God Meets Us in Our Fear

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me Speaking words of wisdom Let it be And in my hour of darkness She is standing right in front of me Speaking words of wisdom Let it be Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be Whisper words of wisdom Let it be

In March 1970, the Beatles released their final single record, “Let It Be,” just before Paul McCartney announced he was leaving the band. The Let It Be album was released a couple of months later after the break-up of the Beatles.

After hearing about Mary telling the angel Gabriel, “Let it be with me according to your word,” you might think Paul McCartney was singing about the Virgin Mary.

When asked if that is the case, Paul has typically answered by telling his fans they can interpret the song however they want.

 Mother Mary refers to Paul’s mother, who died when he was 14. He talks about how his life was not going well when he realized the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up. Here’s how he describes what happened: “One night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, I had the most comforting dream about my mother who died when I was only 14. She had been a nurse, my mum, and very hardworking, because she wanted the best for us. We weren’t a well-off family — we didn’t have a car, we just about had a television — so both of my parents went out to work, and mum contributed a good half to the family income. At night when she came home, she would cook, so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other. But she was just a very comforting presence in my life. And when she died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily.

 So in this dream 12 years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly, ‘Let it be.’ It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message. Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it all will work out.”

We Protestants typically don’t pay much attention to Mother Mary, except at this time of year. Then we dress her in a light blue robe with a white shawl over her head. We picture her as quiet and passive. I think she would be offended by that portrayal.  She was a teenage girl, which means her brain was not fully developed.  Teenagers are by their very nature reactive.   When I would take our new 6-month-old to the pediatrician and worry about everything, our pediatrician used to say, little people have little problems, big people have big problems.   “Great” I would think, “this kid’s going to put me in an early grave. “  With that I safely buckle up my teething six month old in the back of the car and look at her and wonder, what big problems would this little baby experience.   Sometimes, often, we can be more afraid of what might happen, then what actually does happen. 

Teenagers aren’t great at thinking too far down the road and anticipating the worst-case scenario, so when this angel speaks to Mary, he has less baggage to unpack.  Mary doesn’t ask about “what if” questions. – What if my parents get angry, what if the towns people stone me, what if Joseph breaks up with me, what if I can’t do this, what if I miscarry. – I can think of 100 more What if questions I was in this situation, but the angel was smart not ask a 50-year-old woman to carry the son of God.   Mary does ask a how question, which I love, because it tells us something about her character and that is, she’s smart.  She wants to know how something will work and so she bravely asks a really good question, “how can this be, since I am a virgin.”  Two things about this question, one she wants to understand something and two she shares something about herself – and this tells me she knows how to self-advocate.  The angel provides an explanation, and that seems to make sense to Mary.  So Mary responds with three small words, “let it be”

I wonder how long she paused and paced the floor before she said those words.  I wonder if she got a drink of water or sat down and reflected on this proposition.  I wonder if she sat in the silence space between her and the angel and had a staring match with him, wondering who would blink first.  I wonder if she thought maybe he got the wrong house, or would offer some other words, or maybe a gift certificate to Target so she could afford some essentials.   None of that.  Just a big interruption in a life that was somewhat planned out with an engagement to a nice guy from a nice family and this out of order pregnancy.  If that is not overwhelming enough, the angel says he will be the son of man.

The poet Ann Weems writes,


            Nazareth girl:

What did you know of ethereal beings

            with messages from God?

What did you know of men

            when you found yourself with child?

What did you know of babies,

            you, barely out of childhood yourself?

God-chosen girl:

What did you know of God

            that brought you to this stable

            blessed among women?

Could it be that you had been ready



                    for the footsteps

            of an angel?

Could it be there are messages for us

            if we have the faith to listen?

Mary’s words of wisdom to us, “Let it be,” encourage us to surrender to God’s call in our lives, even when the circumstances of our lives and of God’s call don’t seem to be particularly promising.

You know when Mary responds to the angel, she doesn’t just say let it be to one part of her life, but all of her life.  When you carry a baby, by the 9th month you are more baby that you are  you, and then when that baby is born,  your priorities change as well as how you see the world.

So often we think about our faith life and our relationship with God like a piece of pie.  We have our career life, our social life, our health life, our financial life, and then we have a sliver cut out that is our faith life.  I don’t think that’s how it works.   At least, that’s not how God’s call has worked for me. God isn’t a life coach interested in making sure you have a balanced life.  God calls us to do things that are not about us, or about what we want, but about something so much bigger than ourselves.  You can’t compartmentalize God’s call in your life.

When I felt the call to ministry, I fought it hard. I came up with every reason in the book, I excelled at imposter syndrome, I was very afraid of being secure financially,  I had a long list of why this was not a good idea.  I resisted, contested, and debated with God.  I genuinely thought God was ridiculous.  – Sometimes I still do.

Finally one night, in a yoga class, sitting in the dark, deep in prayer, God and I had a conversation.  I finally said, “O.k. I will go.  I will do this.” And I heard, as clear as day, “You are going in the right direction, go in peace.”  And I got up and went home and went into our apartment and stood in the living room and said to Blake, “Look at this, my hands our down, I am surrendering, I am going to go to seminary.”  It was that surrendering, that was the prayer, and honestly you don’t surrender once. You surrender every day, every hour.  Every day the prayer is simply, and impossibly, “let it be.”

It was scary.  It was not in the plan.  It wasn’t what I though I ever wanted.  And to be very clear, I don’t think I am as brave as Mary.  Better her than me, but I understand that when you respond to God’s call, you don’t piecemeal it out, you respond with all of your heart, you all of your soul and all of your mind.  You also don’t do it once, but every day.  Every day, you let it be.


Rev. Dr. Shelly Wood

Other Sermons