All Saints’, Dewlish

Sunday 24th December 2017

2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16; Luke 1.26-38

 

 

I wonder if anyone here has had an experience which has come out of the blue and been utterly life-changing in a very short time, one of those cataclysmic moments after which nothing is the same.

  • Perhaps an unexpected pregnancy;

  • a redundancy that you had no idea was coming;

  • the untimely death of a loved one through murder, accident or suicide;

  • a diagnosis of cancer or other illness – you get the idea.

 

When those kind of events come upon us, we usually have no idea at the time exactly how our lives will change.

  

We survive as best we can, often with no thought for anything but the immediate because our days have been turned upside down and all our energies go into coping with the immediate demands of the life around us.

 

As we become more accustomed to that which we had not anticipated, we begin to realise how much our lives have changed, and looking back over a longer period of time we also begin to have clearer picture of whether we did the right thing or whether we should have done something else.

 

In many ways that’s not a helpful attitude and can lead to regrets and feelings of guilt – because we do what we think is the best thing at the time with the information we have.

 

Any of us could experience such a moment at any time.

 

It was certainly that kind of day when God sent his angel to Mary.

 

In spite of the many paintings of this scene - what is known as The Annunciation – we don’t know exactly what the angel looked like.

 

The word angel merely means messenger: it could have looked like another human being; it could have been like the pictures depict a figure, usually male although with long golden hair, and wings and a halo; or it could have been just a voice, external or internal. We’re not told, presumably because that’s not that important in terms of the story.

 

The key thing is that this is a communication from God with a message that will leave Mary’s life changed for ever.

 

She’s a young girl betrothed to Joseph who would have been older, though we don’t know by how much. Betrothal in those days was as binding as marriage; it could only be undone by a form of divorce ceremony. Once a girl was betrothed to a man, they were to be life partners.

They didn’t usually live together until after the wedding, but sexual or other relations with anyone other than the betrothed were considered to be adultery, which carried severe penalties.

 

So the news of the unexpected pregnancy was going to cause Mary all sorts of difficulties.

  • How would she explain it?

  • What would Joseph say?

  • What would her parents think?

  • She could face the death penalty.

     

    This was serious stuff. And what the angel told her might have sounded very far-fetched to anyone else. We’re not just talking about having a baby, we’re talking about Mary’s being told her baby was going to be a king with an everlasting kingdom, Son of God – the Romans wouldn’t like that, it was title used sometimes by their emperors.

 

And added to all that, her kinswoman Elizabeth was also going to have a baby.

 

We don’t know exactly how old Elisabeth was but from Zechariah’s reaction in the temple we can assume that she is well past child-bearing days.

 

Mary’s response to all this is notable: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

 

That’s really amazing. She’s just received life-changing news of the sort that means things will never be the same again and she accepts it just like that. Think about it – an ordinary peasant girl being asked to do an extraordinary thing by God and she embraces it with no complaint.

 

How do we embrace God’s calling?

 

Do we trust God like Mary did, and say let it be?

 

How do we embrace the call of God to love God before all else? How do we receive the call to love others as ourselves?

 

How do engage with the challenge of generosity with money, time and our talents and skills?

 

How do we face up to cataclysmic news? Or things we don’t like about our lives?

 

How do live out the Lord’s Prayer with its command to forgive those who have sinned against us?

 

By this time in Advent it’s all too easy to be entirely focussed on Christmas, and often, if we’re honest, not on the Christ part of Christmas but on the things we have to do before tomorrow.

 

And yet none of it has meaning if it’s not for the story we heard in today’s Gospel reading – the coming of God into the world, God to be with us, God establishing and everlasting kingdom of righteousness and peace, God choosing to become human so that we know what it means to have God living with us and loving us. It’s all too easy to forget that as we celebrate.

 

The incarnation is one of the most miraculous actions of God – the sending of Jesus to be among us, to be God with us. But the truth of Advent reminds us too that Christ doesn’t remain in the manger but is crucified, risen and ascended, waiting to come again in glory.

 

What we do and how we live does matter?

 

What Mary revealed most of all was her trust in God. The angel told her not to be afraid. It is fear which holds us back more than anything.

 

Why don’t we tithe our giving? Because we are fearful of not having enough.

 

Why don’t we put God first in everything? Because we are fearful of missing out on other things.

 

Why do we find it hard to forgive? Because we are fearful that we might have to let go of the hurt caused by someone else.

 

Why do we struggle to accept that we are sick? Because we are fearful of what it means and the mortality it faces us with and the limitations it brings.

 

Why did God choose Mary? No one knows.

 

But God is not captive to human explanations or expectations. God comes into our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways.

 

God doesn’t desert us when we face tough times, but often we take our eyes from God. We want to be cross and angry and unaccepting of what faces us. We want to feel hurt, however painful that is. We want to create our securities with money and things.

 

And when we do those things God never leaves us but longs for us to put our trust in Jesus, who can take away our fears.

 

Putting one’s trust in God isn’t about avoiding the pain but knowing that God travels with us through it.

Mary had no idea what being chosen to be the mother of Jesus would bring, but she remained trusting and faithful right to the foot of the cross.

 

Here am I: the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.

 

Mary isn’t an example just for the most ardent Catholics who venerate her highly. She is an example and a pattern for us all.

 

If Christmas is to mean anything, let us ensure we make a dwelling-place for God in our hearts, receiving his gifts of love, presence and hope, so that we too grow in trust and can say with Mary, whatever befalls us:

 

Here am I: the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.

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