Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)
Several years ago, my husband John and I had gas logs installed in our fire place. They are not quite the same as a wood fire – none of the crackling sounds or aromatic smoke, but also none of the struggle and mess. We simply press a button on a remote and we have a roaring fire so we can easily spend an evening reading and sipping wine surrounded by our cats snoozing in their favorite spots. Often I find myself simply staring at the cavorting flames, mesmerized by the brightness that cuts through the cold darkness of winter.
In Scripture fire is associated with the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost we celebrate the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to his followers. According to the account of that momentous event told in Acts, “…suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:2-4)
In the first chapter of Luke we hear of an earlier encounter between the Holy Spirit and Mary. Images of the Annunciation found in art and music often depict this event as a sublimely peaceful moment. Mary is greeted by an unexpected visitor; the Angel Gabriel has come from God to tell her that she has been chosen to bear God’s son. Mary faithfully assents to do as God wills, and in the midst of this exchange Mary becomes pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Following this scene Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, a relative whose own pregnancy is miraculous due to her advanced age. Upon arriving, Mary expresses her immense joy in the song that begins “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
I have a vivid memory of learning about light refraction in an elementary school science class. On a bright sunny day I held a magnifying glass over a balled up piece of paper in a tin pan and positioned it till I had focused the sun’s image onto the paper. After a few moments there was smoke, and then, yes, little threads of orange began to appear creating a widening hole in the paper, and finally fire. The magnifying glass had focused the sunlight that was all around me into a concentrated spot on the paper and caused it to burst into flame.
“My soul magnifies the Lord”…..Mary’s act of saying yes to God transformed her soul in such a way that it could receive all that power of the Holy Spirit to create a spark that would become the Light of the World. It was a courageous act on Mary’s part. Her “yes,” put her on an unfamiliar path full of uncertainty. By saying “yes” she jeopardized her own future. She risked losing the man to whom she was engaged and living the rest of her life in disgrace. And yet her song of praise is a clear indication of the confident fulfillment she experiences by placing her trust in God’s ultimate goodness. In Mary’s encounter with the Holy Spirit we see that saying, “Yes” to God requires us to reject the fears and self-doubts that often blur our vision of God’s desires for us. Mary’s unwavering trust in God’s power and intention to overcome all adversity and achieve the most amazing and unexpected outcome enables her to move forward without hesitation.
Each Advent we return to a time of preparation for the birth of the Christ Child in a manger and once again begin that journey with him that will ultimately lead to the Cross and our redemption. That same Holy Spirit continues to guide us along the way inviting us to actively participate in Jesus’ ministry of healing and restoration in this world. We can only live into this calling if we learn to say, “Yes,” to God with same level of trust and obedience exemplified by Mary. Our “Yes,” means letting go of our own fears and insecurity. The courage to say, “Let it be with me according to your word,” can transform our very souls to gather the power of the Holy Spirit that surrounds us all the time like countless rays of sunshine.