I am struck by this today — by the number of times we hear of God calling people to extraordinary things and of how many of them answer with the simplicity of Mary saying “Here am I” or “Here I am.” And I find myself wondering at how their stories paralleled hers and also where they differed, of course, for they surely did that as well.
We think of Abraham, of course, and we remember all the times and ways in which he and Sarah were called and called and called to new places and to new, deeper understandings of God at work in the world and in their very lives. The time he utters these words, “Here I am,” is just as God is calling him to sacrifice their long awaited and much beloved son, Isaac. And yes, there is so very much that is disturbing in this call, way too much to explore for our purposes now. And so what I am holding today is the certain truth that when Abraham said “Here I am,” what came next was unexpected, to be sure, and no doubt more than a little terrifying for Abraham who could not yet see the ending. And in the end, God provided. Surely, this was true for Mary, too.
And of course there was Jacob, whose “Here I am” actually comes later in life as well. In this instance he is recalling a dream where he spoke these words and witnessed the powerful ways in which God would provide. Indeed, he recalls that dream even as he is responding to God’s urging to return home, in a time where it is necessary for him to settle things with Laban first, and to a place where he would be confronted by Esau, whom he had cheated of so much so many years before. Jacob’s “Here I am” was just the start of what must have first seemed frightening, but ended in the sort of reconciliation he could not have dreamed of before he experienced it. And yes, I am certaint Mary could not have begun to dream of all that would follow.
We remember Moses, whose ‘”Here I am” was whispered as he encountered a bush which would not stop burning. Just think of the lifetime of stepping out in faith which followed that first acknowledgement of God’s voice calling to him. A stepping out which would hold fear, no doubt, and frustration, and no small measure of suffering, which would require great trust, and which would result in the liberation of an entire people. Just think of what began with his simply acknowledging his own proximity to God led to! And just think of how this was also so for Mary!
What child among us does not remember Samuel, who responded to a voice in the night and whose first response to that call was to speak harsh words of judgment to the priest, Eli about his family. and yes, just think of all the times that followed all of his life when Samuel would do the same again and again and again. Mary was not a prophet exactly, not like Samuel, but in her own proclamation which echoes that of Hannah, doesn’t she also point to a different world, as does Isaiah also?
For we do also imagine the prophet Isaiah now in that fantastical, mysterious, holy place populated by the likes of seraphs and smoke and hot coals. Indeed, Isaiah said “Here I am” and then spent a lifetime witnessing hardship and heartache and continually speaking of God’s heartbreak at the actions and the plight of God’s people. And also raising up the possibility of what could be, as Mary did in her song.
And who can forget Ananias and the trepidation he must have felt when he responded in this way only to hear God calling him to go to Paul whose reputation for violence against God’s beloved who followed Jesus was etched on the hearts of all the faithful? And yes, I can only imagine that Mary must have felt fear also from time to time, as she stepped out in faith. She must have.
There are countless others who responded to God’s call, of course, although we do not find their words are not recorded in precisely this way. To be sure, we cannot begin to name all those who where summoned by a such holy calling and who acknowledged their presence within reach of God’s voice. And who then stepped up and out into worlds they likely could not have imagined only moments before.
And yet, when I plugged the question into my search engine wondering who had similarly responded with the words “Here am I”, not wanting to omit anyone obvious from my reflection today, I was more than a bit surprised to discover that at least some sources leave Mary off their lists altogether! I cannot imagine how that is even possible, for to my understanding and imagination, the story is not nearly complete without this particular “Here am I” and her immediate willingness to give her whole self over to God’s intent for her and the world next.
And yes, for Mary, we all know what comes next as Luke tells it:
- The hurried visit to her cousin Elizabeth and the mutual joy and wonder and, if they were honest, perhaps even fear they must have shared one with another;
- The decree from Emperor Augustus which would throw into disarray any carefully made plans Mary, Joseph, and their families may have put in place for the birth;
- The long hard travel to Bethlehem, to a place she likely had never been before;
- The beginning of labor, yet another step in Mary giving her whole being over to forces larger than herself;
- The birth of the child, the arrival of shepherds, the dedication of the child named Jesus, the proclamation and blessing first of the aging Simeon and then Anna and then that visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was a boy when it must have been ever abundantly clear that this child was like no other.
How could Mary have possibly imagined what would follow that first “Here am I” and how many times must she have been compelled to say it again and again throughout the life of this baby, this child, this man who was so very much a part of her? Like all who came before her, she responded in a way that risked all that she had been, all that she had loved, whatever future she might before that moment have imagined for herself. Only hers feels different to me, more intimate, yes, even more risky somehow, seeing as she was at the lowest end of the social order with so little to lean back on should it all go bad.
And I wonder now about what Mary’s reply of “Here am I” means for you and me. Beyond our gratitude, of course that she was and she did and she pondered and she feared and she followed into places of profound wonder and grief and joy and hope. I do, I wonder now if it is also ours to whisper “Here am I” as we sense the stirrings of the Spirit’s voice and call on the edge of all we have yet known. And I wonder what that means for us today:
In a world where we find ourselves in the midst of a time of loss and uncertainty unlike we have ever known before, what does it mean to whisper to a God of healing, “Here am I?” And what will it mean when finally we can gather again, half expecting or at least hoping that we can go back to things ‘as they were’ only to discover that the losses have taken their toll and we will not ever be as we remembered?
- In a time and place where our illusions have been stripped away and where we (and I speak from a place of powerful privilege now) see, perhaps for the first time, the ways in which those whose skin color differs from my own has so shaped their experience of what it is to be human alongside me in ways that makes God weep. What does it mean to say, “Here am I” and here I see and am starting to understand and oh, God, what does that mean for what is next?
- Oh, what does it mean to you and to me to say, “Here am I” in the midst of whatever is tugging at our hearts’ deepest hopes: the wellbeing of children, the earth which is crying out in pain, the loneliness of our elders, who are literally dying of heartbreak in this time of separation, and on and on. And on?
- What does it mean to all of us who say, “Here am I?” As did Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Aaron and Miriam, the boy Samuel and his mother, Hannah before him as well as all the prophets, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Ananias and Mary and so, so many more? What does it mean for us to stand still in the quiet long enough to hear, to sense God tugging at our very hearts and inviting us to lives marked by risk and danger, perhaps, but also filled with such opportunity to witness God at work in ways we cannot being to fathom on our own?
Indeed, isn’t this also our call to say simply “Here am I” and then to take the next step and the one after that?
Oh, I cannot help but wonder where it is God may be calling us next. Not to places or experiences void of hurt or heartbreak, no not likely those, but places of such possibility and wonder and finally hope, not always in spite of all that is hard but often in and through and beyond all that which brings such sorrow.
I do not know where the story ends for you or for me, but if we pay attention to all those others who also said, “Here am I,” from Abraham and Sarah to Mary and yes, Joseph, too, perhaps we get at least some small idea of what God may have in store.
No, this listening and responding to God’s deep call does not take away all of that which challenges or threatens or causes insufferable pain in this particular hard time. It turns out, it never actually has. Indeed, remembering those countless others who have done the same, we are reminded now that where we find ourselves today is not the end of the story, not for those who acknowledge and respond to the presence of God among us, even as we whisper “Here am I.”