Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year B

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Beginning of Everything

December 20, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

As I reflect on Gabriel's visit to Mary, I am thinking about the challenge and necessity of embracing mystery if we are to fulfill our purpose.

Arts & Architecture

The Annunciation

Henry Tanner


Tanner's rendition of the Annunciation.

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What are the most perplexing mysteries you face now?


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “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. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 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

When Gabriel appears to Mary, she was much perplexed by his greeting and by the message he delivered. None of it made any sense to her. “How can this be?” she asked. The answer, that the Holy Spirit would overpower her, could not have been exactly comforting.

Mystery is sometimes glorified absent the hard cold truth: it’s not an easy reality to accept.

I believe we spend more time than we begin to comprehend defending ourselves against mystery. We seek predictors; we try to manage information toward outcomes; we deny the signs in our own bodies of our fear about what we neither know nor control.

Learning to accept the things we cannot change, or know, or predict, takes all our lives. Sinking into the embrace of mystery is not so much like sinking into a warm hug as it is like sinking into the water where we began this life of faith. The water of our baptism is at once a place that holds and buoys us and a place where we die, over and over, so that we can be reborn.

In our dying is our living. Letting go is what gives us capacity to embrace the unknown that awaits us. Perplexity is the beginning of most adventures worth taking.

I find that letting go is a discipline I begin anew each day. I want to know. I want to have a sense of control over my life. I want to direct outcomes. I do not like this letting go.

And yet, and yet…

I see. When I do manage to loosen my grip, my relationship with reality becomes clearer. Like the still pool from whence I emerged, wet and crying, to begin this journey. Clear, like that water, reflecting my life to me.

“Here I am,” Mary said, “the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to you word.” In the end, it is all any of us can truly say with honesty. Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word. This, I suppose, is the heart of mystery. Not an easy reality to accept. And, too, the beginning of everything we are meant to be.