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Christ Church, Tacoma, Advent IV, December 18, 2011

December 19, 2011

My apologies, no audio this week!   Blessed Advent!


Sermon, Year B, Advent IV

The Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel

Christ Church, Tacoma

December 18, 2011


This is a familiar story.  We can, almost, recite it by heart.  Familiar stories are often easy to overlook, easy to have our eyes glaze over when we begin to hear them, maybe even wondering, “that again, do we have to listen to that same story again?”   But just as Advent calls us to wake up, to pay attention, to prepare, it would do us well to do the same with this story and all the stories that lead us to Christmas. 


There are many places in the Gospel that I wonder if we are asleep, as a community, as a church, because so many of them should make us laugh out loud.   To that reality I see such a line today.  When Mary says, “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”  Yes, don’t you think that was very true. 


Those may not have been my exact words were I in a similar situation. Maybe you feel the same.  And I also have to wonder, about the length of this conversation.  When we read it, here, in the confines of our community, we might think this was a rather short conversation.  It just clicked right off, the angel came, brought greetings, the angel notices she is afraid, tells her not to be, she gets that right away and is fearful no longer.  She listens to the angel quietly, and then begins asking rational questions, like how can this be, since I am a virgin?  Seems very logical to me.  And then Angel tells her something that makes total sense, leaves no doubt whatsoever in her mind, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will be pregnant, and that will be God’s doing.  Ah yes, she says, no problem.  Ok, see you tomorrow angel, thanks for dropping by. 


No, you see I have to think this conversation, and the thinking, and the praying, and the confusion, lasted a bit longer, hours, days, maybe weeks.   Because this conversation, encapsulated in such a short reading, one we hear over and over again, year after year, contains the reality of most of our spiritual struggles.  We hear what we believe to be a call from God, and then the contemplation begins.  In this story is the up and down nature of our spiritual lives.  We see some of the same questions we have even if the circumstances and the outcome are different, where is God in all of this?  Which is the right path?  What can I believe? 


And there is definitely some reassurance in this passage and story, not the least of which is an angel who will not take no for an answer.   This may be the original hound of heaven.  The angel just hangs in there, and keeps coming back until getting the desired answer.  The Angel did not depart until getting the answer she wanted.  Our reassurance in this, that God will not give up.  We have, when it comes to what is good for us, a relentless God.  That should be a reassurance.  


There are layers and layers here really, in this short story is the story of all of life, and just about every story in our life of faith, surprise, fear, questions, doubt, assurance, submission.   And that is, in fact, the final thing that happens here, Mary finally says, let it be.  Yes, the Beatles sang of it too.  Like the beautiful resignation found in the New Zealand Prayer books night prayer, “what has been done has been done, what has not been done has not been done, let it be.”   This is where you turn it all over to God, this is where real faith is tested. 


And then, I would maintain, the cycle just starts all over again.  And think about it, even for Mary this is true.  She got through having Jesus, and then began the raising of him, then having to let him go.   She was in for many astounding and very difficult things.


So, I want us to delve into this story and pause with it on one more count too.  That is, we can read this and think of Mary as somehow special, holier than any of us, maybe even magic, placed there to do just this.  But I think this actually has more power when we realize that Mary was just like us, she was a poor teenage peasant.  She herself asked why me, knowing this to be an odd thing, that God would choose her.  But this is the gift and message of this passage to us.  God does just that.  God chooses us, just as we are, to do great things.  Yes, it is true, they may not write about us in years to come or say prayers to or through us, but nonetheless, God does the choosing, and God chooses people just like Mary, just like us.


So, today, we will baptize and confirm and receive those who come to give themselves over to something greater than themselves. Chances are they do not completely understand what all of this means.   In their letters to me many expressed what I have just stated, what Mary cried out in this story today, I don’t know why my journey took me all of these directions, I am not sure why God has chosen me, I don’t know what all of this means for my life beyond today, but I do know I need this, and I want to follow what I perceive to be a call on my life.  


When we come to baptism, that is what we do, die to this life, and all of our old allegiances, and rise again to a new allegiance, a new direction, a new compass, a new life.  This was the point of immersion, to actually mimic being buried and then rising again, as they say in the south, down with the old man, up with the new.  Confirmations and reception are you confirming that, many times said for you as an infant.  Our infant today, will one day have that chance, it will be theirs to decide. 


In a sense, before our very eyes today, we will witness the story we have just heard in the Gospel.  It may not seem as dramatic, or as earth changing or shattering, but I would submit, it is as every bit so.  Like this story we have heard over and over again, we can get so used to it, that we miss the grandeur, the beauty, the overwhelming miracle taking place before our eyes, that of ordinary, everyday people just like you and me, just like Mary, being reminded by their God, just how very precious and holy they are, that they are chosen, favored ones, that nothing is impossible with God. 


Today you step forward saying, Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. So, continue to listen, continue to grow, This story, this tradition we find ourselves part of, this Advent journey we travel every year is there to remind us, God is always with us, always.  In that, is our life and hope. 

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