Advent 4: Gabriel and Mary

By Jan Richardson

Gabriel and MaryImage: Gabriel and Mary © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year B: Luke 1.26-38

When Mary says let it be to the archangel, it is an act of radical surrender. She offers her yes not with the meek passivity that history has so often ascribed to her; this kind of surrender is born not of weakness but of a daring strength within her and a stunning grace that shows up to sustain her. Mary’s surrender is deliberate, the choice of a woman ready to give herself to the sacred with such abandon that she agrees, with intention, to give up every last plan she had for her life.

Mary’s audacious yes propels her onto a dark way. She sets out on a path almost completely devoid of signposts or trails left by others; she chooses a road utterly unlike any she had ever imagined for herself. What must it have been like to walk a way she could hardly perceive, while carrying within herself—in her heart and womb and bones—a light unlike any the world had ever seen?

What must it have been like for the archangel who witnessed Mary’s yes?

Gabriel’s Annunciation

For a moment
I hesitated
on the threshold.
For the space
of a breath
I paused,
unwilling to disturb
her last ordinary moment,
knowing that the next step
would cleave her life:
that this day
would slice her story
in two,
dividing all the days before
from all the ones
to come.

The artists would later
depict the scene:
Mary dazzled
by the archangel,
her head bowed
in humble assent,
awed by the messenger
who condescended
to leave paradise
to bestow such an honor
upon a woman, and mortal.

Yet I tell you
it was I who was dazzled,
I who found myself agape
when I came upon her—
reading, at the loom, in the kitchen,
I cannot now recall;
only that the woman before me—
blessed and full of grace
long before I called her so—
shimmered with how completely
she inhabited herself,
inhabited the space around her,
inhabited the moment
that hung between us.

I wanted to save her
from what I had been sent
to say.

Yet when the time came,
when I had stammered
the invitation
(history would not record
the sweat on my brow,
the pounding of my heart;
would not note
that I said
Do not be afraid
to myself as much as
to her)
it was she
who saved me—
her first deliverance—
her Let it be
not just declaration
to the Divine
but a word of solace,
of soothing,
of benediction

for the angel
in the doorway
who would hesitate
one last time—
just for the space
of a breath
torn from his chest—
before wrenching himself away
from her radiant consent,
her beautiful and
awful yes.

—Jan Richardson

Advent bonus: A couple of years ago, Gary wrote “Gabriel and Mary,” a wondrous song inspired by this story. I’d love to share it with you; to listen, simply click the Play button on the audio player below. (For my email subscribers: if the audio player doesn’t appear in your email, click to visit the blog and see the audio player.) The song is from Gary’s CD Songmaker’s Christmas.

For previous reflections on this passage, visit these posts:

Advent 4: An Awful and Wondrous Yes
Home for the Holidays
Door 20: Getting the Message

For my blessing for the Winter Solstice, click the image or title below:

Longest Night
Winter Solstice: Blessing for the Longest Night

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Gabriel and Mary,” please visit this page at (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. (Be sure to check out our Advent special on annual subscriptions at the images site! $125, regularly $165.)

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

15 Responses to “Advent 4: Gabriel and Mary”

  1. Lesley-Anne Evans Says:

    Wow oh wow oh wow! This gorgeous imagining, this becoming him and giving life at the same time to what we do not know in full yet can fully imagine in your words. Thank you for bravely writing and inviting us in. Wow!

  2. Joyce Treadwell Says:

    Only two words to describe this. Originally beautiful!!!!!!

  3. Ruth Says:

    Beautiful. A fresh insight into a pivotal Gospel incident for me, much mused on.
    In the following poem I link Mary’s Yes to my own call to ordination.
    (Written in my first year at theological college)

    Aftermath of Angels

    Who are you and who am I

    that you should choose me?

    Who am I now

    that I have chosen

    to say yes?

    How can I bear the weight

    of this light,

    carry the child of your heart;

    hold He who is Love

    within the limits of my own?

    Face down, I lay my head

    upon the earth

    hide me under the shadow

    of your wing.

    As you form Him in me,

    shape me within your hands.

    Knit my soul

    to the fabric of your being,

    Cradle us both

    In your enfolding

    and bring us to birth

    encircled by grace

  4. Ruth Says:

    i will be using your poem this Sunday, with acknowledgment, of course! Thank you, for me. Thank you for those who will hear it.

  5. Ruth Says:

    Your poem and observations, stimulated a blog post of my own. I have quoted you, acknowledged and linked back to this page. I hope that is ok?


  6. David J Hodgson Says:

    I discovered Garrison’s talent because you included information about his music with your posting for Advent 4B. I LIKE his Gabriel and Mary song. Decided to purchase and download his album. Thanks be to God!

  7. Allison Says:

    Read this yesterday as I was contemplating what to write on a deanery Facebook page. Starting a new train of thought. Read Gabriel’s point of view to my partner as we drove home from services this morning – even he appreciated the different point of view – Powerful stuff! Thank you so much for sharing such intimate thoughts and writings.

  8. Linda Goddard Says:

    Dear Jan,

    We missed your sweet presence last night at our Winter Solstice. I especially missed seeing you in our circle of light under my big oak tree.

    Blessings My Spiritual Sister,

  9. Leanne Sowers Says:

    Dear Jan: Your beautiful words are a palette of rich hues, and they invite us into your space of “Holy imagining.” I incorporated it into my sermons today and many were moved. Your words and poems surely are receptacles for and the encountering of the sacred.

    Blessings of Joy and Peace to you.

  10. Joe Caprani Says:

    Absolutely stunning! Thank-you for sharing.

  11. Diane Wendorf Says:

    such beautiful and powerful words. thank you

  12. GraceB Byerly Says:

    Guess I’ve never thought about angels having an opinion before but this reflective poem gave me food for thought and more thankful to the angel(s) who help me daily. Thanks for sharing your gift.

  13. Sherry H Thomas Says:

    Is this amazing poem published in a book I can purchase?

    With Gratitude

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Sherry, thank you so much! I’m sorry this poem hasn’t been published in a book yet, but it might just make its way into one down the road. Thank you for asking! Many blessings to you.

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