Luke 1: 26-38 & 46-55 12-24-17 4th Sunday of Advent ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
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.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
What does it mean to bring a child into a world such as this?
I’m guessing that many parents wonder this as they find out they are pregnant, and I imagine Mary and probably Joseph asked that exact question. What does it mean to bring a child into a world like this? There is such profound beauty and such profound joy in our world, and there is such profound suffering and pain. Sometimes they are found in the same place, or the same person.
Mary and Joseph knew their world was created by God to be beautiful, to give pleasure, to move them to worship the Divine spirit flowing through all things. And they also knew their world to be defined by unrest in Jerusalem, high taxes for the poor and continued accumulation of wealth for the wealthy. It was a world that shamed women for what men do to them, a world full of refugees, and the mentally ill and homeless. What does it mean to bring a child into this kind of world?
For Mary, young, pregnant, unwed, she still can sing praise to God, name the profound beauty and the profound joy in this world, and proclaim that the profound suffering and pain has been removed by God.
Today, we are moved by her joy; Tomorrow we mark that a child was born into a world of both joy and pain. Today, perhaps many of us woke up to realize that little has changed. There still is profound beauty and joy. And there still is profound suffering and pain.
Today, nothing may have changed, yet we know that tomorrow, Christmas Day, is a day to mark a change. Tomorrow, Christmas, is a celebration not just of traditions and remembrances past, but a celebration of a turning world, a changing world, and God’s hopes for what is new.
Tomorrow we mark that a child was born and, like all children, the child was beautiful, and bright and blessed by God. We even say that the child was God.
He was connected to the Divine and pointed to the Divine in ways that many of us lose as we grow up. As he grew up, that child lost neither the connection to the Divine nor the ability to point to God. That child pointed out God in the world, reminding the people around him of a different time when God brought change. The child pointed to change, and the child was change.
Yet the world is still full of profound beauty and profound joy, and it is still filled with profound suffering and pain. There is unrest in Jerusalem, taxes are going up for the poor while the wealthy continue to accumulate wealth, we are awakening to how we shame women for what men do to them, we are overrun by refugees, and mentally ill and homeless.
If nothing has changed, then what has changed?
Little changed when Jesus was born. It took 30 years or more for his life to begin to have meaning, and another 3 years after that for his death to have meaning. The man brought change. The death brought change. The world turned. The world changed.
And maybe for a few years, or decades, or even centuries, there was a different way of living in the world.
There was still profound beauty and profound joy. And, yes, there was still profound suffering and pain. The change that this child brought was to remind us to bring beauty and joy where there was pain and suffering. He reminded us to bring love to the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely. He reminded us to bring peace where there were wars and warriors, wounded, and wandering, wondering minds. He reminded us to bring justice where there is injustice, fairness where there is unfairness, and equality where there is inequality. And for a while his followers seemed to do all of that.
What he reminded us was not anything new, but it was a bit different than what they were doing. The world had gotten weary, and worn down, and it was easier to follow a formula of faith and the letter of the law than to follow the initial intention of the faith. It was easier to celebrate with traditions than to trade them for true turning of hearts toward God.
It was a world much like today. There is weariness, and we are worn down. There is suffering and pain. There are people for whom beauty and joy are rare, hope is empty, and justice never seems to give them a break. Traditions have taken the place of the turning of our hearts. Formulas of faith take the place of initial intention.
Today, it seems the same. And Tomorrow, as Christmas dawns, this may still be the case; there may be nothing different. There may be nothing new in our weary, worn down, woeful world.
Or maybe there will be a turning, a transforming. Maybe there will be a change. Maybe tomorrow is the day for mystery, and mystique, and magic. Maybe tomorrow is the day of hope for the hopeless, and joy for the joyless, and peace where there is war and love for the lost, the last, the least, and the lonely. Maybe tomorrow, we will celebrate not just with traditions and remembrances past, but we will wake up and celebrate the turning toward God.
What does it mean to bring a child into a world such as this? Perhaps it will change nothing.
Or perhaps, as that young, pregnant, unwed mother sang, it could change everything. It could bring hope to the hopeless, joy to the joyless, peace to the wars and love to the lost, the last, the least, and the lonely.
So Tomorrow, dear ones, may your hearts by turned. May Christ bring you beauty and joy if you are suffering or in pain. May Christ bring peace to wars and warriors and wandering minds. May Christ enter your hearts, that you might bring love to the last, the lost, the least, the lonely and the unloved. And as you celebrate with traditions, remember they not a trade-off for true faith; the traditions are intended to connect you with the Divine and point out God in our world.
Tomorrow, may you experience God in the child, in the change, in the turning, and in this world of beauty and joy. Prepare your hearts for the shining of God’s light. Amen.