And the angel said,|
Do not be afraid.
You are favored.
You will be changed.
And the angel said,
Nothing is impossible with God.
Many of us have heard today’s gospel lesson so many times that we can easily retell it by heart.
This encounter between Gabriel and Mary
is a scene that has been depicted by so many artists
throughout the ages that as you heard this morning’s lesson,
that perhaps you could see it in your mind’s eye:
a winged wonder greeting a young girl –
sitting by a window with a flower in her hand -
ready, open, and perfectly poised.
Luke, however, does not give us any of those details –
or any other details of Mary’s life.
We don’t know what she was doing when Gabriel arrived to greet her.
Maybe she was in the middle of her morning chores,
or saying her daily prayers,
or skipping in a field.
We know she had some fear,
because the angel told her not to be afraid.
But we don’t know if she was tired or weary,
or worried about how her life was going to unfold.
Maybe she was waiting with joyful hope for such a visitor,
for such an announcement.
Luke, however, does give us one important detail:
the angel Gabriel makes his visit to Mary and announces to her the promise that changed her life,
the life of the world,
and – if we let it –
change each of our lives.
Author and teacher Wendy Wright comments on this annunciation narrative,
as our Advent visitor this morning suggested –
that angels are hovering ‘round.
Their words wing their way into our hearts and spirits,
and, through them,
God touches our lives
just as surely as God touched the life of Mary in
the little town of Nazareth all those years ago.
It was a Wednesday night in early December,
and we had just gathered in Chapin Hall
to begin the faith formation program,
The Thrill of Hope.
We were ready to pray when
my cell phone rang –
yes, even the pastor’s cell phone rings at inappropriate times!
I looked down at the phone - it was my mother’s doctor.
It was the call I had been waiting for all day.
I quickly picked up,
headed up the stairs outside Chapin Hall,
looking for a quiet place to talk.
The darkened sanctuary seemed like the perfect spot.
I sat down on the first amen pew,
and told the doctor about my mom’s condition after her surgery:
she was struggling in rehab;
some good moments and some difficult ones, too.
The doctor told me that they were still awaiting results,
and the future would probably be the same:
some good moments, some times of struggle.
The days ahead are going to take all of our energy,
all of our prayers,
all of the doctor’s medical wisdom and help.
I hung up the phone.
I thought about my mom,
about how it’s been difficult for her
because she’s never been sick before.
I thought about my dad.
It’s been difficult for him as well,
sitting with mom each day in the rehab center,
being shuttled back and forth by my brother and my sisters and me.
Mom’s weary and tired,
So is dad.
We all are.
I sat in the darkened sanctuary for a few minutes,
taking everything in,
feeling like the ground below was unsteady and unsure,
with the future uncertain.
I took a breath,
then headed out into the hallway.
As I stood in the darkness at the top of the stairs
leading back to Chapin hall,
I heard the group gathered below singing
O Holy Night.
(The following song was begun by David and Rose Lewis and Robert Inderbitzen, then joined by the choir and congregation.)
O Holy Night!The words,
The beautiful harmonies,
Were the words and the song of the angel Gabriel:
Be not afraid.
Even a weary night,
A night of worry,
is a holy night.
Yes, things will change,
but we are not alone,
because nothing is impossible with God.
Here, dear friends,
Here is a portion of the good news and the miracle of the Advent season:
God sends messengers of peace,
Heralds of hope,
Couriers of compassion into our lives.
Their words and songs,
their actions and attitudes,
announce to us that we, too, are beloved,
that we, too, ought not be afraid,
that we, too, are held in the embrace and promise of God’s love.
Maybe it’s a spouse or partner that says “I love you” just when you need to hear it the most,
or a friend calls and invites you for Christmas dinner.
A card or an email or text or FACEBOOK message arrives,
with encouraging words in the midst of an illness or a moment of grief.
A child – or a grandchild –senses your worries,
and grabs your hand and won’t let it go.
After several days of back and forth and miscommunication,
a teenager says “thanks, dad, for everything you do.”
Sisters and brothers,
What angels are hovering ‘round in your life?
What messenger is God sending to you?
What message, what good news is God announcing to you?
After the angel gives Mary the good news,
The life-changing news,
Luke tells us that Gabriel departs from her.
After hearing what God has done for Elizabeth,
Mary heads straight to her cousin’s house.
Good news, it seems,
Good news is meant to be shared!
After a conversation with her Elizabeth
Mary sings a song –
to her cousin and to the cosmos -
a song known to history and known to us as “The Magnificat.”
The angel said…,
and then Mary said.. .
The angel’s voice gives rise to Mary’s voice.
Her words are printed in our bulletins this morning.
I invite us to join together in Mary’s Song.
My soul proclaims the greatness of our God,This past week,
TIME Magazine named its person of the year.
The magazine passed over notables like
Kate Middleton, Steve Jobs,
Navy SEAL special ops team leader William McRave,
and several others.
In a move that surprised many,
the editors of the magazine named “The Protester” as
the Person of the Year,
giving nod to activists around the world –
in the Middle East or Russia or London or New York –
who reshaped global politics and redefined people power.
Today, we understand a protester as someone
who speaks or acts against something;
who opposes or dissents or objects to a person or a situation.
But the etymology,
The origin of the word protest –
and Protestant, too –
is from the Latin
meaning to TESTIFY FOR something,
to give witness to a truth or a belief.
In that sense,
Mary is the protester of this time of the year –
even of all the ages, perhaps
for her prayer is a testament to the work of our God,
whose love occupies all the universe and each one of us.
Mary gives witness to a God who breaks into human history,
who promises to turn the world upside down,
bringing up the lowly and bringing down the proud
so all are equal,
for no one is too lowly, too weak, or too undesirable for God.
The child born in Bethlehem grew up and embodied his mother’s words,
so that we might now the power and depth of God’s love.
Dear, dear friends,
In these last few days before Christmas,
let us listen and look
for angels hoverin’ round;
for Mary’s song coming to fruition,
and for the birth of Christ into our hearts once again.
Amen and amen.