4th Sunday of Advent (Year B)
20th December 2020
St. Anselm’s Church – Sudbury, MA
This Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, our worship draws us into the final stretch! Like the last week of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus, we are asked to slow down and wait for the miracle we long for, to stay still, to remain in the moment. Try not to let the busyness of the season overwhelm you; your job is to watch and pray and wait – just as that is the job of any mother about to give birth.
The readings we are about to hear deal with being from a place and family and having a name — the markers of who we are and to whom we belong. Jesus was of a place and a people, part of a family tree. So God bursts into the ordinary genealogy of human life and makes it holy. Do you believe Christ is likewise now about to be born into your family, and home and community to make it holy? Let us ask for God’s mercy to help us expect and welcome the Christ child.
Lord Jesus, you gather the nations into the peace of God’s kingdom.
Lord have mercy…
Lord Jesus, you come to us in Word and Sacrament to strengthen us in holiness.
Christ have mercy…
Lord Jesus, you will come in glory with salvation for your People.
Lord have mercy…
“For nothing will be impossible for God.”
We hear people quote that angelic phrase, but I wonder how much we believe it on a day to day basis? A virgin birth, a child for a couple that couldn’t have children, a healing of an illness, a reconciliation of a fraught relationship, overcoming a serious addiction — these are the impossible things God is said to do. You may have your own memories of the impossible becoming possible with God.
These kinds of things usually come after some great surrender – an acknowledgement that one does not have the power inside of oneself to make it all right. Anyone familiar with twelve step recovery programs knows that admitting one’s own powerlessness over their addiction is the turning point that invites the help of others and the power of God to enter the picture. Then things can change.
Mary, not quite knowing what all this was about or how it could come to be that she would conceive, trusted what she did know: that her encounter with the Angel and the message from God was real, and that God was greater than she. “May it be done to me according to your Word.” She surrendered her own judgment and wisdom to God’s.
It helped that what the angel promised was something very good and HOPEFUL, that Mary’s life and that of her people would somehow be changed and improved forever….
“You will bear a son…he will be great and be called Son of the Most High…he will rule…and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
While she could not have had a clear sense of what this meant, she did know it was full of hope!
The irony about hope is that it’s sometimes easier to have hope when your life is actually more precarious, when you’re in touch with your vulnerability, humility and what you lack. When you feel you have everything to gain, and not much to lose. Maybe this year with the pandemic and much suffering in the world, we have cause for greater hope because we have seen loss and know what we need and want from the depth of our being.
I recall a couple years ago going to a performance at the San Francisco Symphony of Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah. It’s a stirring oratorio about the prophesy, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The text is all taken from the bible. After the performance I walked to the train station—umbrella in hand, as it was pouring rain. As I found myself quietly meditating on the stirring words, I walked past dozens of homeless men and women, huddling in doorways and under awnings, setting up for the night, drying out their clothes, bandaging their feet. Some were huddling with friends, for company and no doubt also safety. An Aria I had just heard played in my mind: “He was despised and rejected by humankind, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:1).
Under the portico of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium a couple in their 50s stood out to me. They wore ragged clothes and were even sickly by appearance, but they danced to Motown tunes of the 1960s playing on a battery-operated cassette player. Their life-worn faces bore smiles of great warmth, piercing the cold and wet of yet another night on the street. I thought, how could I ever smile and dance if I were in their situation?!
On the margins, in the middle of fear and vulnerability, I saw hope – I saw God’s grace alive in people. Our God comes to lift up, to renew, and maybe to call hearts of passersby like me to pay mind to these “despised & rejected” of our society, to take seriously the injustices and indignities that afflict them. To see them as images of the One for whom we wait to celebrate this Christmas, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, Emmanuel – God with us.
How do we become vessels of God’s hope? More than vessels, how can we become channels of God’s hope that transforms the world?
King David, whom we hear about in the second book of Samuel, was a character that knew his powerlessness before God. He had really messed up many times. He was a big sinner. But he also knew how much he was loved by God. He had surrendered, and God had been generous and forgiving. Thus we find him in today’s reading rejoicing in all that God had done. He’s grateful and is moved to want to make a return to God – to build a temple to honor the Lord.
God reminds David that it’s not really what he can build that will honor God. God will be honored through what God has done – protecting David and his people, giving them safety and land, allowing them to prosper, as well as a future of promise down through the generations that David himself will not live to see. This humbles him again, as we all sometimes need, to know that our hope has to be in God and not in the work of our own hands.
God’s promise is earthy – a family tree, blessing through the generations, what it takes to thrive. That’s God’s wish and desire. It’s also what David and his people hoped for! It’s what Mary, Joseph and their people hoped for. It’s what we too hope for – as their spiritual descendants.
It’s also primarily God’s own work, and it’s our job to trust in it, to make room for it, and not let our egos get the better of us.
We’ve got to surrender! As David did in acknowledging his sins, or Mary in acknowledging that God’s plan was beyond her understanding, or people like you and me who place in God’s hands our own healing from addiction, or a relationship that needs mending.
And we’ve got to HOPE, like the homeless couple dancing in the rain to an ancient cassette tape. The King of Glory comes, he comes to rule the World, he loves us beyond all telling.
In quiet and waiting, this week let’s be attentive, make room, let Christ be born — in our humble and not-perfect lives, families, and society – to love us into newness and redemption.