“With All of Our Hearts”
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014
Richmond Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
Prayer: Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.
In this season of watching and waiting, we have come to the fourth and final Sunday of Advent – the day of Love. We are approaching Christmas, it’s only 4 days away now.
This sense of anticipation is echoed in our story from the Gospel of Luke.
Two unlikely characters -
Mary, who is very young; and Elizabeth, who is long past child bearing age, both learn that they are pregnant.
Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell this story and he does it so beautifully and shows us the connections between John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus.
There are so many parallels – the angel Gabriel visits Simeon in the temple to share the Good News that his wife Elizabeth will conceive and the Angel Gabriel also announces the news to Mary.
There are some great lines from this story.
In verse 29, it says Mary was much perplexed by his (Gabriel’s) words, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
But the Angel Gabriel’s words are meant to reassure her. Gabriel exclaims, “nothing is impossible with God.” Gabriel further elaborates Elizabeth, who was barren, is now six months pregnant with John. Nothing is impossible with God!
Can you imagine what it would have been like to be in Mary’s position? Unmarried and yet finding herself pregnant. She was at real risk to be pushed to the margins of society.
The fact that Mary responds to the angel Gabriel with a positive affirmation “Here I am, a servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”
Instead of “Ahhh, Not me, NOOOOOO! Or, even, “I don’t believe it” like Simeon responded, is incredible.
Mary was a very courageous woman in a very vulnerable situation who took the Angel’s words to heart, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Before Mary became venerated as “The Virgin Mary” or depicted by artists as “Mary the Mother of God” – she was just Mary, a humble, faithful brave young woman. The poet Ann Weems captures the spirit of Mary in her poem Mary, Nazareth Girl. Weems writes:
Mary, Nazareth girl:
What did you know of ethereal beings
With messages from God?
What did you know of men when you found yourself with child?
What did you know of babies, You, barely out of childhood yourself?
God-chosen girl: What did you know of God that brought you to this stable
Blessed among women?
Could it be that you had been ready
For the footsteps
Of an angel?
Could it be there are messages for us if we have the faith to listen?
Could it be there are messages for us too if we have faith to listen?
Friends, I will be the first to tell you that I’ve been kind of distracted this Advent by the violence that I continue to read about and hear about in the news. My heart breaks over and over again at the continued and heightened racial tensions after the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York City, the report released by Congress about the CIA’s intelligence gathering practices and human torture, school shootings in Peshawar Pakistan, and a threat called into my own high school in Maine on Thursday that caused the police to evacuate the building. Last week was also the second anniversary of Sandy Hook. My cousin was a 4th grader at Sandy Hook Elementary. She was there in the school during the shooting, and her family still lives up the street from shooter’s house. Even with the horrible tragedy in Sandy Hook, there have been 96 school shootings in America since then - an average of one a week.
This level of violence is not what God intends for our world. And it can make us feel kind of powerless, kind of numb, kind of stuck – wondering if and how to respond.
Yet Weems words echo too - Could it be there are messages for us if we have faith to listen?
On this fourth Sunday of Advent we light the candle of love and we remember that God comes to us at Christmas and that ordinary vulnerable people, people like Mary and Elizabeth, were chosen to help prepare the way for the Christ Child to come into the world.
God is born anew in our hearts at the time of the year when we need the reminder the most – when the nights are the longest and the daylight is the shortest in our hemisphere.
Love comes down and Love is born among us.
Could it be that this might be the message for us too if, like Mary, we have faith to listen to all that is unfolding around us?
If we have faith to see beyond the wreaths and the tinsel and the gifts, and the clean, happy baby wrapped in swaddling clothes surrounded by well behaved animals and remember the grit that really gives this story its substance and meaning.
Jesus comes to us on Christmas as baby, a vulnerable wrinkled baby.
He doesn’t look like the Gerber baby.
And he’s born to a young mother, who had to give birth in a smelly stable with cattle and hay and poop, no midwife, no hospital bed or clean sheets. This was not a place fit to give birth – it was a vulnerable place.
We call him Emmanuel – God with us –
God came and chose vulnerability.
God chose to be with us. God didn’t have to do that. But God did.
In this season of Advent, we are preparing for the baby, for the real, vulnerable infant.
And he needs our help, he needs us to help to prepare the way for his coming, to proclaim the Good News to the world that in spite of whatever muck and mess and violence is happening, God choose to be with us and continues to be with us.
In this Advent season may we, like Mary, be open to experience God’s gift of love which will soon be born again to us this year.
When Mary sings her Magnificat, her song of praise a few verses after this passage, she proclaims “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
As I said in the children’s message, we all are called to be Magnifiers, “people who bring God’s love into close focus for others.” (Stan Purdum pg 33)
Friends, this Advent season, in this deep midwinter, when frosty winds make moan and earth stands hard as iron,
let us be Magnifiers,
Let us have ears open to listen for the messages of the angels and the cries of a newborn babe,
Eyes open to see God’s light which shines brightly even in the depths of night,
Hearts open to feel the Love that is stronger than all of the violence in the world,
and Mouths open to proclaim God’s hope, love, joy, and peace.