“The Lord is with you”: words that will change your life, and change the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday of Advent, year B
Texts: Luke 1:26-38, 46b-55 (the latter verses, the Magnificat, are appointed as today’s psalm)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Gabriel’s greeting “greatly agitated” Mary, Luke says.
It doesn’t look so alarming. “Hi,” the angel literally said, using a common, everyday word of greeting. True, you aren’t called “most favored one” every day. But then Gabriel gave another common greeting: “The Lord is with you.” Or, as we might say, “The Lord be with you.”
“The Lord be with you.” We greet each other with that all the time. “And also with you,” we reply. Are you ever greatly agitated by this, and so led to ponder what sort of a greeting it might be, as Mary did?
We blithely say, “God is with you,” as if that were something simple, something normal, something common. Mary, not yet aware of the reason for Gabriel’s visit, sensed that it was the opposite of simple, normal, common. What might this greeting mean for me? she pondered, all stirred up.
She was right to be agitated. Everything would change in that moment.
If she said yes, she would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, begin the arduous and joyful process of growing, bearing, rearing a child, sending that child into the world. Her life would be turned upside down.
But this simple girl also learned something about God while pondering. If this child is who Gabriel says, Mary thought, God is doing something astonishing to this world, not just to me.
So Mary sang: God’s favor on me, God’s being with me, terrifying and agitating at first, has taught me something. God is turning the world upside down. Born from a poor woman of no status, this child will cast down the mighty from their thrones for God, overturn those who are proud and full of themselves, and lift up all those who are low. Born into poverty and need, this child will fill those who hunger with good things, on God’s behalf, and send away those who are satiated and full, with empty hands.
“The Lord is with you”? Mary says that changes everything.
Do you feel her agitation yet? If I said to you right now, “The Lord be with you,” would you be concerned?
You should ponder Mary as your forebear in all this. Because when this not-yet-conceived child grew to be an adult and preached, healed, loved, died, and rose, all who met him had their lives turned upside down. Some because they rejected him. But some because they saw God in this simple rabbi, and followed him, women and men, and were forever changed. We put the name “Saint” in front of all their names now – Mary of Magdala, Peter, Susanna, Andrew, the whole lot of them – but they were all like you once. Ordinary people.
Then someone said, “God is with you,” and they believed it. Trusted it. And through them, God started turning the world upside down.
Maybe we’ve become too comfortable with “the Lord be with you.” It’s too familiar.
Maybe it doesn’t agitate you anymore. And though Magnificat is beautiful to sing, maybe we’re not ready for the transformation Mary promises there, at least at the cost to us it might mean.
But Mary knew what she meant when she sang it. She carried God inside her when she sang it. She went from greatly agitated to overwhelmed with joy that she was a part of God’s turning the world upside down.
Because, make no mistake, Mary knew that “God is with you” is not a greeting to be taken lightly. Mary says, if God is with you, then everything will change. For you, and for the world.
And that will be the hope for this world, as it turns out. A hope we actually do long to see fulfilled.
God is with you. That’s your greeting today.
Are you willing to have the Holy Spirit plant God’s new life in you today? Will you carry that life inside you until you painfully bear Christ into the world? Will you then nurture that Christ in your life, your actions, your love, until in time you come to fully grasp the letting go of yourself that the Triune God models in Jesus, the Christ? 
Because, beloved ones of God, if you all are possible Marys, if God really is with each of you, the world truly can and will change. Everything that grieves you, harms others, oppresses, destroys, tramples down, will have no ability to withstand millions and millions of Marys bearing God’s life into the world.
It’s worth some pondering. It’s deep mystery, that God is with you. Maybe even a little agitating.
But do say yes to God, to God’s transformation. Sing with Mary your joy and hope of God’s restoring this world into the new creation of life and hope God always wanted to see here.
The Lord be with you. Amen
 Inspired by Ronald Rolheiser’s reflection on Mary: “Our task too is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go.” Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., “Mary as a Model of Faith,” reflection on Luke 11:27–28 (December 7, 2003). http://ronrolheiser.com/mary-as-a-model-of-faith/