December 23, 2012

December 23, 2012

December 23, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

“Unlikely Pilgrims, Unlikely Places” God Story, Part 16 of 37
Luke 1:26-49

Our journey in the Jesus chapter of the GodStory begins where we might think it should start. . .with the birth of Jesus! And for the next 14 weeks we will walk chronologically with Jesus, from birth to death to resurrection in the gospel of Luke.

Eugene Peterson writes that the gospel of Luke is a gospel for misfits and outsiders. Written by an outsider himself, Luke writes the gospel as a gentile who was awakening to the reality of a God who was welcoming him into a religion that was historically dedicated to Israel….the chosen people.
But as we are learning from the first testament. . . this is a story of grace. . . this is a story where, yes, YHWH has chosen to redeem for himself a people….a people who will be blessed….but the purpose of the blessing is so that they can be a blessing to ALL nations. That ALL peoples might come to know the grace and love of this God who is from everlasting to everlasting…this God who deeply desires to be at peace with creation and the human race. This God who is always stretching the boundaries…. Making his love and redemption known to even the most unlikely pilgrims – –

Unlikely pilgrims, unlikely places. . . that’s where we enter the gospel story today. . .

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee….”
Unlikely pilgrim #1: Elizabeth. If we look back to
the earlier verses of chapter 1, we read of the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. God has been silent for 500 years. The people of God have been waiting for the promised one….the one who would establish a new kingdom and a new reign that would release God’s people from oppression and enslavement. If it wasn’t the Babylonians, it was the Persians, if it wasn’t the Persians it was the Greeks, if it wasn’t the Greeks it was the Romans. . . and here in the gospel of Luke, God’s people are under the oppression of Roman Rule, under the dictatorship of Herod….heavy-hearted but trying to be hopeful for a new way, waiting for a promise to be fulfilled….

And it’s Elizabeth who gets the first glimpses of this new promise! Aging Elizabeth, probably in her 60’s or 70’s whose husband has an “Isaiah encounter” in the temple and is told that his prayers are answered….his wife will bear a son, and he will be named John, and his destiny will be all about “making ready a people prepared for the Lord” (see Luke 1:17). [anyone out there in their 60’s who would be surprised by a pregnancy…. Raise your hand! ah ha!]

Elizabeth then leads us to….Unlikely place #1: Nazareth. The hope for all the world will come from Nazareth? ? In our First Testament reading today, we heard the prophet Micah declaring that “out of you (Bethlehem) will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” Nazareth is “nowhere’sville” in terms of Israel culture. It’s not the centre of the action….it’s a po-dunk town 150 km (7 day trek) from anywhere special. It’s like living in…… Picture Butte (I’m a southern Albertan!). It’s a nice town, with nice people (had my first teaching job there!)…but nothing very spectacular or exciting is happening in Picture Butte. If you wanted excitement, entertainment, culture…. You went to Lethbridge! Ha ha.

Back to the storyline….

Unlikely Pilgrim #2: Mary. The angel Gabriel is sent to an unwed, but betrothed teenager. There is nothing special about Mary. Even Elizabeth had a thread of religious connection to a potential YHWH encounter. . . she was married to a priest, albeit a hillbilly priest who lived in the rural hills of Judea! But Mary – – Mary’s really a no-name. We know nothing of Mary’s backstory. She’s betrothed to Joseph who we learn is a descendant of David, but that doesn’t really mean that Mary’s anything special. One quote that I read about Mary put it well: “Mary isn’t graced because she’s special, Mary is special because she’s graced.”

And the “phrase of grace” that jumps out in the section of the story comes from v. 28: Gabriel shouts out: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

Greetings! Favoured one! The Lord is with you!

Isn’t that a message that you would love to hear? ?

We might quickly say yes, but it seems that whenever angels or messengers of God show up in the God story, people get flattened….in that “holy, (whoaaa-lly) I am overwhelmed by the presence of an awesome God” kind of way.

