Last week in the first of our Advent messenger stories, the Angel Gabriel, a messenger of God, appeared to Zechariah, and Zechariah was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. The Angel told Zechariah, do not be afraid.
In today’s story – Mary had a much different reaction to the messenger’s news. She was perplexed. She was given this unbelievable news, and she questioned how it could be possible, and then – she accepted it. She said Let it be So.
This was a pretty incredible response, given what could have been a socially humiliating and fatal sentence at the time for her, being pregnant before marriage, if Joseph had rejected her. As the story is told, Mary doesn’t dwell on the confusion and upset and upheaval that this message from the angel brings, she moves on to acceptance and “what next.”
I am almost positive that if I had been in Mary’s situation, my response would not have been “let it be so.” I think that I would have spent a little more time dwelling in the “how can this be happening?” and “why me?” part of the response.
It is so natural when something unexpected or undesired happens to us, to spend a lot of time wishing things were not the way they are. Wishing they were different. Waiting for things to change. We can spend a lot of energy on this. Sometimes, in a state of grief or hurt, we need to sit with that grief and anger for a while until we are ready to move out of it. But it is only when we acknowledge what is, and are able to use our energy to live into what’s next, that peace comes.
For me this happened when my husband left me unexpectedly when my kids were 5 and not quite 2. This came as a shock to me, to my family, to his family, to everyone who knew us well. You can be sure that my response to this shocking news was more in the realm of ‘how is this possible?’ than the ‘let it be so’ like was Mary’s response.
For a long time I was stuck in the state of disbelief. I was putting all my energy into trying to figure out why and how this could have happened to me and wishing that things would go back to the way they were. When I was stuck, I was unable to creatively see how God was working within my situation to help me move forward. It was only once I began to accept my situation, my ‘new normal’ – which did not mean that I was accepting what had happened, or forgiving anything or even being at peace with it – just accepting the circumstances. It was only then that I was able to begin to see forward, beyond the place that I was stuck. Once I accepted my new normal, and stopped using my energy to keep myself stuck, then I could start to make plans and use my energy to live into what was going to be coming next for me.
Peace comes when we can accept what is, and move forward into what is next. The acceptance isn’t to say we understand it, or think it is ok, it is more of an acknowledgement of the current situation but that acknowledgement opens us up to new possibilities. For Mary, when she said ‘let it be so’ she moved into the ‘what’s next for me’ rather than getting stuck in the “why me? How could this happen?” This allowed God to use her in a powerful way.
As I was thinking about this this week, I was reminded of the serenity prayer that is used in 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This prayer I found out was written by Reinhold Niebuhr, a well known American theologian.
To me this prayer speaks directly to the acceptance of the situation, (accepting the things I cannot change) in order to move into the ‘what’s next for me’ process – which is the courage to change the things I can.
Another quote that came to mind was from Angela Davis, who is an American political activist, academic and author. She is best known as a radical African-American educator and activist for civil rights and other social issues. She knew about racial prejudice from her experiences with discrimination growing up in Alabama. She said “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
In acknowledging the things that she could not accept, it gave her the energy and focus to live into what was next for her, and giving her vision to work toward changing those very things.
Now I want you to think for a minute about a situation in your own life, that you might be in right now, something that you don’t want to be in, something you didn’t choose and that you cannot change. Maybe it is an illness or death of someone close to you, a difficult relationship with a friend or loved one, a job change or loss, or retirement, a health issue, a difficult diagnosis, moving to a different home. Is it a place that could use a little bit of peace?
Can you think of any ways – even little ways that you can begin to move from the ‘what is’ of the situation – what maybe feels like the impossibility of the situation, to ‘what’s next.’ This is not to diminish the situation or the struggle, but in an effort to offer yourself more peace.
When there is so much happening in the world and so many places where peace is not experienced, it seems maybe a little insignificant to just think about peace in our own lives. Many of us here today don’t know what it is to fear for our lives or to live in such destruction, not knowing when or where our next meal will come from like many are experiencing in Ukraine and Palestine, And sometimes – thinking about the global situation, the violence in Ukraine and Palestine and Israel, it feels insignificant to think of finding peace within ourselves, but truly that is where we must start.
When we feel more peace in our own lives and relationships, then we are able to share it beyond ourselves and offer more peace to others, to become messengers of peace in our communities and in our world.
For me, now looking back from a place far on the other side of the struggle, I still would not say that I was glad to become suddenly a single mom with two young daughters those years ago, but in accepting that as the way it was and focusing my energy on what was next, it allowed me to be open to seeing the ways that I was not alone in that struggle, God was with me, and I was able to live in to what was next for me. And from this side of the struggle, looking back, I can see all the wonderful things in my life that would not have happened had I not lived into the “what’s next.”
When we accept what is and have more peace in our own lives, and we live into what is next we can become messengers of peace to others. And just maybe as more peace is spread throughout our lives and through our communities, that commitment to peace will spread throughout the world as well.
Mary’s life was transformed because she was able to accept the message that Gabriel brought her, and say ‘let it be so, for nothing is impossible with God.’
So your invitation this week, is to do just that, think about where in your own life you could use some more peace, and then also be a messenger of peace to someone else in their struggle.
Let it be so, for nothing is impossible with God.