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Advent 4B December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4. 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we begin with Canticle 15, the Magnificat, Mary’s song about God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. 

Then we read in the Second Book of Samuel about how David has built a house and is settling down after years of going from place to place. David thinks to himself that it would be a good idea to build a house for God. He discusses this with the prophet Nathan who also thinks it is a good idea. But then God speaks to Nathan and tells this faithful prophet that God will build a house for David. God will establish David as a King over God’s people. It is from this royal line that the Messiah will come.

And then we have Psalm 89, a song about God’s love. “Your love, O Lord forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

And then we go back over two thousand years. Here is Mary, a young woman. She is engaged to Joseph, a faithful man, a man who is very gentle, yet very strong and protective. We know that Mary, too, has a strength that is almost beyond belief, and her faith is deep and abiding.

She lives in a little town that is far from the centers of power. She is just an ordinary person going about her daily routine, like so many people before her—Moses, tending his father-in-law’s flock, David, tending the sheep, Amos, the dresser of sycamore trees. As she is going about her household chores, the angel Gabriel suddenly appears. 

Here I fall back on Madeleine L’Engle’s descriptions of angels as tall, towering beings pulsating with light and power. “Greetings, favored one!” he says, “The Lord is with you.” Here is this luminous messenger of God talking to a young woman in a little out of the way town like Sheldon or Montgomery or Fletcher or Franklin and calling her “favored one,” telling her she is beloved of God. And he is telling us, too, that we are beloved of God. And then the angel Gabriel tells Mary and you and me that the Lord is with us. And then, seeing the look of shock on Mary’s face, Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And God is saying that to us as well. “Do not be afraid. God loves you. God is holding you in the palm of God’s hand.”  

And then the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of God’s Son. And Mary asks, “How can this be?” And Gabriel tells her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, will be giving birth to a son. We know that this is Jesus’ cousin, John, who will grow up and baptize people in the Jordan River and call them to “prepare the way of the Lord.” It all seems beyond belief. Gabriel seems quite aware of this for he tells Mary and us,  “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

And then Mary responds. Throughout this mind-bending conversation with Gabriel, she has remained calm and grounded. We see in her the steely courage that she will show at the foot of the Cross. She joins many of her ancestors, people like Abraham and Moses, who said to God, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Trusting completely in God’s faithfulness and love, Mary says “Yes” to this ministry.

Soon after, she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The child John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when he senses the presence of the baby Jesus. We often say that Christians go two by two, as our Lord sent out the disciples to spread the good news. Mary had the good common sense to seek out her cousin Elizabeth so that they could guide and support each other as they went on their journey together. Their sons would change the world forever. They gave birth to the transformation of the world.

In addition to the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” we can also sing Psalm 89. “Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.”

The light is coming into the world. This past week, we watched the news and saw people being inoculated with the new vaccine from Pfizer. Other vaccines are on the way. The Moderna vaccine has already been approved. Many scientists, researchers, physicians, lab technicians, and other dedicated people have worked evenings, weekends, nights, and holidays to create these life-saving vaccines. People gathered to clap as they were shipped out of the plant in Michigan because this is something to celebrate.

As Christians, we believe that God gives us the gift to reason and learn and carry out research. Our faith is based on what we call the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. God gave us minds so that we can use them to discover things that will help people to have better lives. We believe that these discoveries are a manifestation of God’s love. “Your love, O God, forever will we sing.”

Because God gave us minds and calls us to use them, we know that we must continue to practice the basics of public health in a pandemic—wear masks, keep social distance, wash our hands often, don’t gather in large numbers. We know that it will take several months to get all of us vaccinated. But, if we follow safe practices, eventually enough people will be vaccinated that we will all be safe from this virus. Our faith also teaches us to be patient. It will take time. We are very happy that Keith and Sara are in Pinellas County, Florida, the first county in that state to receive the vaccine. To me, that feels like a special gift from God.

We have been through some very difficult times, and it is not over yet.

But the end is in sight. The light, the love, is coming into the world. Let us make room for the light and love in our lives. Let us make room for Jesus in the inns of our hearts. Even though there are challenges ahead, let us take time to celebrate the light and love of God in our lives and in our world. “Your  love, O Lord, forever will we sing; from age to age our mouths will proclaim your faithfulness.” 

Let us continue to walk the Way of Love, with joy and hope in our hearts.  Amen.

Pentecost 22 Proper 27C November 10, 2017

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

In our opening reading for today, the people have returned from their terrible time of exile in Babylon. They have begun to rebuild the Jerusalem temple, but they are getting discouraged. As they look at the dimensions of what they have begun to build, they realize this temple will not be as large or as beautiful as the original temple built by King Solomon.

Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest, have been trying to encourage the people, and the prophet Haggai joins in this ministry of encouragement. He asks if there is anyone among them who remembers the glorious original temple, and we can imagine that among those who have returned, there might be some elderly folks who do remember that former temple and think the present effort is not very impressive.

But Haggai calls upon Zarubbabel and Joshua and all the people to take courage. He tells them that God is with them. Speaking on behalf of God, Haggai says, “ My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” And then HaggaI says those words that we remember from Handel’s Messiah. God is going to shake the nations. Historians tell us there was a great deal of turmoil in the world at this time. There were many rebellions in the Persian Empire, notably in Egypt. 

