“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.” (Luke 1:26–38 NRSV)
The day of visitation
Our text this morning gives us a glimpse into what early Quakers would call “a day of visitation.”
“The basic idea of the Day of Visitation is that there is a period of time in everyone’s life when they are open to hearing the voice of the Divine and acting on it. If they are attentive and obedient to this Divine Seed, it will grow and flourish in them and they will be led into a greater and stronger faith. If they ignore it, if they push it down and trample on the seed, eventually it will stop growing.” (William Taber – Link )
George Fox, an early Quaker, wrote about his day of visitation when he says:
But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition”; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.
And the bible gives us stories of many people’s day of visitations. They don’t all go the same. And they certainly don’t all go well.
Consider Adam and Eve: When God shows up in the garden after they’ve eaten the fruit. The day of visitation reveals our tendency to blame and scapegoat. “She did it, no he did it…”
Or remember how Moses did on his day of visitation: God appears in a bush that is perpetually on fire and says in effect, Moses I’m calling you to liberate my oppressed people from the empire of Egypt. What does Moses say, “Wahoo! A way for me to get more followers on Twitter! Just wait until I am Time magazine’s person of the year! Now I will finally be seen as a real ally of the marginalized!” No. Moses says, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and Bring the Israelites out of Egypt.” He also ays, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant…Please send someone else.”
And then there’s Jonah who would prefer to be inside the belly of a great fish than lean into his own day of visitation. On that day Jonah hears the message “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it…” If you’ll remember, Nineveh was the empire that had oppressed its people. Jonah’s message was not unlike telling a freed African slave to return to the south and preach condemnation against it. No wonder he runs in the opposite direction.
You can see that the Day of Visitation really creates a crisis point for the individual.
The day of visitation for Adam and Eve creates a crisis in their relationship where they are given a choice. They turn to blame and the mechanism of scapegoating instead of simply accepting responsibility for their actions.
For Moses, he uses his inadequacies as a crutch for not surrendering to God’s call. Moses in effect says, I am not capable of learning to do something different. God, you are stuck with who I am. I’m not capable of change.
When Jonah is asked to think differently about people he has held justifiable prejudice against, he says with his actions that he is not capable or not willing to think differently about this group of people.
And how about for us? What’s our track record when it comes to our own day of visitation?
There is a movie I love called Calvary that Darleen Ortega turned me onto. The whole story takes places within one week of the life of Father James Lavelle, a Catholic Priest who is told during confession that he is going to be murdered on Sunday by a man who was sexually abused by another priest. The man says that there’s no point in killing a bad priest, but killing a good one will really make a statement.
The rest of the movie goes day by day from Monday to Sunday as Father James wrestles with his own “day of visitation” and what he is supposed to do. We don’t know who his murderer is and so every visitation the Father goes on you can’t help but be suspicious.
For James, this “day of visitation,” may not exactly be a word from the Lord but it does in fact create a crisis point in which he tries to reconcile his call in the midst of great fear, and plenty of turmoil that surrounds him.
The constant question I had running through the movie is why doesn’t he just back his bags and run? Get out of there. And despite all that this priest has to face in this one week he presses on toward Sunday. Toward his own “Calvary” or Cross. Father James’ “day of visitation” gives us a glimpse at what it looks like to walk headlong into the fear and the unknown in an attempt to be faithful and how these visitations leave us forever changed.
Learning from Mary’s Day of Visitation
This brings us to Mary. On Mary’s day of visitation she is too is confronted with a crisis point and a choice that will utterly redefine her life.
I think Mary is a perfect hero for Camas Friends today and I want to suggest that she can teach us three key things about these “Days of Visitation.”
Saying yes to God on one of the “days of visitation” can and has often meant some form of scandal to those in power. It also shows God’s trust in us, in his people. And finally when a day of visitation happens there is no going back.
1. Creates Scandal
What Gabriel asks of Mary is like every other day of visitation – it requires trust in following God’s leading, and it requires commitment to the work this will require: the attentiveness, the obedience, the discernment, the constantly not-knowing and feeling like she is lost in a dark room groping along the walls trying to find the door out.
And because of this fear and the unknown also accompany it.
Almost all of the examples of day’s of visitation I have given you this morning have underneath them the fear of the unknown.
Fear of what will happen if they say yes.
