Moment of Truth
Based on 2Samuel 7:4-16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38
In every compelling story there is a dilemma that the main character(s) have to overcome in order to succeed in whatever quest they are on. The climax of the story comes when there is a “moment of truth” – a pivotal decision that has to be made in order to resolve the situation and allow the story to move forward. This crisis point is what the whole story has been building to – if there is no moment of truth then the whole narrative falls apart.
We can all think of movies or stories that we love where the leading character needs to summon the courage to face their moment of truth. The audience sits on the edge of their seats – the question lingers whether the moment of truth will be met. The tension grows in the silence – the pregnant pause between what has been and what is yet to be. How engaged we are with the characters and the storyline will determine how we feel about the outcome of the moment of truth. At their best, these moments convey some universal truth about the struggle to commit to something larger than ourselves and to the image of God that is within all of us.
Moments of truth appears in our scripture readings today. Nathan has to confront King David and speak God’s truth into David’s plans to build a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant. Paul’s final words to the believers in Rome reminds them of the truth that the gospel of Jesus will strengthen them in all times. Mary encounters the angel Gabriel and the opportunity that God has for her – it is a moment of truth that comes to her without warning. Before we go farther, let us go to God now in prayer asking for the courage to meet all our moments of truth…
Paul is winding up his letter to the believers in Rome and he has some final instructions for them. In the verses before our reading today, in a moment of truth, he advises them to “…keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive…” Paul ends the letter with a doxology to God and God’s power to “crush Satan” and “bring about the obedience of faith”.
King David has finally brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and has danced before it with wild abandon and joy. We pick up our reading in 2Samuel with the King telling the prophet Nathan that it is not good for David to be living in a house of cedar while the Ark remains in a tent. Nathan agrees that the king should build a permanent home for God and then retires for the night. God, however, has other plans and speaks God’s truth to Nathan in the night. The following day, Nathan must confront the King with “thus saith the LORD” in order that God’s plan for David’s eternal kingdom can be set in motion. This is the first “moment of truth” between Nathan and David and sets the stage for the major confrontation that will soon come over David’s decisions with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.
Our Gospel reading today is celebrated by the Church as the “Annunciation”. The archangel Gabriel is dispatched to Nazareth to the home of a young girl named Mary. Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph who is from the line of King David. Gabriel speaks to her of her favored status with God and that she has been chosen of all women to bear a holy child – the Son of God. The moment of truth comes in the space between the end of verse 37 and the agreement in verse 38. In that space, Mary had the free will to say no – but she didn’t because she had the “obedience of faith”.
In a poem entitled, “Annunciation”, author Denise Levertov portrays the interaction between the angel Gabriel and teen-aged Mary in this way… “Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings, the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering, whom she acknowledges, a guest. But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage. The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited. She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness. Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending. More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them. But the gates close, the pathway vanishes….Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time, she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’ and gravely, courteously, took to heart the angel’s reply, perceiving instantly the astounding ministry she was offered: to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness; to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power – in narrow flesh, the sum of light. Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child needing, like any other, milk and love – but who was God.”
Likewise, the Quaker mystic, Thomas R. Kelly, in “A Testament of Devotion” writes that, “…God speaks within you and me, to our truest selves, in our truest moments, and disquiets us with the world’s needs. By inner persuasions God draws us to a few very definite tasks, our tasks, God’s burdened heart particularizing his burdens in us. In other words, through the world’s needs – our community’s needs, our neighbor’s needs, our family’s needs – an angel shows up and invites. And through our yes, God’s own burdened heart of love takes flesh in the world once again….”
Whether it be Levertov, Kelly, the Apostle Paul, unknown but inspired writers of scripture or spiritual luminaries across millennia, all have communicated the same thing…there are “annunciations” of some kind in most if not all of our lives. Faithful living is all about recognizing these momentous occasions and then saying “yes” in that moment of truth where God seeks to break into our lives and invites us to go to work with God to create something new. To give birth, if you will, to something that has not existed before – and which will not exist at all if we decline or otherwise miss the ministry that is being offered.
This is why we have seasons like Advent to prepare ourselves spiritually – to break out of our routines and to seek once again to be in touch with “thus saith the LORD”. Advent calls us to renew our focus on God and God’s timeless wisdom contained in God’s word for us. Often in our overly busy and distracted lives, we get ahead of ourselves and God and we think, like King David, that we are doing what we ought to do. However, when we take those ideas or inclinations in prayer to God, we can often hear God telling us that God has other plans for us. We can hear that God wishes us to use our gifts in ways that we hadn’t considered. If we’re really listening and if we have the courage of the obedience of faith, God may even call us to a moment of truth where we will have the option of saying “yes” or “no” to what God has planned for us. Like Thomas Kelly noted, out of all the things that we could be doing to meet the needs of the world, God disquiets us and draws us specifically to a few tasks – to tasks that only we are gifted and called to do. These annunciations are our moment of truth where we can say “no, thank you” to God and continue on with our ordinary lives, or say “yes” and embody God’s burdened heart of love. Mary said “yes” in her moment of truth and with God birthed a child that change the world. This begs the question…how will you answer God’s emissary in your moment of truth? May God bless you in your discernment, amen!