But little Judah, who was a very small part of the great Persian empire at this point in history, escaped all the international struggles. Scholars tell us that they rebuilt the temple. It took a long time, but they did it. They planted their crops, raised their families, and enjoyed increasing prosperity.

God is with us. Always.

In our reading from the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, the congregation is in great distress. Scholars tell us that irresponsible teachers had tried to tell the people that our Lord’s second coming had already taken place. This seems to be a popular false teaching. How may times have people proclaimed that the Lord is about to come and we need to go to the top of a mountain or out into the wilderness to prepare. The day comes and nothing happens.

Paul encourages the Thessalonians and us to stand firm and hold fast to our faith. He tells us not to be “quickly shaken in mind” by things we might hear. We are following Jesus, and, with his grace, we are trying to live in such a way that we will be ready to greet him whenever he comes to complete his work of creation. We are a people of faith, not fear.

In our gospel for today, Jesus has entered Jerusalem. His long journey to the holy city is now complete. He has thrown the money changers from the temple. He has wept over the city that kills the prophets. He has wished that the city would let him protect them as a mother hen protects her chicks.

The Sadducees are asking a question, but they are not asking it from a desire to learn. They are trying to trap and embarrass Jesus. They do not even believe in a resurrection, yet they come up with a far fetched example to test Jesus. This is based on the part of the law that says, if a woman’s husband dies, his brother must marry the woman and take care of her. The Sadducees put forth a highly improbable example of a woman who loses seven husbands. And their question is, whose wife will she be in heaven?

Jesus responds in a down-to-earth way. Here on earth, we need to marry and have children so that there will continue to be human beings on the earth, but heaven is entirely different. In heaven, people are like angels. In his First Letter to The Corinthians (15:44), Paul says that in heaven we have spiritual bodies, and I picture our spiritual bodies as something like the bodies of the angels in Madeleine L’Engle’s books— in heaven, we are pulsating beings of light.

Even though the Sadducees are trying to make Jesus look like a fool, he deftly turns the tables on them. And then he makes the most important point of all. God is God of the living, and we are all alive in God.

In this gospel we have a picture of religious authorities who think they are so brilliant with all their irrelevant questions designed to foil Jesus. But they are completely unaware that, in looking at him they are looking into the face of God. 

What are these readings saying to us today? Our lesson from Haggai reminds us that great things often have humble beginnings and that God calls us always to have hope. 

Our reading from Second Thessalonians reminds us not to let false teachers deceive us so that we get alarmed, or shaken, or upset. Any teaching we hear must be measured against the gospel of Christ. Paul writes, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and deed.”

And our Lord reminds us that we are in life eternal. We are being transformed every day. We are growing more and more like our Lord. God is God of the living, and, as Paul says, “In Christ [we] are made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22.) Amen.

Advent 4C RCL December 20, 2015

Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 3, p. 50
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” This is what the angel Gabriel says to Mary as he is telling her that she will be the mother of our Savior. Gabriel says these words just after he tells Mary that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who is far beyond childbearing age, has been pregnant for six months.

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth  is the next thing that happens. Mary is so wise. She knows that she and Elizabeth will be able to support each other, so she makes the journey to see Elizabeth.  In those days, women did not travel alone, and I think Joseph went with her. We know how protective and supportive he was, and I am quite certain that he would not have wanted Mary to take risks.

The text tells us that Mary goes into the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and, when the two women greet each other, John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb! Even when they are babies in the womb, John recognizes and honors his kinsman and Lord. From the beginning, John knows he is called to prepare the way of the Lord.

Elizabeth bursts forth in the Hail Mary. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Elizabeth recognizes the world-changing significance of this moment. Here are these two cousins, Mary and Elizabeth, at the center of events that will change the world, events that will let us know that nothing is impossible with God.

Both women are filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Mary bursts forth with her immortal song, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” And then Mary shares with us God’s vision of  shalom. God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. No longer does brute power rule the world. God brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. God feeds the hungry and sends away those who have more than enough. God cares especially for the ordinary people. God stands against any form of oppression.

Here are these two courageous, prophetic women, Mary and Elizabeth, called by God to give birth to a new order, called by God to change the world.  May God give us one-tenth of the courage they have! May God give us the grace to leap at the sight of our Lord!

It is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Christmas is close, but it is not quite here yet. Here we are, between the first coming of Christ as a baby and his second coming to bring in his kingdom of love and peace.

And, of course, we are still praying for Paris, Brussels, Mali, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, New York, refugees fleeing from Syria,  Afghanistan, and other places where life is impossible, and our whole beautiful world, which is filled with loving and caring people and yet is racked by so much violence and hatred.

This week, Beth sent us a poem by Madeleine L’Engle which expresses our situation. It’s called The Risk of Birth.

This is no time for a child to be born./ With the earth betrayed by war and hate/ And a nova lighting the sky to warn/That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born./In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;/ Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—/Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?/ The inn is full on the planet earth,/ And by greed ad pride the sky is torn—Yet love still takes the risk of birth.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Amen.