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Advent Four - Saying Yes

At long last readings that sound like Christmas!! With only one sleep to go we at last hear the Christmas story as we best know it begining with the annunciation to Mary of God’s miraculous plan for her and the world. (Advent Four. Luke 1:26-38) In a sense we can sigh with relief at the familiarity.

The season of Advent has been hard work spiritually as we heard of mountains being laid low and highways being built in the wilderness, of fires being kindled, and the John the Baptiser telling us to repent. Waiting for the coming of the Christ child and the coming again of the Christ is not passive waiting but a deep and profoundly disturbing shaking up so that we might be ready for the Lordship of this Christ Child. Advent brings the rumblings of destruction and restoration, of disturbance and recreation, and repentance and reformation. This is the nature of Advent every year but maybe particularly this year. And I’m afraid the disturbance is not completely over yet.

 

You may like to read what I worte three years ago:

But let us circle back to our gospel story and the intensely life changing moment of Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel who brings his incredible message. There is a simple beauty that is worthy of all the artwork we associate with this moment. Many painters, poets and hymn writers have tried to capture the innocence and naiveté of Mary and the world shifting news that a human woman is to bare the divine one become human.

 

I would simply draw your attention to a few key moments and phrases in the story that we all know so well. Familiarity should not lull us into imagining that we are somehow safe from challenge!

 

“In the sixth month (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy) the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin ...” In the middle of an ordinary life in an almost forgotten part of a land of oppressed people God came knocking. God chose and chooses still the ordinary, the simple, and the ones in need to which to announce good news.

 

“’Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” The presence of God often perplexes and disturbs us – and quite rightly so when we learn what God has in store for Mary! And for us!!

 

“’Do not be afraid.’” Whenever an angel or messenger of the Lord says ‘do not be afraid’ it usually means that something fearful or awesome is about to happen to which fear would be the usual human response!!

 

“’And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son ... He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High ...’” This news does nothing to allay Mary’s disturbance and of course her reaction is  ‘But I am not able – I do not have the requisite skills, knowledge or equipment – I do not have a husband!!’

 

The angel’s answer is hardly reassuring: “’The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you ...’” This is a very powerful moment in the story and one which we need to pause for a moment.

 

There are two other great moments in Scripture that are linked. Firstly there is a resonance with the creation story when the Spirit of God brooded over the waters at the beginning of creation. We are being reminded that this is no less momentous than the creation of the world.

 

And in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 1:8 (the same author as Luke’s gospel) after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus we hear that the Holy Spirit will come upon you (the disciples) and will empower the disciples to the ends of the earth.

 

So Scripture is telling us that the same great force that was at work at the beginning of everything was present at the conception of Jesus the Christ and is intended to be given to us.

 

And Mary’s response? “’Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’”  For all of us there is a moment or many moments when we come to a point at which we have to succumb to God’s presence and desire for us and say ‘Let it be with me according to your word.’

 

And one last word of reflection on this well known story: “Then the angel departed from her.” It seems to me that often when God has finished surprising us with some great news or task that we then experience a sense of being left on our own to get on with it. Now we are not truly on our own but there is a resounding quiet that sometimes follows the sense of presence that can feel like an absence as we realise the enormity and normality of what we must now get on with. For God’s presence is for the ordinary life and does not take us out of our every day. Rather this story tells us that the divine one is born into ordinary life rather than providing us with the means to escape this life.

 

So this beautiful story brings the joy of Christmas closer but has its own disturbance and earthy truth to it. And sandwiched between the words of the prophet Nathan to David and Mary’s hymn to the child she bore we have a very strong reminder that when we welcome the baby Jesus we also welcome the Lord of all, the Cosmic Christ, the one who cannot be hemmed in by our fears and preferences.

 

When David wanted to build a grand and permanent ‘home’ for God, God sent immediate word through his prophet Nathan – ‘No thank you!! I do not need a permanent home. What makes you think I do?’ I read this as saying that we don’t get to hem God in with our interpretations, rules, exclusion zones. God is God and always free to live in a tent – to roam where the spirit will.

 

And Mary’s song of praise to her unborn son recognises that he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.’ Mary recognised that the baby she carried would grow to become the one who would disrupt the known world and cause great upheaval by reversing the order of who and what was important.

 

And so today when we prepare for the cute baby Jesus let us be mindful that if we allow him to grow up to become our brother, our companion, our Saviour, our Lord, then he shall disturb as much as he comforts, he shall shake us upside down and inside out. Not because he is a tyrant but because his purpose is love: love of us, and love for all. And for such a love to reign requires a different world.

Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ; come to us in the child in a manger and awaken us to love.

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