December 8, 2013 – Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

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Advent 2    Dec 8, 2013   Isaiah 11:1-10, Luke 1:26-38, 39-45   Let it be unto us

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The first Advent season begins… With a duet— an intimate-dialogue between Gabriel, mighty angel of God, and Mary, a young, yet-to-be-wed-teenage-mother-to-be.

The angel foretells what will be with utmost certainty – how Mary, favored of God, will become mother of a child… who will be called Son of the Most High, who will be called Son of God…  (the word will is spoken an even dozen times by the angel, leaving very little room for doubt) – a child will be born to you, who will rule from the throne of his ancestor King David, rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

And even though the angel is telling all this just as it surely will be –

still, all the angel says is also a question – (Since it is the nature of God’s love to insist on the beloved accepting…and… )

Surely all the angels throughout the heavens must be waiting and listening… even holding their breath (if angels breathe, that is…) As Mary answers – first, asking just one question of the angel –

How can this be, since I am a virgin?

(Her face perhaps expressing yet-other-questions that cannot yet be put into words… )

Before saying, when the angel concludes his annunciation proclamation –

Let it be unto me… according to your word

This whole conversation takes perhaps only a few minutes.

St Luke neither rushes nor lingers long in the telling of this dialogue which changes everything in earth and heaven.

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And without much pause… the next scene…

A joyous family reunion, with two mothers to-be and the babes in each of their wombs, young and old together. Two women whom we’re told are relatives, though the relationship’s not spelled out – maybe cousins once or twice removed, or perhaps it’s great aunt Elizabeth and grand-niece Mary.

Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah is also somewhere here around the house, though he’s keeping extremely quiet. The same angel Gabriel has decreed nine months-plus of silence for him, time to be spent in speechlessness by Zechariah till baby John is born, for doubting the angel’s word last week.

Mary’s husband-to-be Joseph is probably back north in Galilee province working as a carpenter. But the family reunion of two mothers and their babies is lively and joyous nonetheless – most of all because God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are here in the midst – perhaps again with all the angels of heaven, gazing at God the Son, center-stage, in the womb of Mary…

As John Donne, poet and pastor said long ago – here we see Mary as (quote:)

Thy maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,Thou hast light in dark; and shutst in little room,

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

Or as a more recent poet has said –

Mary, did you know… that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?

(Mary did you know…) When you kiss your little Baby, you kissed the face of God?

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And (at the risk of sounding ridiculous) – our job today is to remind each other – that God’s asking not just Mary long ago – but also you and me and all of us together – to do nothing less than give birth to God, birth to Jesus… again.

We’re here to remind each other that God is constantly inviting all of us into our own intimate dialogues with God… Starting (yes) in circumstances always at least as unlikely as those of Mary long ago.

Differently unlikely. Most of us are probably not going to be mistaken for teenagers. But like Mary, even though we lack any special religious pedigree or training, still, we too, like her and Elizabeth, are called to be mothers and midwives of faith – born of God’s Spirit, born anew together to be the body of Christ… Born anew to carry on together the work of Jesus, the Son of God, incarnate in human flesh… Christ born anew in us, here, in this time and place,  continuing his work of new creation… Continuing his work of making all things new… (and) revealing something… and yet something more… of what God looks like in human form…as we become more like him… in faith and love…

‘Lord, you’ve got to be kidding….’ is one of my favorite first reactions whenever God reminds me of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. When I hear our job description spelled-out as scripture tells it, I often look around again for second opinions, seeking safer ground. I often start to project God back into the third person, impersonal – as in ‘That can’t be God. Good old God would never ask me to do something so awkward and weird as giving birth to Jesus…Only fundamentalists talk like that…

Then I hear our daughter singing an old Charles Wesley Methodist hymn – born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth – (hark! the herald angels sing…glory to the new born king… )

And now I start thinking… maybe we ought to post a warning in our church bulletins and lawn signs– Warning! Getting close to God Almighty may lead to unplanned spiritual pregnancy – and unanticipated second birth.

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But when I eventually get over this…and start again to get with Jesus…start working again at saying Yes again to God…

And when we find ourselves indeed birthing anew our Savior…(ready or not)…

We too may experience strange symptoms… Like Mary, we may feel Jesus inside of us, kicking, pushing, jumping, leaping… letting us know there’s more of him, coming, on the way…

We may find ourselves experiencing rather strange spiritual pregnancy cravings… for more and different spiritual foods… for extra servings of joyful song… extra quiet time alone with God… (Zechariah’s long time-out will turn out to be actually not about punishment, but about needed quality quiet-time with God…)

We may find ourselves reading the bible with new curiosity and replenished interest… We may find we need and want extra time together with other people of faith… sharing our experiences of the faith we find growing anew in us…

Like Mary and Elizabeth, we will seek each other out… and experience joy in each other’s company…

Indeed, whenever we say our yes to God we will be drawn deeper into God’s community… We will see anew our need for each other’s help with our job descriptions… of being midwives and mothers of faith…

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Though of course we will also still be often reminded… This world is still filled with many dissonant and disturbing sounds, sights, and distractions innumerable….

And… If we’re not listening closely… we may not hear… the angels sing…

Even if we’re busy, busy, busy preparing for spiritual things… Like probably Zechariah the priest and husband of Elizabeth was busy preparing –

Zechariah, whose story we read last week, whose story’s told by Luke just before Mary’s story today, was probably very busy preparing for his holy time coming up in the temple… He probably rehearsed his lines many times… Going through the whole drill of what to say and when…in the temple…

Still when the angel appears proclaiming unexpected good news… Zechariah isn’t ready to hear…

Whereas Mary, who probably had no reason that she knew of to be practicing… is ready for her conversation with the angel today anyway…

Ready as perhaps only someone young in heart can be… for the vast adventure of saying yes to God without restraint… Yes to God without trying to measure-out in advance… just how far I will go with my saying yes to God… (remembering the ancient proverb that tells us… there’s really no such thing… as being just a little bit pregnant….)

And here we are – once again – in this holy season of Advent… (a time for wonder and waiting for new birth….)

Pondering anew along with Mary and Elizabeth and the babes in their wombs and their husbands…

Asking God again –

What do you want us to do now, Lord?

How do you want us to do for you…how do you want us to be for you…?

Remembering Advent is a time of waiting… and the new birth of Jesus among us isn’t all done…. when this brief season of Advent is over….

any more than a child is all done growing… at birth…

So we take all the time we can… to ponder…

All that God is doing in our lives…

And all that God is asking…

To God be all glory, honor, praise and thanks…

Amen.