bad.
We long for clear, precise, and easy answers. Yet whenever we change our perspective, by looking under the microscope or looking down from 20,000 feet above--we recognize a binary approach sometimes leaves us polarized. Particularly given how nuanced life is and how complex the systems and institutions we are a part of really are at their core. Life is really more of a spectrum, or a direction we journey towards, where at different moments we may travel forward, backward, north, south, east, or west.
Take for example living faithfully. How often have old systems, including within the Church, told us if you do X, you are living faithfully, and if you do Y, you are not. If you are a good Christian then you make God happy, and get to go to heaven. If you are a bad Christian then you make God angry, and well, all that weeping and gnashing of teeth business will set in.
Yet faithfulness to God is not so binary. Our God cannot be boxed in.
The theme we see within scripture indicates faithfulness, like most of life, is really a spectrum or direction we journey towards. Take for example the bigger picture of what is at play in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures.
In 1 and 2 Samuel, the people of Israel have been in a moment of transition from a tribal form of governance to a monarchy. To be clear, it was not part of God’s vision for the people of Israel to have a monarchy, but rather what the people of Israel desperately wanted. God did not refuse them. Through the prophets, God explained all that would befall the Israelites if they went down this road. They kindly ignored the caution sign. God understood the limitations of their faith at that moment in time, and met the Israelites where they were.
In today’s passage, we get a glimpse of what is happening for the people of Israel as they have transitioned from King Saul to King David. David has become concerned that the tent, which has housed the Spirit of God since their time in the wilderness, is no longer good enough. After all--they were now an established monarchy, and doesn’t God deserve the best? Even the prophet Nathan was swept up in David’s vision, before God does some clarifying for them, once again. God does not need or want David to build a temple. Rather, God will make the people into a temple. God cares about the gathered people, and is always inviting us to grow in our faithfulness. Yet when we are caught up in our own ideas, and limit our faithfulness, God still meets us where we are.
So at one place on the spectrum we have the Israelites, who at that particular moment in history were only willing to travel with God up to a certain point. At another place on the spectrum, we have a soon-to-be teen mother, who will be invited to lean completely into her faith.
Mary is a young woman, and it was understood that she would marry Joseph. The angel Gabriel visits this young woman, and says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
Understandably, she was a bit perplexed by this surprise visit and greeting. Gabriel goes on to tell her “Do not be afraid, Mary”, you have found favor with God, you will conceive a son and name him Jesus. This son will go on to do things for God that will turn this world upside down and right side up again. Mary, still understandably a bit perplexed, wonders how any of this is possible. Gabriel speaks of the Holy Spirit at work within her, and then lets her know her relative Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child, is also pregnant. The primary point Gabriel was trying to make to Mary is, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Now this story is one of the most curious that we explore each year. Yet the part that startles me every single time, is not the surprise conception. What surprises me is Mary’s faithfulness, her response. Her willingness to walk down this path with God. A path that we know will hold beautiful and tender moments, as well as the deep grief and agony of a mother burying her child. Mary’s response is a simple one. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary’s faithfulness is an expression of beauty that might take our breath away if we sit with it long enough. Mary doesn’t say, I don’t know about this… or I’ll try my best. She simply says, Here I am; your servant. May all you will be so. Could you imagine what our world might look like if every day we woke up and said, Here I am God. I am your servant, and I’ll go wherever you send me?
Mary is an exemplary model of faithfulness, while our earlier stories from 2 Samuel are a reminder that even when our own faithfulness is limited--God is still with us. Sometimes we are going to feel fully alive, and in complete solidarity with God as we make this journey. We will wake up and say, Here I am God. I am your servant, and I’ll go wherever you send me. Other times, we find we can only trust God up to a point, because we simply are not ready to go any further.
I would even argue that we can experience both during the same season of our lives. The bible doesn’t tell us whether Mary had sleepless nights of wonder and hesitation, but it would be pretty normal if she did. While the invitation to go further in our journey with God is always, always waiting for us, it is important to note that God does not shove us. God walks the path with us, no matter where we may find ourselves on the journey of living faithfully.
As we draw nearer to the Christ-child this coming week, I would invite us to take stock where we are on our journey of living faithfully. Where on the spectrum do you find yourself at this moment? Or where is the compass directing you to walk towards? What do you need to take that next step of journeying with God? And know wherever we are on that journey, God is with us, and that our God isn’t going anywhere without us or until we are ready. Amen.
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