December 24: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for December 24, 2023 was preached in response to Luke 1:26-38 based on the manuscript below.

“Let it be with me according to your word.”
“Let it be with me according to your word.”
Our passages today
serve as nice bridge
between the early advent readings
about the end of the world
and what we’ll hear tonight and tomorrow
about Jesus’ birth.
David wants to build God a house,
so that God’s presence
has somewhere nice and permanent to stay.
God has objections to this
but we don’t hear those specifics tonight.
Rather, however,
God promises that David himself will create a house.
From this House of David,
the Messiah will be born.
The lectionary is getting us ready
for Jesus’ birth narrative
as we jump from Mark to Luke to John
over last week, to this, to next.

This morning we hear the angel coming to Mary
letting her know that God has chosen her
if she’s willing to accept it.
Mary, a normal girl,
living in the country,
has been chosen
to bring life into the world,
Not only will Mary
bring Jesus’ life into the world
through his birth
Mary brings life itself
to the world.
God promises David that he will have a house,
a lineage,
and that the savior of Israel
will be born through it.
Joseph is a descendent of David
and of the house of David.
Despite Joseph not playing a biological role
in Jesus’ conception and birth
still the savior of creation
is born into his house.
Born into the lineage of David
born to live in Joseph’s house
a house we can assume is full of love
from an adoptive father.

There are some complications
with Jesus’ potentially being born
with Mary and Joseph betrothed
but not married.
The angel assures Mary
that her sister –
who has been considered barren –
is six months pregnant herself.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Hearing that God has a plan for Mary
for Jesus to come into the world
for the Son of God to be born
and to bring life to the world,
Mary says yes to God.
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
Nothing is impossible with God
who chooses the lowly to accomplish God’s mission
and who casts down the mighty from their thrones
rejecting the existence of those human thrones
when choosing to come into the world.

Last week we prayed together
what God is doing in Jesus’ coming into the world
how God’s elevation of the lowly
is part of God carrying out God’s mission
for the reconciliation of all things.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Mary’s song,
sung just after today’s passage from Luke,
is no more a to do list for us
than are the Beatitudes.
I hope we find inspiration
in the work God is doing and has done
through God’s work in Jesus
but in the best of Advent themes
Mary’s song lives in
the already-not yet.

The work God has accomplished in Jesus
is work to which we are joined
when we’re baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection
and given the gift of the Spirit.
The work Mary elevates in the Magnificat
is a song of longing and hope.
It’s gratitude for what God has done and is doing.
It’s longing and hoping
for the day when that work is completed
and all things are restored
to right relationship.
“For nothing will be impossible with God”
is important for us to hear as we go into a year
that is right now about $66,000 short
between ideal budget
and pledges.
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word,”
is what the Bishop’s Committee is going to be praying
at a special retreat on Epiphany
when we plan next year’s budget
and managing coverage and priorities
for my going on Sabbatical.

Looking at the work God has done in Jesus
doesn’t mean we live in fantasy lands
and ignore the shortcomings of the world around us.
The hope we know in Advent,
the hope of the Magnificat
the hope of the Resurrection,
is one that longs for God to accomplish God’s plans
and give us Bread for the journey
for our parts too.
So, yes, our budget right now
is $66,000 short.
We’ll adjust our sails on that.
And we got $50,000 pledged for our three-year
New Wineskins Capital Campaign.
We were only aiming for $35,000!
A significant number of pledges have gone up,
and for that I am immediately grateful.
The people represented in our pledges
when we move from pledge units
to people represented by pledges
is 20 more than our average Sunday attendance.

The shortcomings of the world around us
are not your shortcomings
individually or personally.
They’re opportunities for us
to take the Good News of Jesus
and the hope of Mary and Advent
to the longing and hurting
the hungry and humble
and assure them this isn’t the end
this isn’t the way it always will be.
As we wind down the season of advent
the season of beginnings
and wind down 2023
I have hope –
and know that we have discernment to do.
We haven’t been called
to carry Jesus to term and give birth.
We’re discerning our calls
for being Jesus’ body in the world.
I have hope.
“Let it be with me according to your word.”

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