Sermon Advent 4B
Sunday December 20, 2020, St Petri.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
It is difficult for people like me who have never experienced occupation by a foreign military power to imagine the anger, fear and frustration of having your autonomy and the autonomy of your people lost; walking the streets of your town with soldiers standing at the entrances to the Mall, at the lights near the Vine Inn, at the crossing near the Cottage and etc….; soldiers who view you as one of the spoils of war; soldiers who can enter your home at any moment, to do whatever they will with your God-given dignity. No move that you make goes unnoticed by the force that shouldn’t be in your neighbourhood in the first place.
This is the kind of community in which this this boy was born. This is the community in which Mary received this truly ‘unprecedented’ call.
We have had an ‘unprecedented year’, as we have often heard. Two things are indeed new for the current generation in Australia:
- We have been occupied by a silent viral force which has rendered us powerless.
- We are being openly picked on by a military super-power.
I have been reading an excellent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his struggle under an all-consuming and dark military force called National Socialism, Bonhoeffer learnt that oppression, disease or suffering does not create a new reality that did not exist before this happened, but actually just deepens your awareness of what was always true and real before and after it, it is just that before this suffering, you could not see it.
He likened the struggle he was living under to time lapse photography. Pictures are taken over a long time but seen in quick succession. You see the thing that was always like this, but in more detail. You see the real picture of the thing you are seeing. You see the detail and the colour and see the thing in so much more depth.
Because of the War, they could see things as they actually are. We can see the promises of Jesus more clearly and because we can see him more clearly we desire him more fully. (Bonhoeffer, Eric Mataxis, Chapter 23, page 11)
Is this true of us this Christmas?
- Because of the isolation we can see the gift of fellowship and community in Jesus more clearly and desire it more.
- Because of the fears for the future, we can see the promise of Jesus’ sure future more clearly and desire it more?
- Because of the suffering and grief of people, we can see the comfort and care of Jesus more clearly and want to be this for others.
We are seeing the promises and presence of this God in our flesh more clearly as a result of what we have experienced this year.
Like Bonhoeffer, Mary receives the calling of a lifetime in a time of suffering that was but more in-your-face and dangerous than ours. So, her response to the Call of God is the same. And Luke wants us to see this. He wants us to see Mary as THE model of faith in our time and any time.
God, the Holy Trinity, turns up in Mary’s everyday life with a life-changing and rather ominous announcement. The ‘Most High’ God, by means of his Spirit announces the Son. Mary will be the one who bears this Son.
Mary’s mind must have been racing; her heart jumping.
But the “Most High” keeps speaking and Mary can move to a more settled and faith-filled place.
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God.
What I am being gifted and called to in my time is a gift of favour not rejection, blessing, not curse; a gift of love and kindness for me. That helps ‘calm the farm’, as we say.
“So, what is this gift that is going to shape my whole life and demand my total consent?
Oh, nothing much – just a biologically impossible and socially illegal pregnancy that will make living in small town Israel very tricky.
And a gift that puts her in a vulnerable and often dangerous place in terms of health for any young woman in ancient times (pregnancy).
And then of course, a bit of ‘world domination’ – a new King that has been promised for a thousand years arriving now to bring in all that stuff the community leaders go on about at the Synagogue and down at the big city Temple; stuff about a new kingdom across the world that will outlive the world! Nothing much!
So, what is Mary going to do with being chosen for this impossibly huge, world changing, life changing calling in her tough times?
She could try and run away like Jonah did. It did not work for him. God will make his promises stick. They will be fulfilled in his world’s future.
She could try and make all the excuses that Moses made in front of the burning bush when the Lord called him to a similar impossible task of facing off against the superpower, Egypt – bit like asking the Federal minister for Trade, Simon Birmingham, to go to China and demand that the Chinese Government take our top-quality products!
Mary probably knows Moses’ excuses well. When God calls there is no excuse we can put up that God would accept to revoke his call or his promises.
So, Mary trust. She moves from not being sure about all this to being very sure about God in all this. She moves from not really knowing what the Lord was asking of her to knowing for sure that he was asking for all of her.
Can you hear the Spirit’s call anew? Because of this year, can you move from being uninterested, unsure or uncertain about your calling, your place, your tasks in Jesus’s call to being very clear on who he is and his call for all of your life?
You have had time to view the time-lapse pictures and words of what has always been real and true about you and Jesus. Will you run? Will you make excuses or trust him in this uncertain time that is certainly his?
Mary models what it is to live in this gift of God’s promised bright future for us and his world in Jesus. This is what Mary shows me and why I marvel at her and marvel even more at the Lord.
Mary ended up saying;
“I am the Lord’s servant,”….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”?
How could she be so clear and confident and welcoming of this life-calling? How can you?
Only because of one thing; one truth; one bankable basis for all of it and all of her. It is the foundation Christmas, and the whole Christian life of faith:
“…..no word from God will ever fail.”
No word from this God; Father, Son and Spirit, will ever fail; ever be unfulfilled; ever return without doing what it was spoken to change in any time of change.
Trust in this one truth; this one gift; this one foundation for all of our lives has always been true, it is just that our comforts and ease and self-reliance has covered it over. We have skimmed the photos and not noticed the detail and the beauty.
Can we notice him now? Can you welcome and want Jesus’ call anew? Can you see that shot of the baby in the shed and then the man on the cross and then the risen Saviour reaching to you anew and want it and him, as Mary eventually did?
Mary bursts into song. She announces that she has been chosen and it was not because of her goodness or greatness but God’s great grace.
She sings that Jesus will right everything. The self-seeking and the self-promoting people will be come up empty and the responsive and reliant, will be freed and full – all in God’s time.
This is true now as it has been all along, and now we can trust it; now we have a moment to see him, know him, want him whatever this means for all of our lives.
“…no word from God will ever fail.”
Now we go into COVID Christmas. We go into it with Mary. Go into it with a hope and a peace that says;
“I am the Lord’s servant,” ….. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”