Sermon: The Fourth Sunday in Advent (B) – 21st December 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am and 8am

Readings:  2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16   Luke 1:46b-55  Romans 16:25-27   Luke 1:26-38

Luke’s distinctive attention to God’s work among ordinary people continues to be evident in this morning’s readings. The angel Gabriel appeared first to Zechariah, an old priest going about his duties in the Temple and then to a young girl not yet married. God chose the lowly rather than the high and mighty to fulfil the plan of redemption. Instead of sending Gabriel to a queen or princess, God sent the angel to a young girl engaged to a carpenter. They lived in an insignificant town in an unimportant province of the Roman Empire. Nothing about their circumstances would have led anyone to suspect the role they would play in God’s plan.

Mary has been chosen, favoured, by God, but it is a strange blessing. It brought with it none of the ideals or goals that so consume our daily striving. Today many assume that those whom God favours will enjoy the things we equate with the good life: social standing, wealth and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favoured one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a common criminal. Acceptability, prosperity and comfort have never been the essence of God’s blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity mask its scandal.

If Mary embodies the scandal, she also exemplifies the obedience that should flow from blessing. Mary was favoured and would bear a king, but only if she gave herself obediently in response to God’s call. The greatest blessings are bound up in the fellowship God shares with us. They are not rewards separate from that fellowship. Perhaps we would inject more realism into our Advent celebrations if we recognised that the glory of Christmas came about by the willingness of ordinary people to obey God’s claim on their lives.

The ultimate scandal is that God would enter human life with all its depravity, violence and corruption. Therefore, the annunciation ultimately is an announcement of hope for humanity. God has not abandoned us to the consequences of our own sinfulness. Rather, God has sent Jesus as our deliverer. There is no other way; life under the Lordship of Jesus is without end.

The Annunciation contains the classic statement that the impossible is possible, “for nothing will be impossible with God”. Again the roots go deep in the memory of the Jewish nation. Out of the barren woman there comes the child of promise; Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the mother of Samson, Hannah and now Mary’s kinswoman, Elizabeth, are the bearers of God’s miracle of salvation. When there seemed to be no hope at all, the impossible became possible.

Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy is a sign to Mary and to us all, that an even greater event will take place. God’s own son will be born of a virgin. That which defies the natural order startles us into attention. Truly God is faithful and what has been promised through the ages will be done.

What tremendous power of the Spirit is set loose in those who believe that “nothing will be impossible with God”. They are impregnated with prophetic vision, radical courage and enduring compassion. They are companions of the one who has come, is to come and who will come again at the end of the ages.

Mary humbly waited for the promise of God to be fulfilled through her own flesh. Her trusting openness to love gave birth to Love in the world. The impossible became possible. Through her radical courage, she was willing to have the miracle take place within her and through her. This same power of love and hope can be liberated in us and through us. Hope is born anew, for with God nothing is impossible.

Another way of looking at the theme of these readings is listening in as the angel tells the perplexed teenager that she has formed such favour with God that her baby will receive “the throne of his ancestor David” and “of his kingdom there will be no end”. In the Magnificat, Mary reveals good news for the poor and marginalised for in the birth of Christ, the Mighty One has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things”.

This is not simply charity, but a levelling of the social playing field. Mary says God has “scattered the proud”, “brought down the powerful”, and “sent the rich away empty”. With the help of the angel and of the Davidic tradition, Mary can see that God made flesh will bring deep justice and systemic transformation.

When people like Elizabeth and Mary find the courage to cooperate with God, the impossible becomes possible.

As Christmas dawns with this new year of our lives dare we pray together the prayer of Charles de Foucauld. “The Prayer of Abandonment.”

Foucauld was a French religious and priest living among Tuareg people in the Sahara in Algeria. He was assassinated in 1916 outside the door of the fort he built for the protection of the Tuareg and is considered by the Catholic Church to be a martyr. His inspiration and writings led to the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus among other religious congregations.

Charles de Foucauld was an officer of the French Army in North Africa where he first developed his strong feelings about the desert and solitude. On his subsequent return to France, and towards the end of October 1886, at the age of 28, he went through a conversion experience at the Church of Saint Augustin in Paris

The prayer goes like this,

“Father, I abandon myself into your hands; Do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures, I wish no more than this, 0 Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart. For I love you Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands. Without reserve, and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.”

Here is a poem by that prolific person who seems to have always been with us, anonymous, in this case from the 15th century. It reminds us that most of what we know about Mary is poetic and imaginative. Its called “I sing of a maiden”. It reminds us that we are all called to be bearers of the Word and through our actions great things can happen.

“I sing of a maiden

That (that has no match):

King of all kinges

To her son she (chose).

 

He came all so stille

There his mother was,

As dew in Aprille

That falleth on the grass.

 

He came all so stille

To his mother’s bower,

As dew in Aprille

That falleth on the flower.

 

He came all so stille

There his mother lay,

As dew in Aprille

That falleth on the spray.

 

Mother and maiden

Was never none but she;

Well may such a lady

Goddes mother be.”

 

Have you ever experienced the impossible becoming possible? Have you ever seen love come to birth because of someone’s courage and vulnerability? Where can you see the signs of saving justice and fair judgments, faith and constancy, that mark God’s reign in and around you? Have you been asked by God to help bring about some change during the past few weeks?

I hope that we can all say in this time of the Advent of our Lord,

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”.[i]

 

The Reverend John Cornish

[i] This sermon produced using the resources of www.sojo.net, The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol IX Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995, the New Oxford Book of Christian Verse, Oxford, 1988 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_de_Foucauld.