Advent 4—24th December, 2017
The Lord be with you.
They say time goes faster as we grow older, but young or old, today we will all have to become time travellers if we are going to move from the Annunciation to Jesus birth in a few hours—collapsing the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy into nine hours (if you are coming to our 7:30 Christmas Eve service). It’s not a question of whether we’ll be able to do that, but can we stop our minds racing ahead along with the final preparations, and jump back to the beginning, to that moment in the story when an ordinary young girl, engaged to a carpenter, in an insignificant little town and umimportant province of the Roman Empire had an extraordinary vision—a visit from an angel, God’s mesenger who said The Lord is with you. We say that so often—three times in every service, has it ever struck you how amazing that is? God isn’t somewhere else, nor just with someone else—someone better, seemingly more blessed or important, as our modern cult of celebrities might suggest—but with you. Please take that personally—take it seriously. We must if we take who and what Mary and Jesus were and did seriously.
As Mary came to question, then willingly accept the enormity of what was happening—the changes that were taking place inside her, like those her elderly cousin Elizabeth was miraculously experiencing, Mary came to understand that nothing will be impossible for God. Who knows how many times she’d have to cling to that belief instead of fear as the scandal of her unexpected pregnancy became obvious to her family then fiancé? Maybe her faith was strengthened by her vision of the good her child could perform that gave her the abiliy to be God’s agent—God’s servant in helping the impossible become possible. This morning, we celebrate the vision and courage of this young woman on what some call Mary Sunday, Peace Sunday—the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
The Lord is with you.
Greetings favoured one! How would you react if someone said that to you? To be polite would you say Thank you, wondering what’s coming next—a sales pitch of some sort, and request for us to do something, or would it stop you in your tracks and start counting your blessings, or think Are you kidding? We’re told Mary was much perplexed, pondering what sort of greeting it was. She wasn’t a princess living in luxury, and back then, the prospect of having a baby out of wedlock would have been really scary, bringing shame on her family, perhaps being shunned, left destitute, or even stoned. The possibility of having a child, even a very special one would raise a raft of troubling questions but all she asked is How can this be? Virgin births were the stuff of legends about pagan heroes and demigods, but rather than speculate about how Jesus was conceived, let’s go with what we know and admire the mixture of courage, vision and hope with which this apparently ordinary, suprised young woman came to see and accept the role she was to play in God’s plan and to conceive of not only a child—but his unique, destiny to be the God’s only son able to represent and reveal God to us all. What a testimony to her faith, to believe that nothing will be impossible with God so to make choices and act accordingly trusting in God’s plan. Some say it is naïve faith becasue the faithful suffer too, but experience teaches us that it can make a huge difference to know someone is with us in the pain—someone who understands, who lived and died as one of us Jesus Christ, the son of God and son of Mary who we honour as her time of expectant anticipation parallels our own. It’s so close—what we are waiting for? What idea, what decision or plan has been forming, waiting to be born?
The Lord is with you.
It sure didn’t feel like it back then… It was cold—freezing cold. Some delapidated decorations swung precariously between lamposts and powerpoles in a howling wind which drowned the distorted sickly music playing from loudspeakers. Rocks and rubble from the latest riot were strewn along the road. Soldiers huddled in doorways, their glowing cigarettes and riffle barrels a real givaway. Mangy dogs and ferral, flea-ridden cats scuttled across the square. Ducking below the low lintel—a real head-banger, inside the acrid smell of stale incense and a few oil lamps contributed to centuries of soot, but did little to light the path through that dusty, deserted place. Having dared to come this far, I took the well-worn steps down to the cave-like crypt, and knelt alone on the cold, stone floor of the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, praying for peace while fighter planes flew overhead. It was 24th Dec, during the first Iraq crisis. If it was the birthplace of Jesus then a pretty small, poor place it was, but maybe some hay and body heat of a few animals might have helped. Lighting a candle seemed to lift my spirits. The tiny flicker of flame hardly compared with Gabriel’s magnificence as artists depict the Annnunciation, but gradually, unexpectedly, grew the certainty that if not a child, then an idea, a plan to do something good, no matter how humble its beginning can offer hope and give birth to a greater vision for whatever way we feel called and equipped to do. Venturing back outside, the Arab guide who worked with my Jewish colleagues whisked me off to Nazareth, as arranged, before finalizing some experiments in Haifa and returning to Vancouver. Nothing is impossible for God,… This young man did brilliantly, avoiding roadblocks to cover the distance in no time compared with the slow, uncomfortable donkeyride Mary faced at nine months pregnant. Dropped off for a precious few minutes at the Church of the Annunciation, there was no time to sink into a meditative mood, but enough time to turn to today’s Gospel reading and feel a tingling down the spine as I read the angel’s greeting and found myself saying Here I am.
So here we are, back in real time. I don’t know what kind of angels will invite us to bear Christ into our world—maybe someone who needs our help or enjoys our company, a child or parent who looks to us for comfort and love, or someone who calls out the best in us in other ways, encouraging us, or maybe voices from scripture, or stories we know well. That’s the way it happens, as a sense of purpose, a call to peace and feeling of hope for real people, ordinary people—folk like us who step into the story, saying Here I am.
The Lord be with you.