And it’s no different with Mary. She is “much perplexed” and “pondered what sort of greeting this might be” – – which is greek for “What in the HADES is going on here?!”

And so Gabriel quickly follows up with the phrase that God has been saying to his people for thousands of years: “Do not be afraid.”

So slowly lifting her head from the dirt and dust of her little mudbrick apartment. . . Mary echoes the words of Moses/Isaiah….. “Here am I.” She makes herself available to the call and comfort of God. And her life will truly never, ever be the same.

“Let it be with me according to your word.”

Can we dwell in the world of this story for just a moment? ?

2 days from Christmas day. . . in the midst of our fairly ordinary and unspectacular lives. . . can we sense, see, or hear God moving towards us?

God greets us.
God declares his favour and his gladness towards us.
God assures us of companionship.
And God tells us: “Do not fear.”

Can you receive that….and live in the place of God’s love, favour and comfort today? This week? This season?

Perhaps…..and yet, let us not forget that receiving this love, favour and comfort is not meant to come to us solely in isolation.

And that’s why the next movement in today’s story is a story of companionship.

Which brings us to….Unlikely place #2:
In v. 39 we read that Mary “went with haste” to the hill country of Judea to visit her Aunt Elizabeth. This was not a time to be carrying the “son of the most high” by herself. So Mary runs to the hillbilly hills. She’s 3-months pregnant and she makes the 4-5 day journey from Nazareth to the hills.

And as these ordinary women encounter each other, they not only celebrate the joy of their motherhood, but they become prophets! Ordinary, uneducated women speaking prophetically to one another and to the Lord.

Elizabeth cries out (the greek phrasing here is “gets out her megaphone”) and praises God: “Blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

And in these po-dunk hills of Judea, Mary too speaks prophetically and “makes mega” her praises to God in song. She sings:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…. The Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name” (1:46, 49).

Unlikely people. Unlikely places.

Can anything good come from Nazareth?

Can anything good come from the hillbilly hills of Judea?

Can anything good come from. . . FBC Edmonton?

For 4 ½ years I have witnessed miracles in this place. No, we have not become a megachurch. We have not filled this church to the rafters like in the glory days of the 1950’s and started to plant more churches. We have not started a television ministry, with a 1-800 prayer line (though 1 800 322 7729 = 1 800 FBC PRAY !).

But we truly have been greeted by the Lord.
And the Lord has shown his favour upon us.
The Lord has displayed his companionship with us.
The Lord has shown us the fruits of being a people who “do not fear.”

And in many ways, we have decided to not be in isolation. . .
we have moved towards each other. . .
we have chosen the way of conversation VS the way of silence;
we have chosen to forgive each other VS harboring resentment;
we have spoken truth in love to each other VS tearing each other apart with words of criticism and cruelty.
And we’ve been hearing from God. . . (see the sheet of responses from last week or think of the people who shared “Seen the Lord” stories during the season of Easter!)
And we’ve been leaning on the grace of God…
And we’ve been learning how to listen to each other’s story’s of faith…
We’ve been cultivating welcome, generosity, reverence for God & one another…
As the book of Isaiah images it (in ch. 2) , we’ve learned to turn swords into plowshares. . .

We ain’t perfect at this. . . there are not halos hovering above our heads.

BUT – –

The mighty one has done great things for us. . . and Holy is his name.

In these final days of Advent, may we continue to be unlikely, ordinary pilgrims, who encounter our living God and experience a change. . . a change of heart, a change of perspective, a change of mind – – and then may we be faithful to this pilgrimage we are on with God – – this redeeming, rebuilding work in the midst of this community of faith. . . and let’s not keep it to ourselves, let’s take the hope, presence, mercy & strength of our “arriving-again”, living Christ into the places where God sends us in these final days of December…

The mighty one has done great things for us, let us do great things for one another…
In the name of the community of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, Amen!