December 20th: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The text for the day was Luke 1.26-38. The sermon was based on the below manuscript .

In today’s gospel text,
Mary gets some surprise news.
An angel,
a terrifying being of power,
greets her by telling her
to ignore her natural instincts:
don’t be afraid!
Gabriel continues,
“God has chosen you!
You’re going to have a baby!”
Mary has been betrothed to Joseph —
having probably no say in that.
Now she’s been told
she’s been chosen to have a baby…
before she gets married.

Mary wants to know how it’s going to happen,
how the impossible
will be made possible.
As Justo L Gonzalez notes,
“Her question is not only an expression of amazement
at what would seem impossible.
It is also a word of alarm and perhaps also of protest.”
Though perhaps not documented in the same way,
societal attitudes about “unwed mothers”
haven’t changed a lot in two millennia,
particularly when it comes to stigma
and treatment from others.
Gonzalez continues his observation,
“This is the beginning
of a story of pain and humiliation
that will lead to her son being condemned
to death as a common criminal.”

This is a story that far too many mothers know today.
Whether they’re wed or not,
they find themselves and their sons
victims of the school to prison pipeline.
They’re victims of systems
that we’re all caught up in,
whether we’re active or passive participants.
These systems are the water in which we swim,
and for some of us comfortable sweaters
that unravel as soon as we start to pull the thread.
If we’re not actually resisting,
we carry this burden
and the guilt that goes with it.
This is our fallen nature,
a nature we see at work
in those who value alleged freedoms
over community health.

Our collective fallen, sinful nature —
honed, refined, and distilled in elected leadership —
is why we haven’t been able to have Eucharist since March.
300,000 dead and some churches
are inviting massive crowds to gather on Christmas Eve.
300,000 dead,
and the incumbent president
refuses to acknowledge defeat
and has advisors toying with the idea
of imposing martial law.
I’m tired of updating the death toll in my sermons,
but that is the world in which we live.
I miss standing at the altar,
presiding at the table,
looking into your eyes,
and assuring you of Jesus’ presence here and now.
That is a sacrifice we are making
as Jesus’ disciples,
loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Gabriel’s message
(and this text)
don’t stop with Gabriel’s greeting
or Mary’s stopsign question.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be holy;
he will be called Son of God.”
Mary is about to face
a world of an uphill battle.
Even getting married later,
people will remember that Jesus was conceived
before the wedding.
Gabriel adds assurances
that Mary’s relative Elizabeth —
for whom childbearing is impossible —
is pregnant too!
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”
For nothing will be impossible with God.
Mary cries out,
like Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah —
prophets before her —
“Here am I,
the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”

Despite the sinfulness of humanity,
God has chosen to come among us
in Jesus:
born of the Virgin Mary,
fully God and fully human.
Just after this text
Mary visits Elizabeth,
and in utero John the Baptizer leaps for joy
greeting Jesus,
God’s anointed one,
the messiah,
the christ.
Then Mary like prophets before her sings
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”
“Here am I,
the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”

Last week I reminded us
that Advent waiting
isn’t a countdown to Christmas.
Advent grounds us
in God’s cosmic reality,
the reality in which
we are puffs of wind
or like grass that fades.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
the God to whom Moses, Isaiah, Samuel, and Mary say
“Here I am Lord!”
is eternal.
The waiting of Advent
is one of faithful hope,
waiting to see God’s work in Jesus
where the powerful are brought down from their thrones,
and lowly are lifted up;
where the hungry are filled with good things,
and the rich are sent away empty.

Advent grounding us in God’s cosmic justice,
lets us know that 300,000 dead is unacceptable —
and those who are to blame
will not escape justice,
even if we don’t live to see it.
It’s in faithful hope
that you’ve gathered over the last month
beginning our communal work of anti-racist work.
God’s cosmic justice,
Mary’s song about God’s work in Jesus
lets us know that the school to prison pipeline
is not eternal.
God is.
It’s in faithful hope
that through the course of this Advent
you’ve pledged for our work together next year.

As we move into new seasons:
a Biden administration,
God will continue to call us
to wait for and hasten God’s reign,
as we heard in Second Peter
two weeks ago.
In all the cares and occupations of this world,
knowing that all things —
including our strengths —
come from God
and to God to we give
may we answer
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”

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