Fear of what will happen if they confess their responsibility in the situation.
Fear of losing our place or our privilege.
Fear of losing control.
Fear that people will no longer like them or approve of them.
Fear of losing the comfort we worked hard to establish.
Fear of people hurting them.
Fear of never being the same again.
Fear of not knowing how the story ends.
Fear of death.
I have no doubt that Mary also faced fear on that day when Gabriel visited her.
As a 13–14 year old girl in a first century Jewish context she faced serious harm if she was to be caught pregnant out of wedlock, and it’s not like her reason here is all that convincing, right?
But sir, “The Holy Spirit Came Upon me and the power of the Most High overshadowed me…”
At the very least she risked her engagement with Joseph and public scorn. At the most she risked an honor-killing, being stoned by “the very villagers who raised her.”
Mary teaches me that to say yes to God is not a simple thing and it has its consequences.
To say “yes” [to God] in this instance was to give herself over to scandal and ostracism. It was to put everything — her reputation, her marriage, her very life — on the line. -Debie Thomas
2. God trusts us.
The second thing I learn from this text is that God trusts Mary.
I would definitely be like Mary and start off my conversation with the Angel with a question: “but how…?” “How on earth is this all going to happen?”
In my opinion, the angel’s response is less than satisfactory but what it tells us is that a day of visitation presents doesn’t lead to clean cut answers. This is why we call it a mystery.
No answer could be given or would really help. All that mattered in this moment is that Mary realize God is with her, and that God trusts her.
The Lord trusts Mary and, in turn, she places all her trust in God, who converts her to a person of faith. There is no reason to fear; surrender is the response to the call. -Gustavo Gutierrez
Why does God send Gabriel to Mary who is so young? Why has Mary been found in favor of God? We don’t know. All we know is that God trusts Mary.
Let this sit for a minute.
Would God have gone to Mary had he thought she would fail the the mission?
God gives Mary work because Mary can be trusted to be faithful in the work. I think that’s how it works. If you are faithful to God, God will give you more work to do.
So God first trusts Mary. And I think that it is God’s trust in her that allows her to relax and become a little less fearful and to begin to imagine for herself this role and then to finally say “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
How does it change our relationship to fear if we realize that a day of visitation is itself a sign of God’s trust in us? Trust that we can do the work and that God will be with us?
Let us consider then what it means that it is God trust that helps Mary begin to relax into trusting God. And that Mary saying yes not only creates an immediate and hard-to-explain scandal – “God told me to…” but that she will never be the same again regardless of whether she says no or yes.
3. There’s No Going Back
This brings me to the last point – on a day of visitation there is no going back regardless of whether you say yes or no you are forever changed.
The poet Marie Howe writes in her poem “Mary (Reprise):”
What is that book we always see—in the paintings—in her lap?
Her fingers keeping the place of who she was when she looked up?
When I look up: my mother is dead, and my own daughter is calling from the bathtub, Mom come in and watch me—come in here right now!
No Going Back might be the name of that angel—no more reverie.
Let it be done to me, Mary finally said, and that
was the last time, for a long time, that she spoke about the past.
And this is exactly what our text is about this morning. Once Mary is visited by the Angel there is no real going back, even if she were to say no.
And because she said yes and risked the unknown we too should risk saying yes. We too know exactly what it looks like to relax into trusting in God’s call so that we too might say yes to God in the midst of scandal. She is a metaphor of what it looks like to trust God especially in the face of complete and utter darkness. She is the face of someone who was trusted by God and in return she relaxes enough to begin to trust in God.
Mary’s yes leads her becoming an essential link in salvation history.
There is no doubt in my mind that when she said yes she hadn’t done all her research, she hadn’t thought through all the ramifications of her action, and she certainly hadn’t written a dissertation on divine pregnancies or considered all who might be hurt and all who might be helped by her yes.
There is no doubt in my mind she hadn’t considered that she would live a life on the run and watch her son Jesus tortured and executed by the hands of the Roman Empire.
All she has time for is to look up from her book, ask “But how…” and say yes, before the angel “No Going Back” left her and the thing happened.
- Are you working to be a person who God can trust to do the work he calls you to?
- Are you aware of a day of visitation in your life?
- Are you prepared to look up from the page and to know that things may never be the same and say yes anyways?
Let’s make our advent prayer Mary’s words:
“Here am I, a servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”