2016-12-18 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Luke 1 Sermon
Well I hope you think it’s been as fun as a journey as it has been for us preachers!
We’ve time-travelled through thousands of years of the Biblical story this Fall…
Back in the balmy days of September we started with the creation story…and went through the rebellion story of “Adam” the dust man and his partner Eve and then got caught up with the story of one man…and one family…destined to be a blessing from God for all of creation…(Abram)…
“I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of earth shall be blessed!” (Gen. 12:2)
And so the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did his work in the world…and invited (and urged!) Israel to join in…I will bless you…to be a blessing…follow me!
And Israel did a great…and gruesome job of it all…and time after time…through the story of JOSEPH…DAVID…ELIJAH…JONAH…ISAIAH…JEREMIAH…
Faithful ~ faithless ~ courageous ~ flawed ~ downright evil!
But time after time…God says: [I’ll be the hero!]
I will do this work…I’ve got this covered! Follow me…serve me…be a blessing…
And then things went strangely silent for 500 years…God’s people awaiting a way for the promise to move forward in the midst of desolation, destruction, hardship and oppression….
The Babylonians, the Seleucids, the Assyrians, the Greeks…the Romans…
Today we find ourselves entering the world of the second testament…it’s 3 CE and God’s people are under the thumb of Herod, one of the most powerful kings of the centuries. He owns the land, he rules the economy, he brokers deals, he keeps all the religions happy…and the people Israel are simply another pawn in his mega game of “I rule the earth” checkers. King me!
But God’s promise will not be thwarted. Because God, the protagonist of the GodStory, is on the move!
In a tiny village of 1500 people, in the shadow of the Empire, God is at work, readying to change the world.
In the 6th month of her cousin’s (Elizabeth) pregnancy, God sends the angel Gabriel to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph.
“Mary! Greetings Favoured one! The Lord is with you!”
[ Pause….the fate of the world (promise) in the hands of teenagers!?! Hmm. ]
Imagine Mary…a 15 year old girl, in a small mud-thatched home, grinding grain into flour or pushing sopping clothes across a 1st C washboard… she’s betrothed to a young 20-something man named Joseph but this is no fairy tale romance.
Sweating, lost in thought…she hears the angel’s declaration and is literally knocked off her stool!
“Who are you! What do you speak of!?”
“DO NOT BE AFRAID…Mary, for you have found FAVOUR with God…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus…HE WILL be great, and will be called 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.”
– – Son of the most high? King David? The house of Jacob and Israel? A never-ending kingdom?
“How can this be?” Mary is baffled.
“Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel promises.
Mary ponders in her heart this mind-blowing message that is prevailing upon her… she senses peace in the midst of her present calamity…and thinks back to her ancient ancestors…Samuel – – Moses – – Isaiah…
Shaking in her boots (sandals!), she echoes their words:
“Here am I…the servant of the Lord.”
In a flash of light, the angel disappears.
– – In those days Mary set out and went with haste to the Judean hills…seeking the solace and wisdom of her dear old mentor (and cousin) Elizabeth.
Mary recounts the story of the angel to Elizabeth and Elizabeth is moved.
…in fact, she is launched over the moon!
She hears Mary’s news and her child in her own womb leaps for joy.
Filled with the Holy Spirit she exclaims:
“Blessed are you…and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Mary’s eyes and heart are opened…she bursts into song & gushes with a prophetic word for herself and all the nations…
“The Mighty one has done great things for me!
…His mercy is for me and for all
…he scatters the proud
…he brings down the powerful
…he lifts up the lowly
…he fills the hungry with good things
…he sends the rich away empty
…he helps Israel, the people of God
…his mercy endures forever!
* * * * * * *
For the last fews weeks, we have talked of Advent…the arrival of God in our midst in the person and presence of Jesus…
Jesus comes to us in history, mystery, and majesty.
And in today’s story, Jesus calls Mary…and all who would follow him… Favoured ones.
Are you ready for this kind of arrival and declaration?
Because, yes, the good news is that God comes to us, abides with us, and calls us Favoured ones…but…like Mary, this is not a happily ever after story in the Disney sense of the word.
It’s full of risk, danger and unknowns.
And that is the adventure of advent. It’s not all about getting sucked into the 3-month vortex of consumerism and putting all our hopes/dreams/expectations into a Christmas stocking…it’s about the yearly rhythm of arrival…of house-cleaning…repentance and reflection…
And don’t be too downcast about it…because cleansing, repentance and reflection always (often) lead to new life…being born in us…for the good of ourselves…and the good of the world!
Let’s tune up our voices alongside Mary and sing!
– – God, my Saviour, has looked with favour…
The Mighty one has done great things for ME!
But it doesn’t stop there…thanks be to God…because as we have seen over the past few months that God’s blessings aren’t meant to be bottled up and kept to ourselves.
We often talk about this as the journey inward / journey outward movements of the God-life being formed in us so that we can be a blessing.
The Mighty one has done great things for ME! Yes…but the proclamation and outward-working “way” of God in the world quickly follows in the ongoing stanzas of Mary’s song…
HIS MERCY flows from generation to generation;
God’s strength scatters the proud;
God brings down the powerful from their thrones;
GOD LIFTS UP the lowly;
GOD FILLS the hungry with good things;
God sends the rich away empty.
GOD HELPS…because his mercy endures forever.
* * * * * *
We worship today, in this place…a mere 7-days away from the Christmas explosion of fun, festivity, and frolic.
But might we also pause…
And ponder in our hearts, what God is up to?
The good news is that God calls each of us favoured ones…we’ve seen that story after story in our romp through the Bible over the past several weeks.
We are favoured. We are chosen. We are the apple of God’s eye! (Ps. 17). Beloved. Cherished.
But Advent, and God’s arrival, also remind us that when God comes to town, he (thankfully?) is turning things upside-down and wreaking a disruptive havoc in our lives & the world around us.
When God comes to us and overwhelms us by the Holy Spirit, stuff happens.
But destruction! God scatters pride and proud thoughts, God tears down systems of control, oppression and injustices. God seeks to destroy the haughty and high places of our hearts.
But desolation! God send the rich away empty-handed. When we think we can buy our way into pleasure, happiness or favour because of our riches, God warns us that it is the way of death and disappointment.
So how might we, as the new people of God, live in these final days of Advent?
An image for advent that has stuck with me this week comes from Barbara Brown Taylor who writes that one of the thrilling and dangerous activities of advent is to “smuggle God into the world inside your own body.”
She then enlarges & enlivens this image by quoting the 12th C german monk/christian mystic Meister Eckhart who said:
“We are all meant to be mothers of God.
What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself?
And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace?
What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?
This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”
~Meister Eckhart, 1260-1328, German Dominican monk
I want to take 2 phrases here and make them more corporate…for US:
What good is it to US if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within US?
And, what good is it to US if Mary is full of grace, if WE are not also full of grace?
[Time for reflection…other helpful reflection q’s might be…]
-Take time to make space for Christ’s birth
-Give God a face, a voice, in the world around us
-Nurture the precious life and love of God within us…watch it overflow
-Create spaces where peace and justice will continue to grow & thrive
-Inspire each other to hopeful, creative and generous lives in the face of the challenges and peril of the world