There is something powerful about stories. They have a way of moving us from one place to another. Think of the stories we hear at this time of year. There to story of the “Grinch” who hated Christmas. “No one quit knows the reasons. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps that his shoes were just too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all. May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” By the end of the story he realizes that Christmas is so much more than presents. “Then the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”
It is not only the Grinch that is changed by the Christmas message of hope but Scrooge in Dicken’s famous “Christmas Carol.” Overnight Scrooge is visited by the angels past, present and future who change his heart. On Christmas morning he wakes a new man. Then there are stories like, “The Gift of the Magi” that remind us of what it means to give from the heart. It the story of two people who gave everything they had for the other.
Then there is the Christmas story. So much more than literature. A story that contains a deep truth about life and faith. “Carolyn Sharp writes, “In the shadow of the Cross, we understand the Incarnation as a sign of hope clothed in vulnerability, conflict, and suffering. The Gospel shout is rooted in joy, to be sure! But to be meaningful, it must reflect an understanding of the loss, fear, and pain at the core of human existence.” www.workingpreacher.org
Marry knew all about those ups and downs of human existence. She was young, but one day he life was changed forever. The annunciations, the day the Angel Gabriel announces that Mary will literally bear God into the world, is a day described in so many ways. The poet Killian McDonnell imagines Mary’s story this way in his poem called In the Kitchen:
Bellini had it wrong.
I was not kneeling
on my satin cushion
silently at prayer
head slightly bent.
skew the scene,
as if my life
were wrapped in silks,
and temple smells.
Actually I had just
come back from the well,
placing the picture on the table
I bumped the edge
spilling water on the floor.
As I bent to wipe
it up, there was a light
against the kitchen wall
as though someone had opened
the door to the sun.
Rag in hand
hair across my face,
I turned to see who was entering,
All I saw
was light, white
against the timbers.
I heard a voice
I had never heard.
I heard a greeting,
I was elected,
the Lord was with me,
I pushed my hair back,
I stood afraid.
Someone closed the door.
And I dropped my rag.
(Killian McDonnel, Swift Lord You are Not page 46 – 47)
In scripture it says, an angel of the Lord appeared to her. Not in a dream. Not in her imagination. But in person and says, “Greetings, favoured one. The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) Now I don’t know about any of you. But I think that I’d be shaking. This is unexpected and confusing and probably scary. To reassure Mary, the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.” (Luke 1:30)
Then the angel tells Mary that she has a special calling. Unmarried, young and she was going to conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit. “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 Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.” (Luke 1: 31 – 32) Many people would have run away because it is such an unbelievable story. I sometimes wonder how many people turned down this offer from the angel before Mary said yes. It was Mary who had the courage to say yes, to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
One Voice sings a song called “Hey Mary” The words say:
Hey Mary there’s an angel in your house
Said Mary have I got some news for you
You seem to think your nothing much
but heaven’s coming close enough to touch
Hey Mary God is coming here through you.
There is no such things as ordinary now.
God is here.
Every life and breath is blessed
You never know when God might appear.
Mary’s impossible, improbable and yet somehow gets to the very heart of the Christmas story. Mary was ordinary. She probably had some of the same struggles that we all have. Maybe she wondered why God chose her for the important job of bearing God into the world. Maybe she was filled with doubts. Whatever else we remember about this amazing story, remember that no matter how impossible or improbable – Mary said yes. And Mary’s yes changed everything in our world. “There is no such thing as ordinary now. God is here.” Mary said yes to bringing God’s word to the world. And then she sings the most hope filled words we can hear at Christmas. It says in Luke 1:44 – 55:
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Mary’s song is one of hope and promise. It is a story that changes everything. Because of her brave yes, her story becomes our story. We too are invited to say yes to the impossible and improbable. With God all things are possible and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
In this seasons of stories, God’s story with humanity echoes in the story of a maiden who inspires all of us to say yes. The end of the song “Hey Mary” is our invitation to say yes to God’s ways of hope and new life.
Hey People there’s angel in your house.
Said listen have I got some news for you
You seem to think your nothing much
but heaven’s coming close enough to touch
Hey People God is coming here through you. Amen
Sunday, 11 December 2016
I love the excitement that comes with this time of year. I love the lights on houses and the cards that come in the mail and the festive moved. I love the generosity that seems to move people to do wonderful acts of kindness. I love time with family and friends. I even love the Christmas movies – the more the better. They all end with relationship repaired and people in love and everything looking perfect.
But this Advent season of preparation for Christmas joy is not a time of joy for everyone. For some it can be a season of mixed blessings and for some hard time of year. I think of people who are coming up on the first Christmas without their loved one or perhaps there is a bad diagnosis that dampens the cheer or challenges in relationships. There are some who carry private burdens that are not visible to those around them. Added to that there are people who don’t have enough money to buy food let alone gifts. For parents, or at least this parent, it can be challenging as the excitement builds to maintain some normal routines. This season of joy can be a season of challenges.
Part of the season of preparation is knowing that God comes to us. Dr. David Lose writes, “God as God is too terrifying for mere mortals to behold, let alone receive, and so God comes to us as one of us: vulnerable, weak, frail, subject to illness and disappointment and rejection, all so that we can perceive that God is with us and for us and will not abandon us, as [Martin]Luther shares in a Christmas sermon from 1530: If Christ had arrived with trumpets and lain in a cradle of gold, his birth would have been a splendid affair. But it would not be a comfort to me. He was rather to lie in the lap of a poor maiden and be thought of little significance in the eyes of the world. Now I can come to him. Now he reveals himself to the miserable in order not to give any impression that he arrives with great power, splendor, wisdom, and aristocratic manners.” (In the Meantime, Dr. David Lose)
In the midst of the joys and challenges comes the message at the heart of the season. It’s about preparing a space, a way for the Lord. It’s about what God did in Jesus and the coming of God’s kingdom. The promise of the prophet Isaiah is that “A shoot shall come out form the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Righteousness shall be a belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb. …They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1, 6, 9)
Isaiah shares with the people who are like that stump with no hope that God promises a future where peace will reign. God promises a day when there will be harmony among the nations. The promise of a world remade in God’s image is what drove John the Baptist out into the wilderness crying out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:3)
This is an invitation to something new. When John says “Repent” he is not sharing a message of condemnation. Repent quit literally means to turn in a new direction. John is inviting people to turn to something new. John says, “Repent” as invitation to do everyday tasks in the light of God’s love and see life in a new way. The true gift of advent is preparing for a world remade in God’s image.
It is a gift that transforms the world and individual lives. Barbra Lundblad writes “There is a man on my street I've known for years. We often met in the morning at the newsstand. Then, his wife died – forty-two years together changed to loneliness. I watched him walking, his head bowed, his shoulders drooping lower each day. His whole body seemed in mourning, cut off from everyone. I grew accustomed to saying, “Good morning” without any response. Until a week ago. I saw him coming and before I could get any words out, he tipped his hat, “Good morning, Reverend. Going for your paper?” He walked beside me, eager to talk. I could not know what brought the change that seemed so sudden. Perhaps, for him, it wasn't sudden at all, but painfully slow. Like a seedling pushing through rock toward the sunlight. There must have been an explanation, yet he appeared to me, a miracle.” (www.workingpreacher.org)
In this season of watching and waiting, let us listen to the words of the prophets who call us to live out our faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus. His earth shattering, world changing ministry changed lives and communities. Jesus reordered the world around him and transformed lives with the gifts of welcome, healing and wholeness. Do you hear the prophet calling you? Let us prepare the way of the Lord! Amen.