26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 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.
I had a lot of plans for this month. I was going to spend three Tuesdays studying the Gospel of Luke in preparation for the new liturgical year that begins in Advent. I was going to get our Confirmation Retreat planned and ready to go. I was going to recruit a Youth Ministry Dream Team and finish reading the book I plan to give our council for next year’s devotions. I had a lot of plans for this month.
I’m writing this on the 20th of November. As of this moment, not one of those plans has come to fruition. I’ve read about half of the Gospel of Luke and haven’t even cracked a commentary yet. The Confirmation Retreat remains unplanned. The Youth Ministry Dream Team remains a dream, and my books remain unread. Why? Because other, more important things interrupted, and my plans changed to suit what was happening among God’s people here in Barrett this month.
Mary and Joseph probably had a lot of plans, too. I’ll bet that none of those plans included an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the birth of their firstborn in a city nearly 100 miles from their home, or flight to Egypt to escape a murderous rampage sent by King Herod in a fit of paranoia. I’m certain that Mary and Joseph did not plan on angels coming to announce that they were to give birth to and raise God’s only Son. But whatever Mary and Joseph may have planned, the Gospel of Luke tells us that other, more important things interrupted, and their plans were changed to suit what was happening among God’s people and most especially what was happening with the two of them and their baby boy, Jesus.
A wise seminary professor once told me that “pastoral ministry is what happens in the interruptions.” We can plan and study God’s Word and worship and learn what it means to follow Jesus, and we should do all of those things. We should, as the writer of Hebrews said in our readings last week, “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10.24-25a) But our plans can’t be the whole and sum of our faith and learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. At best, our plans prepare us for the moments of interruption; the moments when the good news may be tested by death, by sin, by illness, by the wounds we inflict upon each other. We learn to trust in God in good times so that we might more fully depend upon him in the times when the world is shattered and we have to cling to that which we most deeply trust.
In this life, interruptions will come. Some, like the interruption of Jesus that intruded on the lives of Mary and Joseph, are God working in us in ways we cannot predict or control. They are wondrous and awesome, but also moments of great perplexity and sometimes even fear. Some interruptions are simply life happening as it will; illness, death and other interruptions force us to take time for the momentary calling God has placed upon us to answer His summons in the interruption. But interruptions are holy times, times when God comes near and we are called simply to be in the moment and let God do what needs doing through us.
Advent is upon us – not Christmas, Advent, a time of preparation and planning. Take time this month to prepare yourself to be interrupted by the presence of God. Look around you, fellow saints, and find those places where God is calling you to be, and let your answer to that call, that holy interruption, be similar to Mary’s response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.”
Yours in Christ’s restless peace,