Sermons

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

Dec 20, 2020

Passage:Luke 1:26-38

Preacher: The Rev. Jo Roberts Craig

Series: Advent

Detail:

 

In his book, The Remarkable Ordinary, Frederick Buechner is asked  which is his favorite season of the liturgical year, and he responds,  “Advent.” 

He recalls the various noises ,interruptions, demands just prior to  Christmas, and then he adds: 

    But if you concentrate just for an instant,        far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel           the beating of your heart. For all its madness and           lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the           world itself holding its breath.  

Indeed, the world is holding its breath… Will we once again see the  birth of the Christ child or will we be so completely centered on self;  on the woes of the world that we miss it? 

There is a danger this year and I think every year that the world will  gobble us up, and we will not realize the magnificence and the glory  of The gift…the gift of THE Baby… 

It is that danger of spiritual deafness that silences the earth and us… that deafness that silences the inward groaning and longing for the  Christ… 

Our lesson from the Gospel today puts us in the middle of a story…a  story of the infancy narrative from Luke… 

The Gospel text starts with the words, “in the sixth month”…in sixth  month of what… 

So we have to back up and find out before we can look at the  annunciation to Mary…what in the world happened six months before  this visitation from Gabriel…

We find that there was another annunciation very closely linked with  the experience of Mary… 

This annunciation is located in Jerusalem…the very center of the  Jewish world and the recipient of the message from Gabriel is the  priest, Zechariah 

When Gabriel appears to Zechariah, the priest is in the temple only a  veiled doorway from the presence of God’s glory  

And Zechariah’s response is hesitation rooted in disbelief; he finds  himself responding to this wonderful, unexpected news with  questions and doubts… 

“How will I know that this is so?? For I am an old man and my wife is  getting on in years” 

Just reading Zechariah’s response makes me nervous…And the  words of the Gabriel confirm my response…”I am Gabriel. I stand in  the presence of God and I have been sent to you and to bring you  good news.” 

That response alone should have made poor Zechariah extremely  nervous…instead it just cost him his voice until the day of the birth… 

The annunciation to Mary is in great contrast to this one…the scene  shifts from the socio-religious cultural center of Jerusalem to  Nazareth in Galilee… 

Insignificant, often despised, often unclean Galilee of the North…to a  woman who in the eyes of the elite is low in ranking 

She is young, unmarried, and a woman 

But she is the woman favored by God and her status and identity is in  her obedience to God; in her participation to God’s salvific will…

She was indeed perplexed by Gabriel’s presence and perhaps the  most wonderful line in the whole story is,” and (Mary) pondered what  sort of Greeting this might be”… 

Indeed… what kind of greeting might it be if an agent of God’s…an  angel… appears and says, “Greetings, favored one!” 

She is perplexed but her only question is a question of reality…”How  can this be, since I am a virgin?” 

When Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit; the Most High shall  overshadow you and the child shall be Holy… 

Mary’s response is nothing less than miraculous itself…” Here am I,  the servant of the Lord; let it be according to your word.” 

God solicits and embraces all three of the characters in these  annunciation stories: Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary 

And whether the participants embrace the plan of God or argue with  the angel and perhaps with God’s plan, it is clear that God is  intervening in human history to bring forth the everlasting kingdom of  God… 

Behind these events, each taking place in very different locations with  folks of very different status, God begins to unveil God’s plan for the  salvation of all of creation 

And we are back to Frederick Buechner and the world itself holding  its breath…Will we once again embrace the words of Gabriel and  prepare for the Christ child or will we decide deep in our being that it  is too hard or too fantastic to believe or just too much for our tired  selves… 

As a priest, I never tire of reading these annunciations…so like the  call of the prophets 

So like the pregnancy and birth story of Hannah and her son Samuel;

Even the willingness of Mary and the doubt of Zechariah is seen in so  many stories of the Old Testament… 

Isaiah with ,”Here I am; send me!” and Jeremiah saying, “Ah, Lord  God! Truly I do not know how to speak , for I am only a boy.” 

And I, for one, find myself holding my breath…delighting in the story,  acknowledging the beauty of the liturgy as we prepare to leave  Advent and gather for the reading of the birth of Jesus… 

I admire and love the person of Mary, the mother of our Lord…She  was willing to say yes to a very dangerous call that could have  resulted in the very least …an exclusion from society or in death by  stoning 

She was willing to face the storm with her betrothed, Joseph of the  House of David 

To face her parents with a pregnancy and a story that would be hard  to express and for her parents hard to accept… 

Her bravery, her faith, her willingness is one of the greatest gifts ever  given to humankind… 

And you and I are the most fortunate of recipients of God’s salvific  plan for God’s creation… 

We sometimes find ourselves standing with Jeremiah or Zechariah  wondering if God is sure of God’s intentions 

We have the privilege …and it is a great privilege…of questioning; of  doubting; of finding ourselves struck speechless with the calling that  is before us 

We sometimes stand with Mary and will our being to be in concert  with whatever it is that God is calling us to do or to endure

 

And sometimes, even with our very best effort, all we can do is cry  out to God or to answer with halting breath…let it be according to  your word… 

I am convinced that we are among the most blessed because of  Gabriel, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth and the list goes on and on 

Their stories teach us about the God of creation; teach us about the  love that our Creator has for us; a love that is far beyond anything we  can either imagine or desire 

A love that creates and then cares for the creation… We can find  ourselves in the doldrums but we must not remain there… 

The wind is picking up; the Holy Spirit is on the move…Get ready!  Amen 

 

 

References: 

Buechner, Frederick, The Remarkable Ordinary, Zondervan, 2017. 

Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, The New International  Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company,  1997.

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