18th December 2011 Advent 4 Year B
Luke 1 : 26-38
Well here we are the fourth Sunday in Advent, we are nearly there. Next
week will be Christmas Day. Todayʼs Gospel is the Annunciation, which
is familiar and one which we have been hearing at Carol Services. We
will be having a very short pregnancy time, but todayʼs Gospel invites
us, in the middle of all our preparations to stop and consider where this
birth began, to return to the Annunciation, when Jesus was conceived.
I am sure that you have been receiving and sending Christmas cards, some of which will have been famous paintings depicting this scene of the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary. We are aware that artists down the centuries have portrayed the scene with much symbolism that relates to that particular period. I personally like Nicola Sleeʼs poem as it conveys what I think is a far more accurate picture.
Read the poem.
Mary was a very ordinary teenager, living in an ordinary family, in an ordinary home in an ordinary town. She wasnʼt special so when this strange weird messenger came and addressed her as “favored one, and that God was with her”, she was troubled and wondered what this might be all about. A lot happens on her own inner journey between that opening hullo of Gabriel and her saying yes. Despite her shock and surprise, Mary deep down must have been open to God being active in her world, her time. The law and the prophets, the God she worshipped in the temple, synagogue and home was not just a God of history, but one that was active currently.
When it comes to what we believe today, what would you answer to the question, “Do I believe that God is active in our world, and in your life right now”? Here we are about to celebrate the momentous event of over 2,000 years ago, but do you and I think that is all in the past and that God doesnʼt act like that now. If we do think that way then we would be wrong. God is not just the God of history he is the God of the now. When we hear this passage we need to hear it as addressed to us.
I would like you to take a moment to think of a time or times in your life, when you have felt that you were special, maybe it was your wedding or a celebration around a particular birthday or achievement. It was a time when you felt valued and appreciated, a high point of your life. Most of us find it hard to really believe that we are each special to God, but we are, we are each unique and precious to God. Part of our mind is inclined to tell us that others are more important, more special, but that is not true. Other people might be more famous for a time, but what is fame and wealth? It is hard to get our heads around it, but we are each special in Godʼs sight and God delights and enjoys each one of us. We donʼt have Godʼs messenger coming to ask us to be the physical birth mother of Jesus, his Son, but God is asking us, each one of us to bring Jesus to birth, make God known in many and various ways in our lives. What about asking that friend, that acquaintance, if they would like to come to church with us over Christmas?
God uses all sorts of people and events to be his messengers and we need to have our hearts, minds, eyes and ears open to pick up on the nudges, invitations and opportunities that come our way. God wants to use us to do good and positive things in our world today. We like Mary may find ourselves perplexed, confused and troubled at the thought of God choosing us for his purposes. God wants to use us to do marvelous things. Each one of us in our own situation, with our family, friends, people we know, people we meet, have our unique opportunities. We might be thinking, I would rather not, I would rather have a God who was active in the past, a God who is there for my comfort but not wanting me to do anything. That is wanting to have God on my terms and we need to know that we are creating a false God of our own making. God cannot be contained on our terms, He just doesnʼt operate that way.
As we look at our world today, we can be overwhelmed by the terrible tragedies and suffering and feel that there is nothing we can do about it , that we canʼt make a difference when the reality is we can. Each one of us can make a difference. We might not be solving world problems and conflicts, but we can make a difference. Think for a moment, of a situation in your life where you could make a difference, where you could make a difference this week and I invite you to do it and not put it off, for another time, when it might be more convenient. Mary was invited to do one thing, which was a huge risk, but one that she agreed to.
Mary was told and we are told that the Lord is with her, with us. We donʼt do what God calls us to do in our own strength, but with his help, his grace. God gives us his Holy Spirit, who will guide us and enable us to care for others, for with God nothing is impossible. God wants to do great things through us. Great things can be little things. Think of those little things that lift your heart and your spirit, those times when you are on the receiving end of someones kindness or thoughtfulness, or when you have been able to do something for someone else. If we as a Christian community are able to bring more love, care and thoughtfulness for others into our lives, then we are helping the God of love to become incarnate, to take flesh now. By our being and caring we are each uniquely able to show some aspect of God in our lives. When you know yourself to be accepted, loved and special in Godʼs eyes then love can flow through you.
In this last week of preparation spend some time thinking about your special relationship with God. God has chosen you. You donʼt have to worry about otherʼs relationship with God, just your own. When we get into one of those well Iʼm not much use, I canʼt do anything, we need to remember Gabrielʼs sign to Mary. Your cousin Elizabeth, who is old and has been barren is pregnant, for nothing is impossible with God. God can make a difference through us if we will let him. We might find ourselves echoing Maryʼs words “How can this be?” The Holy Spirit filled and overshadowed Mary and will enable us if we open ourselves to Godʼs Spirit.
There is an interesting difference in translation between the text we are using and the New Revised Standard Version. In the one we have it has Mary saying “ May it be to me as you have said”. In the other it reads: “Let it be with me according to your word”. I think the second conveys the sense of being in partnership. God invites us to share in bringing others to know him. We have the choice to accept the invitation or turn it down. Whether we actually say no or just donʼt bother to do anything both are refusals. A refusal would be a tragedy for us, as it is in responding to Godʼs love for us that we become our true selves, the special person we are destined to be.
So we come in this Eucharist on this last Sunday in Advent, we come asking that God will fill us with his love and enable us to know ourselves loved and accepted by him. We pray that he will help us to be the means of showing his love to all those we meet, that they also may come to know the God who loves them, to whom they are special.
Sister Anita CSC
at All Saints Clevedon