FAVORED – Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

December 24, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 or Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29 (2a)
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

On this last Sunday of Advent, with Christmas celebrations beginning in just a few hours, the Gospel reading sets the stage for the birth of Jesus. The angel Gabriel is sent to Mary and
addresses her as “favored one” (Lk 1:28) before announcing that she has been chosen for a special role in God’s plan. Given the societal pecking order of the time and place, Mary had to be surprised to hear that she had “found favor with God” (Lk 1:30). She was, after all, a nobody living in the middle of nowhere, someone of no standing. She was a woman, a teenager, unmarried, and poor—yet here she was, favored by God.

The entire story of the birth of Jesus that we will hear over the coming days points to God’s favor toward and identification with those on the lowest rungs of society. Mary and Joseph were among those on the bottom tier. They lived in a land under occupation, and because the Romans had given orders for a census to be taken, Mary gave birth to Jesus away from home—in the ancestral town of Bethlehem. The birth took place in a stable, where the baby was laid in a feed trough intended for livestock. The angels brought news of the birth of a Savior not to religious or political leaders but to a group of shepherds who had to work in the cold of the night. Forty days later, when his parents presented him at the Temple, they offered a sacrifice of two turtledoves or two young pigeons, an option given to the poor who were unable to afford a lamb.

And that’s just the beginning. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the favored ones are largely people on the margins. Jesus is sent to bring good news and extend God’s mercy to the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, the sick, the sinners, the tax collectors, the foreigners. A few verses after today’s Gospel passage, Luke places in Mary’s mouth a powerful song that expresses this theme. In her Magnificat, she rejoices that God “has looked with favor” (Lk 1:48) on her lowly state. She exults in the Holy One who has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things” (Lk 1:52-53).

In today’s story of the Annunciation, Luke portrays Mary as deeply reflective. She was “perplexed” by Gabriel’s greeting and “pondered” what it could mean to be greeted as “favored one” (Lk 1:29). She questioned the angel about how this plan could actually take shape.

Mary’s favor with God and her assent to the divine call would not be the end of her journey. The Spirit that came upon her would empower her not only to bring forth the Savior but to embrace a life-long commitment to Jesus’s mission as he proclaimed God’s favor to the powerless and the excluded. That same Spirit comes upon us today so that we can carry the message of God’s favor to those most in need of God’s compassion and love.

A Hymn for Today: “No wind at the window”

Scottish pastor and hymnwriter John L. Bell, FHS, has created a fresh and charming retelling of the Annunciation story and pairs it with an Irish folk tune. Listen here.

No wind at the window, no knock on the door;
no light from the lampstand, no foot on the floor;
no dream born of tiredness, no ghost raised by fear:
just an angel and a woman and a voice in her ear.

“O Mary, O Mary, don’t hide from my face.
Be glad that you’re favored and filled with God’s grace.
The time for redeeming the world has begun,
and you are requested to mother God’s Son.”

“The child must be born that the kingdom might come:
salvation for many, destruction for some;
both end and beginning, both message and sign;
both victor and victim, both yours and divine.”

No payment was promised, no promises made;
no wedding was dated, no blueprint displayed.
Yet Mary, consenting to what none could guess,
replied with conviction, “Tell God I say, Yes.”

Text: John L. Bell, b. 1949. © 1992, WGRG, Iona Community, admin. GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Annunciation of the Angel to Mary, Lamidi O. Fakeye, wood carving

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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