Sermon for Advent 4, Year A
Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
Holy Trinity, Thornhill
Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
“…He did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”
What if it had been you? What if in the days of your early adolescence an angel had spoken to you in the silence of the night and prophesied that you would be the mother of the saviour? What if as a young man, in the depth of your dreaming you received an angelic vision that the woman to whom you were betrothed, but with whom you had had no sexual relation, was about to bear a son who would save his people. What if it had been you – you or I, who had received this message, heard the awesome and frightening news? News that would not only affect our future, but also the future of the world. News of a son who would save his people. What if it were you or I?
Would our response have been Mary’s “let it be unto me according to your word?” Would our response have been “my soul magnifies the Lord,” or “My spirit rejoices in God my saviour?” Or would the shame of an illegitimate pregnancy bring fear, and shame, and loathing? Would our response more closely resemble the response of Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel, to put away the woman of shame? Could we have borne the shame or faced the judgement of those around us.
But the angel did come to Mary, and it did come to Joseph, and despite their initial fear, astonishment, and shame, both Mary and Joseph said “yes.” Joseph did not put away his future wife, nor did Mary hide her face in shame. Instead, Mary went immediately, with haste into the Judean hillside, into the country, to her relative Elizabeth, who in her old-age had also received a visitation from the Lord – Elizabeth who six months pregnant was destined to be the mother of John the Baptist.
Mary went – a young girl, barely a woman -- to Elizabeth, an elder, a mentor, a wise woman. She faced not the burden alone, but in the company of this holy mother who was herself a vehicle of God’s grace. And there she stayed for some time, sharing her both her fears and her dreams with the one, who in a remarkable way, could understand her sacred calling. For when she saw Elizabeth the words from the elder woman’s mouth were not words of judgment, nor words of condemnation, but words of blessing. Even within her own womb, the baby leapt for joy. Elizabeth, who had also been touched by God, greeted the one who others may have shunned, with reverence, respect and admiration: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” and she wondered aloud, “why has it happened that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”
And so Elizabeth’s son likewise wondered aloud many years later, when the same Lord approached him on the banks of the Jordan river and asked him for baptism. Like his mother he evinced his own unworthiness, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal – it is he who should be baptizing me.” And yet, the timeless son of God was baptized by John. He came to John. He comes to us.
He comes to us again in these latter days – again and again. It shall not matter whether we are rich or poor, of high or low estate. He comes to us – again and again. And it is in our weakness and our brokenness that we meet him and he meets us. He comes to the scared and frightened child in each of us as he came to a trembling adolescent girl in Nazareth. He comes to us in our false pride and vanity, in our fear of shame and judgement as he came to a young man who actually considered abandoning his bride to be. He comes to us in our aged brokenness, in our regret and disappointment about what might have been for our lives if only things had worked out differently, as he came to an old woman whose womb had been barren throughout the decades of her life. He comes to us in our world of darkness, sadness, violence and anger, as he came to a middle-eastern land so long ago, and a people disappointed by failed hopes and foreign domination.
He comes to us today not with words of judgement or condemnation for who we are or what we might have been. He comes to us not with anger or wrath for the mistakes we have made or continue to make. He comes to us not with punishment for the sins in which we inevitably participate. He comes to us with great love, with words of hope, with healing in his wings. He comes to us with these words: Greetings favoured ones. He comes to us with the promise to be born within each one of us, to turn our fear to hope, our sadness to joy, and our sorrow into laughter. He comes to us, to you and me, with the same message that came to Mary and Joseph, and Elizabeth and Zechariah, greetings favoured ones. They were not great and powerful people, but people like you and me – and they were favoured by God; favoured to birth the Christ to a hurting world.
We are favoured, for the Christ has been birthed in each of us, and continues to be born again and again in our hearts with the purpose of transforming not only our lives but transforming the world and bringing hope to a people that walk in darkness. Hide not your light -- that is, his light -- under a bushel, but let it be unto you according to his word, that each of us might sing the words of blessed Mary this Christmastide and always, “My Soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my saviour!”
Copyright 2007, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, without the express, written permission of the author.