December 9, 2018

Advent 2   bournecataumetparish.org/?p=2626 (Canticle of Zechariah, Isaiah 9:1-7, Philippians 1:3-11)    Luke 1:26-38   Then the angel…

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Then the angel departed from her…

Leaving Mary to ponder what has happened… And what she has heard… and what she’s said… I’ve got no doubts as to the truth of the words of St Luke’s gospel…But I can’t help wondering about the rest of the story – the parts undisclosed – like, what can Mary have been thinking? – as this encounter with the angel happens…And I can’t help imagining Mary asking God – and asking herself – “‘Did this really happen?’ (And… realizing yes, it surely did – did I really say – ‘yes?’”)

Remembering… There was no way in those days for Mary to snap a selfie with the angel. Even if there had been, would the image of the angel be visible to anyone but Mary? I’m very sure we don’t see or hear everything God is doing…. We don’t see or hear everything God keeps inviting us to see and hear… And quite possibly God chooses Mary partly because she is a very good listener… (but…)

We have no way of knowing what may have gone through Mary’s mind. The bible  respects our privacy and seldom discloses our innermost thoughts (except where not to tell would be worse than telling). We get to overhear only these brief snippets of conversation between the angel Gabriel and young Mary – engaged, not yet married, still a virgin – now, suddenly, invited to become mother of a child to be named Jesus who will be called Son of God, who will inherit the throne of his ancestor David and rule over the house of Jacob forever…

And ‘not to worry’ the angel tells her – ‘all this will happen by the power of God’s Spirit. The child to be born to you will be holy.’

And as the moment of encounter is fulfilled… I picture Mary praying silently, urgently… and God’s Spirit stirs within her… and the assurance of God’s presence comes over her….And I imagine… the first word that comes to Mary is a deep, almost silent – Wow.

The whole conversation’s takes only a few moments…   But… this very short conversation between Mary and God’s messenger turns out to be more than enough…. to keep the universe pondering ever since…  what has now begun…

in this invitation from God Most High…and…

This yes – let it be with me … response… from Mary.

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Getting to Yes with God seldom goes anywhere near as quickly for most of us… as it seems to go with Mary… I often feel guilty about how slow I am to listen and hear what God is asking. And I’m probably a little afraid of some of the things I imagine God might ask. Still, I resolve, often, to try to do better at listening.

So it was good for me, last Thursday, when Pastor Sandra Smith and I attended a workshop on prayer, led by Kristen Vincent with Upper Room Ministries (publishers of The Upper Room daily devotionals).

As we went around the room answering Kristen’s opening question – “What is prayer for you?” – I was relieved to hear it’s not just me – a lot of us talked about prayer being conversation with God that involves both speaking and listening to God… And most of us confessed – we do more talking to God… than listening for God…

Kristen walked us through a prayer exercise in which we heard a story from scripture read aloud, and were then invited to practice sitting quietly, prayerfully, reading and hearing it again… Then we were asked to picture ourselves somewhere in the story. So I’ve been trying to see myself better in our gospel reading this week. And I’ve found myself, not too surprisingly, not being very able to identify much with Mary…(at least not yet…)

But surprisingly, able to identify a little with the angel Gabriel. For sure I’m no angel – but – the word angel in the bible literally means messenger – and with a little imagining, I find I can identify with the angel – making his invitation to Mary, a young woman engaged to be married. Inviting her to make a huge life-changing decision (to put it mildly) – a decision sure to have major effect on her upcoming marriage to Joseph. (And whatever other life plans she may have…)

I can identify, I suppose, because on a more humble level, this is kind of what pastoral ministry is all about. Asking and inviting anyone who might possibly listen – to believe God’s promises – and make our Yes to God – become the most defining moment of our life…

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I’ve got a story that might be a little easier to share this week, while Reah and Rohi are up in Malden, listening to Reah’s sister Beulah lead the Malden United Methodist Church choir in their annual Christmas Cantata…

Nineteen years ago, when I’d been courting Reah for about two months, we were sitting in my car at Wollaston Beach in Quincy, and I told her “I’m falling in love with you.” And she said – “Why?!

I started trying to list my reasons, but she got out of the car and started walking up the bike path along the beach… I had to hurry to catch up…

I tried to give assurances of the sincerity of my feelings and intentions. She said Why? again…I remember picking beach plum blossoms along the path, pressing them into her hand… as she slowed down and we  resumed conversation… But again she said – Why? And I believe it had to be the Holy Spirit… that prompted me now to say – E— S.

Long story short – Reah did not exactly say yes in a hurry… But I kept asking… And after awhile it became a drill we did together. She’s say why? I’d say E-S. In a few more weeks I began asking her to marry me, and again she’d say Why? But     at least now she didn’t walk away… And I kept saying my E– S

Every time she said why?

After awhile… she’d be smiling when she said why?

Till – long story much abbreviated – one day (actually on my birthday, in January, four months after my initial declaration of love and her initial Why?) – I dropped Reah off at her apartment in Roslindale after one of our every-other-weekend Filipino-American-hyphenated-bible-study-social-networking-eating-together-Sunday-afternoon-fellowship-sessions with friends and relatives… And when I got home to my apartment in Allston she called me up… and she said ‘I have something to tell you.’ What? I asked..

S – she said.

It took a second…to register…

Oh! I said…

Wow! I said… Y-E-S!

Yes. She said.

Wow! I said again…

***

For most of us it takes a little longer to get to Yes with God. A little longer still to get to Wow. Although come to think of it again – sometimes wow comes before yes

But yes, and wow – whichever comes first – isn’t the point really about? – if even I can be patient and persistent for four months… Don’t you think God is a whole more patient, persistent and determined to get to yes than me? (Or you – or anyone?… And… )

When I tell this story I’m reminded – of how much longer it took me to get to Yes with God than it took Reah to get to yes with me. Probably because she’d started saying Yes to Jesus when she was a little girl. A Yes she’s been saying ever since…

I’m slow… But… I’ve been practicing getting to yes, now, just about every day too. Asking God “what do you want me to do today?” Trying to spend at least a few long moments listening. Trying to say my Yes straight-up whenever I can to Jesus. And when I think I’m hearing Jesus ask me to do something I’m not feeling ready to do yet… I sometimes ask Why?

But then try to listen… and… let Jesus walk with me into deeper listening…

Till I get to E...

Then, hopefully, soon – to – S.

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And yes, the outrageous invitation from God really is for all of us…

Every time the word of God comes to us…

As with Mary long ago, most often, when we least expect it…

I imagine Mary, as I imagine all of us – going about our busy routines – pushing a broom, washing dishes, working in the garden, driving in the car…

When the angel appears… flowers in hand, according to artists of old…Saying “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. Have I got a wonderful ministry opportunity for you!”

And I know… we know… We seldom see angels face-to-face – but –

The word of God still comes to us… in all sorts of quietly-nudging-almost-naggingly-persistent-reminders-from-God… In words of scripture that won’t go away…. In a picture of someone who needs to hear God’s good news… In the sound of a baby crying…

Reminding us of Jesus –

Born for us… in human flesh and blood…

Inviting us to live larger than we can yet imagine with Him.

Going from yes… to Yes…. to more YES

Together.

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.