St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Advent IV 2017 Sermon
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Corby Varness

Let’s look in on young Mary as she tends to her mending.  It is a glorious spring morning in Nazareth, still cool and fresh.  Mary has rushed through her chores, eager to find time to herself so that she can be alone with her thoughts.  She sits in the light streaming through the window, her bare toes resting on the freshly swept dirt floor.  She picks up her sewing and begins to work.
             
At fourteen, she has just begun her yearlong engagement to Joseph.  She wonders, “What kind of husband will he be, this Joseph?  He seems kind enough and I’m sure that my parents have chosen a good man for me.  I don’t really know him, but I’ve seen him all my life.  Oh, I hope that he wants many children!  I can’t wait to hold a baby of my own!”           
           
With this thought she hears a rustling in the room which is suddenly filled with a strong light.  An angel speaks…  “Hail Mary, full of grace!  The Lord is with you.”  Mary is terrified!        
           
As angels do, he hastens to calm her.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary.  I come to tell you that God is happy with you.  God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.  He will be great, he will be called 'Son of the Highest.'   The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; he will rule Jacob's house forever— no end, ever, to his kingdom."
           
Mary asks the angel, "But how? I've never slept with a man."  The angel smiles at the young girl and answers, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Highest hover over you; Therefore, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God.  One more thing, Mary.  Did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is?  Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."
           
Young Mary is filled with joy and God’s grace.  She stands up on her bare feet and declares, “Yes, I see it all now: Here I am Lord, ready to serve you.  Let it be with me just as you say.”
           
 
This future that the angel has described for Mary will be full of problems, the most immediate of which is that of a virgin suddenly appearing pregnant in her small village.  She can be stoned to death for that alone.  And what will Joseph do?  Will he stand by her?  What will her beloved parents say?   Will they kick her out of the house? 
           
Mary quickly makes her choice.  She knows that nothing is impossible with God.  She stands, on shaking legs and declares, “Here I am Lord.”  I believe that God chose Mary for this greatest of all honors because he knew that she would stand, open and eager to accept his will.
           
What a good choice God made in Mary.  Mary knows that her life is not going to play out according to her daydreams.
God has thrown her a huge curveball and look how she responds.  Mary is a wonderful role model for us here.  Life never, ever goes according to our plans, does it?   Instead of whining and complaining, she stands up and embraces God’s plan!   Mary knows who is really in charge of her life!
           
Barbara Brown Taylor writes that Mary can choose, "whether to say yes to it or no, whether to take hold of the unknown life the angel held out to her or whether to defend herself against it however she could."  We have a similar choice in our own lives, Taylor says: "Like Mary, our choices often boil down to yes or no: yes, I will live this life that is being held out to me or no, I will not; yes, I will explore this unexpected turn of events, or no, I will not."  You can say no to your life, Taylor says, "But you can rest assured that no angels will trouble you ever again."  And, if we say yes to our lives: "You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees.  You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body."
          
 Have you ever heard of a football play called the Hail Mary pass?  When the game is on the line, when things are desperate, the quarterback steps back and throws a long, apparently impossible pass to the receiver.  If it is caught, the game changes.  When Roger Staubach threw this pass the first time, he actually prayed a Hail Mary, hence the name.
           
Perhaps, after centuries of trying to help people mend their ways, God knew it was time to take a desperate risk, time for a long shot, time to attempt an impossible task.  It was time for a Hail Mary play!  God decided to send his very own son down to help us.  The angel Gabriel appeared to a simple girl with a game changing play and said, “Hail Mary!”
           
The angel tells Mary that nothing is impossible with God and she believes him.  Do you believe that?  Do you really believe that?  We are called at Christmas to believe that God sent his only son down to our earth to change things.  This seems to be impossible, but we can choose, like Mary, to believe in God’s power to do the impossible.  We can believe that, with God, all things are possible.
           
I’m going to paraphrase what Meister Eckhart writes: ‘We are all meant to be mothers of God.  What good is it to me to celebrate Christmas if the birth of the divine son does not take place within myself?  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?  That is the mystery of Christmas: The son of God can be born IN us.’
           
Christmas is here.  We can be full of more than Christmas spirit, we can be full of Christ himself.  Like Mary, let us sing out: “Here I am Lord!”   Amen.


 
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