"Mary said, 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.'”
- Luke 1:38 -
“Here am I.” When Mary uttered those words, she joined a long line of people who had responded to God’s call before her. Abraham responded, “Here I am,” when the Lord called to him (Genesis 22:1). Jacob replied, “Here I am,” when the Lord spoke to Jacob through visions in the night (Genesis 46:2). Moses answered, “He I am,” when the Lord called to him from the burning bush (Exodus 3:4). When the prophet Isaiah heard the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah dared to say, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). And when Mary answered the Lord’s call for her life with those words, she too accepted God’s invitation to be changed and be used by God for a higher purpose. “Here am I.”
During Advent we traditionally focus on themes like waiting, longing, and hope. But the theme of calling, God’s invitation for us to “work together with him” (2 Corinthians 6:1), also permeates the Scriptures that set the stage for Jesus’ birth. So, this advent at First Presbyterian Church, we going to meditate on the theme of calling. In the Bible we'll hear how God called Elizabeth and Zachariah to something new even in their old age, how God called John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus, and how God called Mary to bring Jesus into this world. They accepted God’s invitation, and they show us how to accept God’s call today.
This theme matters especially for us as a church right now because of changes that are coming in 2022. I hear the Lord call me to do more work outside of the church, and that makes room for God others in the church to step up and serve with the unique gifts that God's given them. I will begin working three-quarter time for the church in January, a change that is wise for our church financially and theologically. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says all Christians have a “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” That means we each have a spiritual gift, a unique talent, given by God for the good of the Church and the world. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just empower ordained people for ministry. The Holy Spirit empowers all who’ve been baptized for ministry and mission in their broadest senses. I think this small change in how I serve church actually has immense potential to reinvigorate us. I pray that more of you will feel free to use the gifts God has given to you and that this will create new opportunities for fellowship and growth in discipleship.
As we make these changes in our church’s life, we’re also listening to the wisdom of other churches who have transitioned to having part-time pastors. In the book Part-Time is Plenty, G. Jeffrey MacDonald reports on his studies of churches who flourished after switching to part-time pastorates. To summarize his work, MacDonald found that churches who thrive with part-time clergy (1) have members step up to share in all the tasks of ministry, and (2) keep an outward focus on serving their surrounding community, rather than turning inward and attending only to the needs of members. I’ve repeated these points in several different places recently, and I plan to keep them in front of us in the new year as well. To make the most of this opportunity, we need to be reminded of these truths continually. As God calls more of you to share in the tasks of ministry, my role will shift more toward what Ephesians 4:12 says is a pastor’s job: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” You are the saints in that verse. I will still teach, preach, write, counsel, visit, and pray with you. But the tone of what I do will shift more toward supporting you in living out the callings God has given and is giving to each of you.
So as we wait for the Lord this Advent, I invite you to listen for God’s call. What gifts and talents has God given to you? How is the Lord inviting you to use them for the good of the Church and the world? Listen for the Lord to speak to you during this season, and when the call comes – whether it’s through an angel appearing to you or a friend in church tapping you on the shoulder – dare to say with Mary, “Here am I.”
Grace and Peace,