Sermon: Dec. 17, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

 

Not to one
but to many you have called
come on the dancing wind,
come from the deepest forest,
come from the highest places,
come from the distant lands,
come from the edge of darkness,
come from the depth of fear
come and become the bearer of God.
Amen.

~Jan Richardson

That is a poem by Methodist minister and artist Jan Richardson. I am not sure if you find yourself in any of those locations today—deepest forest, edge of darkness, depth of fear—but I know that wherever you are, God is calling to you. God is calling each of us to come because, as German mystic Meister Eckhart once put it, “We are all mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

Here in the Western Hemisphere, we celebrate Advent and birth of Christ in the winter, when the flowers, fruit, and green leaves of spring are all buried under frozen ground. We hope and expect new life to come out of the ground in spring, hopefully just a few months from now, but today everything around us seems lifeless, dormant. Maybe, for some of us, that’s how it seems on the inside too.

Some of us cannot imagine God calling us to bring Christ to the world. We feel unqualified. Too young or too old. Too selfish, too busy, too uneducated, too tired, too grumpy, too much or too little. Remember that the fresh life we anticipate coming in the spring often begins in unlikely form—perhaps as a very tiny seed buried in the ground or an ungainly bulb. Or perhaps, as one small “yes” to an angel which turns young Mary into a revolutionary.

God’s technique for revitalizing the world seems to involve working with the least likely candidates, the tiniest seeds. For instance, in todasy’s Gospel reading, Luke presents us with Elizabeth, the elderly wife of an elderly priest. Elizabeth and Zechariah probably long ago resigned themselves to the whisperings about which one of them had the problem so that they remained childless. In a society that valued women for their progeny, she was not highly regarded.

The other woman in Luke’s story was also an expectant mother who wasn’t expecting to expect. She was an adolescent female living under an occupying government. She was not the wife, nor sister, nor daughter of a high priest. Though Scripture tends to be very interested in who begat whom, Mary’s parents are never mentioned—which probably tells us all we need to know about them. Oh, you may have heard stories about Mary’s mother Anne, who conceived her immaculately, but the Church just made her up centuries ago to address this very concern. Mary was just as she describes herself: a “lowly maiden.”

Yet it is Elizabeth and Mary that God chooses. Despite her age, Elizabeth is suddenly expecting a child. And not just any child. God has called her and Zechariah to rear a special child and name him John. He will prophesy the long-anticipated arrival of the Messiah, baptize, and preach repentance.

Mary is greeted by an angel with these words: “Rejoice, highly favored. God is with you.” Gabriel’s message to Mary begins with her identity—not the one her community imposes on her, nor even the one she sees in the mirror, but her true identity. When God made Mary, God sat back and said, “This is good. This is very good.” So Gabriel greets her saying, “Rejoice, highly favored, God is with you,” affirming her place in God’s grace.

If anyone in that society was more despised than an old woman who didn’t have children, it was an unmarried young one who did. Yet God chose to work through these two women to bring about change to the world. If God could use them, why couldn’t God call you? You—each one of you—are also highly favored, part of God’s good creation! When God finished creating you, God also said, “This is good! This is very good!” Whatever doubts or flaws you have, God is calling for you to come. God won’t force you to do anything, though. It isn’t until Mary consents to God’s request to bear the Christ that the plan is set in motion.

And her choice wasn’t without possibly dangerous consequences. When Joseph and his family found out Mary was pregnant—and that the child wasn’t Joseph’s—they could’ve had her stoned to death in the public square. Knowing what could happen to her, Mary’s “yes” is an act of bravery as well as faith. For all we know, hers may not have been the first door Gabriel knocked on. Maybe other women had refused when asked to risk everything to bear God’s love into the world.

I know I’ve shared this illustration before, but it really is the best comparison I can make, so here it is again. When I was in junior high—long before texting—if I wanted to find out if the person that I liked liked me back, I wrote a note that said, “I like you. Do you like me?” Then I drew 2 boxes to check: “yes,” or “no.” Now such a note could never be given directly to the intended recipient. Usually two or three people were required to pass the note from the sender to the recipient. I think that’s what’s going on in this Gospel lesson. Gabriel is the intermediary between God the Lover and Mary the Beloved. Gabriel delivers the message to Mary from God that says, “I love you. I want you to help me change the world. Will you? Check box “yes” or “no.”

After Mary has some time to digest what Gabriel is asking on God’s behalf, she responds with a beautiful love song back to God that we now call The Magnificat. Martin Luther called this “A song to strengthen our faith, to comfort the lowly and to terrify the mighty.” In it Mary sings, “Since you are a God who notices the elderly and couples who have been unable to conceive, I say YES to you. Since you are a God wants the hungry to be fed, the forgotten to be remembered, and the lowly to raise up their heads, I say YES to you! Since you are a God who wants to console those who weep, upend the class system, and reassure the guilty they are forgiven…then YES. I don’t know why God is choosing me. but since this is the God you are, let it be to me according to your will. My answer is YES YES YES!”

That’s how this love story began. And it’s never ended. God is still passing this note to those God loves. The Greek word aggelos, which we translate as angel, really just means messenger. And today God has sent me as an angel/messenger to deliver a love note for you. The message is this: “Rejoice, highly favored. God is with you. Do not be afraid. God would like you to bring Christ into our messy, violent, chaotic, depressed, and wildly unfair, unjust world. Are you willing to be a God-bearer? Will you carry God’s love inside you and to push it out into the world?”

You don’t have to say yes. You can check the “no” box. Whether you say yes or no, God will keep on favoring you because that is God’s nature. But if you say “yes,” then, as Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor puts it in her book Gospel Medicine, “You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body.”

How’s THAT for an invitation!? No matter where you come from or why you think God should choose someone else, YOU are invited to bear God’s unending mercy and redeeming love into all the world. And this is the Good News: God will never call us to a task without also empowering and equipping us to complete it. Even as we bear God to the world, we are fed with God’s own self to strengthen us for the task. We are given one another as companions on the journey. Say yes and rejoice, highly favored ones! God is with us!

Amen!

~ Pastor Susan Schneider

 

About Trinity Lutheran Church

A congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) located in Madison, Wisconsin.
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