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Advent Greetings from President Lallene J. Rector

December 19, 2017

Madonna and Child by Ismael SaincilusDear Garrett-Evangelical Family and Friends,

We are deep into the latter days of the Advent season in which once again we anticipate the birth of the Christ child. We remember the faithfulness of Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. It is an incredible story about a young teenage girl, engaged to be married and still a virgin, but who would now conceive the child of God. Can you even imagine such a thing?

She is to give birth to a Son who will, “bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim release for captives and liberation for prisoners, who will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, who will comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2 CEB). Given the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire over of the Jewish people at that time, the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring justice and relief must have been Good News, indeed.

For Mary, however, the announcement of her unique role in these events was completely unexpected and not without enormous implications for her life - for the rest of her life  which, unbeknownst to her in that moment, would include her suffering the premature and violent death of her first-born son. How many mothers who give birth to precious children will suffer the loss of those children to a violent death? Too many.

Mary’s initial response is one with which we can more easily identify. “She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29 CEB). Gabriel tells her not to be afraid and that God is honoring her. She is a favored one. Mary was no doubt stunned by this announcement and her mind must have been racing with all kinds of questions and thoughts. She must have been wondering how Joseph would handle the news and what would happen to her as an unmarried, pregnant young girl. Would she be abandoned by him and by the world? Would she be shunned? Would she be a single mother with no assistance? How could she possibly be in this situation? Did she even have a choice? It seemed a done deal.

The angel explained how the spirit of God would come over her and that she would conceive: “Anything is possible with God.” Mary’s next response is perhaps the more difficult one for us to fully grasp: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said” (Luke 1:38 CEB). She seems to readily accept her assignment as a humble servant of God and by the time she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Mary is almost ecstatic about the situation. “With all my heart, I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47 CEB).

Our Christian tradition has lifted up Mary as an example of deep faithfulness to God’s call upon us. We are similarly invited, in the midst of our own confusion, uncertainty, and worries, to respond in the affirmative with, “I am your humble servant. Let it be with me as you have said.” I do not think we need be ecstatic, but to the extent we are able to accept God’s call upon our lives, a call that may often seem impossible and fraught with difficulty, we become participants and partners in God’s work on earth. There can be deep joy in knowing that as partners with God, we have played an important role in bringing God’s realm upon earth. We help bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to a hurting world. We faithfully work for the wellbeing of the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the incarcerated – for the wellbeing of all, especially the least of these. 

Like Mary, we do not know what will result from our faithfulness, but faithful we must be, to the best of our ability believing that God is with us and that there is no greater privilege than to serve as God’s humble servants, trusting that, finally, all will be well, all manner of things shall be well.

May you be blessed during the remainder of Advent and during this Christmas season and may God grant you a fresh measure of renewed hope and strength for the tasks ahead. 

Lallene J. Rector