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Advent 4, December 18, 2011

Advent 4B RCL December 18, 2011

2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Canticle 15, p. 91
Romans 16: 25-27
Luke 1:26-38

It would be interesting if we could have a Google: Earth approach to the Nazareth of 4 BC. We might fly over the temple in Jerusalem and then veer northward, up into the Galilee, that crossroads place far from the centers of power, as far from the temple as you could get. For us today, the scandal of this Annunciation is hard to grasp. We are used to hearing the story of Mary, the courageous young woman of Nazareth.

But this is not where people would have expected such an announcement. In  the preceding portion of Luke’s gospel, the birth of John the Baptist has just been proclaimed to his father, the priest Zechariah, as he was ministering in the great temple in Jerusalem. This is expected, that the beginning of the good news would occur here at the temple, where the ark of the covenant resides, where the power of God rests, and that the news would be given to a faithful priest such as Zechariah. But that is not the way it’s going to happen.

We have heard the story hundreds of times. Let us imagine it again in our mind’s eye. Let us open the eyes of our hearts and envision this wonderful story. Mary is young. She is not a priest like Zechariah. She does not live in Jerusalem, the City of David. She is betrothed to a carpenter, Joseph, a good man. A year after the engagement, Joseph will take her to his home, and the marriage will be complete.

The angel Gabriel, a powerful, light-filled messenger of God, suddenly appears to Mary as she goes about her daily tasks. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Think of it. You’re washing the dishes or shoveling the driveway and this luminous, electric, pulsating, powerful representative of God shows up. Of course she’s afraid! But he tells her not to be.  She is going to give birth to the One who will bring in a whole new realm, a whole new way of life. She is going to give birth to God walking the face of the earth.

For a young woman, someone who, because of her gender and her age and her geographical location, ranks pretty low on the scale, and for us, this is shocking.  God is not going to do this through kings and rich CEOs and hedge fund managers. God is going to do this through the little people, the 99 percent who live in little places like Nazareth and Sheldon.

Mary has much more presence of mind than most of us would have in such a shattering situation. She asks a completely logical question. How can this be? And Gabriel tells her that the Holy Spirit can do anything. And, to prove it, Gabriel tells Mary that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant. Of course, Elizabeth is way past childbearing age, just as Sarah was when she had Isaac. Miracles are happening all over the place, This is part of a long line of miracles.

And then Gabriel says that wonderful thing, that thing which gives us hope. Gabriel says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary says, “Yes!” Yes, God, I trust you to lead me through this. Yes, I am scared. But I know, dear God, that you love me and that you are going to be with me. So, Yes!

Someone has said that courage is fear that has said its prayers. Well, Mary is a person of great courage, and she is going to need it. We know that, as we think ahead to what she is going to have to go through. When most of the disciples run away, there is Mary, with some of the other women, and with John, at the foot of the cross.

This is a person of profound and steely courage.

But now, she sings the Magnificat, and this song is one of the blueprints for the kingdom, the shalom, of her Son, Jesus. God looks with favor on God’s lowly servants, the little people. God scatters the proud in their conceit. God puts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. Gods fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.  In God’s shalom, everyone has enough—enough food, clothing, shelter, medical care, meaningful work to do that will help to build God’s shalom. In the words of the prophets and in the ministry of Jesus, God tells us that God loves the little folks.

This happens in a little place like Sheldon or Franklin or Montgomery or Fletcher. It does not happen in a place of power such as New York City or Jerusalem or Washington, D. C.  And it happens to this young woman who was just going to have a good, ordinary life with a good and honest and hardworking man, Joseph. Their lives were changed utterly, and so are ours.

The angel Gabriel is coming to us with good news. New things are going to come to birth in us.

Meister Eckhart, the fourteenth-century mystic and theologian, wrote these words: “We are all meant to be mothers of God….What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time, when the Son of God is begotten in us.”

Greetings, favored ones! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. For with God nothing is impossible.

                        Amen.

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