Monday, December 22, 2008

Sermon 21st December 2008 Advent 4

This is my sermon from last Sunday. I was leading a service of the word in a rather busy team of churches where the clergy where around and about leading yet more carol services in various places!

The readings for the morning were:

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans 16:25-27

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-38

I decided to focus on the Gospel. Each member of the congregation was given an image of the annunciation (found via google images) before the service started.

So it’s nearly Christmas… but not quite. And we’re taken back this morning, back in time 9 months or so in fact from where we’re about to be to the moment when Mary first learns that she is going to have this child whose birth we will celebrate this week!
As St Paul put it; it’s
“the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed”
That’s a passage we have all heard many times I’m sure. It’s a story we’re familiar with and yet I’m sure we all see it rather differently in our minds. Have a look on your seats (you may have already spotted them!) and you’ll see a few ways that various artists over the years have depicted that moment of annunciation. Now there are some very different styles some traditional some very modern. You may like your image or you may dislike it. Respond to it honestly.
Some have a very tangible ANGEL figure whilst others show something more of a presence or a glow. Some have Mary just sitting quietly in her room, in others she’s looking out the window or in a garden. Or she’s surrounded by flowers or bright colours. In some Mary is very still and quiet and submissive in a prayerlike or meditative pose. In others she is actively engaged in conversation with the angel or perhaps questioning – How can this be?
How would you paint or sculpt this story or make it into a film or a piece of music perhaps or a dance?
There are two elements of this story which I would want to focus on if I were painting it. Two elements which stand out for me as the most important
The first for me is this element of the otherworldly coming into the ordinary.
Why do you think the angel had to say, so very quickly, "Do Not Be Afraid"? There’s an ANGEL right there in front of her. And the Gospel rather coyly describes this as;
“she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be”
Now, I work with teenagers and there are not many teenagers I know who would have responded quite so calmly to a supernatural being appearing so suddenly and calling them “favoured one”. It reminds me in a way of that lottery advert they had a few years ago with the giant hand coming down from the sky and pointing at someone with those booming words “IT COULD BE YOU” and I think that’s why this element of the story strikes me. It COULD be any one of us. Mary was no-one particularly illustrious or famous. She was just like one of us until that day. And God sent her this message as her to serve him.
Now I’m not saying it’s going to be that clear for each of us when God calls us to do something. I don’t think there’ll be hundreds of different of classical paintings of the moment that God called one of us to be a teacher, to help at a local charity, to befriend a neighbour or sit with someone who is ill.
The second part of this story which really sparks something in me, is not actually the news that Jesus is to be born. That is an amazing gift to each and every one of us. A gift we may take for granted or be so unable to grasp that we can’t even begin to describe it. No the element that gets me is Mary’s response.
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Ok so there’s some initial doubt that she can possibly have a child without there being a physical father. Yet so very quickly she comes back with this YES. This complete submission to God’s will. God calls her and she answers that call.

That’s what I would want to show in a painting. Not just a passive beatified and serene Mary but a Mary saying YES with all her being.

So my painting would be of the otherworldly coming into our world with that call and Mary responding YES to that call.

The reason I’d want to paint that is because I think this story really encapsulates God’s call to each of us. I don’t know what God might be calling you to. I do know that he is. I know that God says to you, as he says to Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you… Plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And if that’s true at any time it’s all the more true at Christmas. A future and a hope. That is what we look forward to and we find that future and that hope in listening to God’s call and in answering it as Mary did.
So when the Lord calls. Will you answer as she did
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Saying yes to God

1. When is it hardest for us to say yes to God?
2. What makes Mary able to say it?
3. How can we follow her example?
4. What is one way we can show God's love this Christmas?

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