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AnnunciationThe Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
We can imagine these are the words being whispered on the lips of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the days, weeks, and months leading up to that trip from the northern regions of Galilee down to southern Bethlehem. But, they also could be her words as she and Joseph fled to Egypt with Jesus still a young child. They also sound like the words of a mother raising one as precocious and gifted as their son must have been. Remember when he was 12 years old, separated from his parents for at least three days, and they finally find him talking with the smartest minds in the nation gathered in the Temple? What parent wouldn't utter words of desperation and dependence at such moments?
These prayerful words were sung in this weekend's Cantata so beautifully delivered by our Sanctuary choir. Written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton in the song Breath of Heaven, they capture the emotions of a mother coming to grips with how powerless it feels to be a parent. They are words with such depth, and truth, they travel with us beyond the notes on the page.
After Friday's tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, I believe most Americans can relate to such feelings of helplessness. Whether you've ever had children that age or not, the news of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School strikes deep in the soul. I have found that thoughts and images cannot be held back from overflowing the walls I built up in my mind to keep in the raw emotion of the loss and hurt. The hurt continues this week as the brief stories of each child are told in eulogies over their lives cut short.
The dependence captured in this lyrics goes beyond the suffering of one moment of tragedy, though. I hear in these words the dependence that is the only natural reaction to the suffering of what it means to be human. I imagine these words on the lips of Jesus on lonely, dusty highways and surely in Gethsemane's Garden. A plea for help and a cry born out of dependence is the pinnacle of being human in the eyes of God. God desires that we would choose to depend on him. Paul describes how Advent works when he says Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8). That doesn't happen without dependence and faith.
We are three weeks into the season of waiting for the Coming of Christ, and our eyes are opening to just how dependent we really are. Mary's song is our song. Help me be strong. Help me be. Help me.
The Rev. Scott Hagan is pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Columbus, GA.