December 6, 2015 – Ready for yes

Advent 2   December 6, 2015   (Luke 1:68-75, Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11) Luke 1:26-38          Ready for yes

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Mary ponders the angel’s words. And pondering has been my operative word all this past week. So much has been happening. Sometimes it’s been feeling like the world is coming to an end.

Which in some sense it is. Outbreaks of terror happen on a daily basis – we also have rising sea levels, warming earth – and sea-changes in our culture to match. We live in a highly unsettled world. Common ground is often hard to find. (And on a personal level, with the passing of my mother recently… a pillar of my childhood world is gone.)

Yet at the same time – all around us are signs of a new world coming. A world in which the law of love is written on our hearts and in our minds. A new world coming, where all things are possible with God, and we are not afraid. We’re even ready to say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me, according to your word.”

And yes, with Mary, I’m also still perplexed – and yes, still pondering – how it is – that both the old world passing away – and the new world coming into being – are happening at the same time – within me – within us – among us – around us. And through it all, God is still with us….

Though it is not always easy to remember or notice the presence of God – when the world seems on fire and freezing over simultaneously… On one level we know God is always here. On other levels, we aren’t always truly aware of God’s presence. (And is this even possible?)

Thus the ancient theme of this Advent season: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

(Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare the way of the Lord. And all people will see – the salvation of our God.)

God speaks through the prophet Malachi, saying: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” But “Who can stand in his presence?” God’s messenger will be like refiner’s fire, like the strongest industrial-strength cleaning agent. God’s messenger will purify the people of God with fire and extreme-cleansing. Prepare the way of the Lord, for Malachi means Prepare to be purified.

And Zechariah, father-to-be of John the Baptist, sings the prepare the way of the Lord message in his canticle of praise. Thanking God that John will be the one Malachi speaks of, who “will go before the Lord to prepare the way…” to give God’s people knowledge of salvation by forgiveness of sins. Bringing good news of deliverance from darkness; with God guiding our feet into the way of peace.

(Notice this is the same Zechariah we saw last week; struck speechless by angel Gabriel for disbelieving God’s good news. Yet now here’s Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking good news eloquently. Thanks be to God for excellent rebounds….)

When John the Baptist grows up he’ll usually sound more like Malachi than like the poetic canticle of his father Zechariah. John will be preaching fiery cleansing repentance and fleeing the wrath to come. Declaring the one coming after me will baptize you with fire and Holy Spirit. (Which will all be true. Though not true exactly the way John expects.)

And now God gives us a glimpse of Jesus who is to come as he speaks to Mary through the angel Gabriel – again about preparing the way of the Lord, but now God’s word comes in the form of a promise of outrageously wild hope… A story told in pregnancy standard time, as Luke the gospel writer locates Mary’s encounter with the angel in the sixth month of pregnancy for Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, who, we’re now told, is also a relative of Mary.

The angel first addresses Mary, saying “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary is perplexed. She ponders the angel’s words. What can this mean? And as the angel continues, telling her she is highly favored and will be mother of a child to be named Jesus, who will be called Son of the Most High, Son of God… Mary asks “how can this be? For I am a virgin.”

Mary is rightfully perplexed, as she ponders – How this can be? She is of course aware of the technical difficulty. She also knows being pregnant as an unmarried woman will be problematic and difficult… What will I tell Joseph? What will I tell my parents? What will I say to the Rabbi? (These kinds of questions probably arise immediately…)

Other questions also probably come to mind – like – why would the Holy One, Most High, choose me, a woman of low birth, with no formal religious qualifications, from an obscure village in the boondocks – to be mother of One to be called Son of God? And why is this angel talking with me about my future Son sitting on the throne of King David, ruling over the house of Israel?

Mary has much to ponder… And every right to be perplexed. But the angel tells her “Don’t be afraid. You are highly favored of God. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of God will overshadow you…”

Angel Gabriel must have a certain holiness of presence, that’s very convincing… and makes the impossible seem doable… And just in case more earthly assurance might help, Gabriel also adds “And your relative Elizabeth, who was said to be barren, is now in her sixth month… For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And now Mary – low of status, with no formal credentials – unlike Zechariah the priest, who serves in the Temple and is righteous but unprepared – Mary is ready to give her yes to God. Yes to God’s good news. (And now…)

We’re invited to do likewise. Invited to be perplexed and ponder along with Mary. It’s alright for us to be confused, even confounded, by the dying of the old and the birth pangs of the new…

It’s right and good for us to be asking God, with Mary – How can this be? What are you saying to me? – to us? How should we hear your word? How should we interpret the signs of these times?

It’s right to be perplexed and ponder in these-times-between-the-times. Times of death and dying and passing away… Times of new life, coming to birth… Fragile and vulnerable…

And still God’s Spirit says “Do not be afraid.”

Kings and rulers and those who crave power have always practiced terror. Mary, Joseph, and infant Jesus, remember, will soon flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre of the infants of Bethlehem…

Yet Jesus grows up, like most children.. Held and dearly loved. Living, growing, working, playing… unafraid.

Last Friday it was Christmas in Bourne night, and over on the library lawn there were children, toddlers to teens, tiny, tall, in between – rolling down the hilly slope together in twos, chasing around the lighted Christmas tree, chatting, talking, making sounds of sheer delight…

Our choir sang in the historical society building behind the church; adults and children of all ages, watching and singing with us – O Come All Ye Faithful… Hark! The Herald Angels Sing… Little town of Bethlehem

Even the singing of Let it Snow… (the singing of which seems quite an act of faith and hope, after last winter) – seemed to float with the Holy Spirit…As we sang together, deep smiles visible on many faces, young and old…

Yet best of all for me was sitting quietly before we sang (here) in our church sanctuary – warm, gently lighted, choral Christmas music playing – people coming and going, sitting awhile, talking in friendship…Sharing hopes, concerns, and joys… And pondering… How it is –

That God extends to us, again – much the same invitation that came to Mary, to bring forth new life…

To say our yes to God… (and I know… )

Some of us are pondering – How can this be? (Thinking–) I know I’m not at all qualified. I’ve got no proper degree, nor training for what I think I hear you asking, Lord.

Some of us may be pondering – How can this be? I’m not anybody special.

How can you be asking me, who is still so very perplexed, Lord God…

To be your servant – your messenger of Good News?

But still we are here pondering together –

Because we’ve known the blessings of your favor –

Because in your presence we’re not afraid –

Because we hear you say – Nothing will be impossible with God

So who are we to say anything but – Yes, Lord.

Let it be with me –

Let it be with us –

according to your word.

Thanks be to God. Amen.