Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon, 4 Advent, Luke 1:39-55

Advent has a theme of hopeful expectation, or of active waiting.  The expectation comes in the form of expecting the birth of a baby who, we believe, will be the Savior of the world.  The hope is that this Savior will lead us to a kingdom of peace and justice.

And we wait.  As the world begins prepping for Christmas shortly after Halloween, as Christmas parties help push us toward Christmas festivities, and as more and more Christmas music begins playing in stores and on radios, we wait.  We slow down and appreciate this time of preparation.  We hear the stories of John the Baptist and the Annunciation.  We don’t wait idly, but we wait actively.  We prepare for Christmas not as the end of the season, as the culmination of all our preparing, but as the beginning.

Just like we spend days preparing for a journey, actively waiting for the day of departure, we prepare and actively wait for the day of Christmas; because Christmas is where the story starts, not where it ends.

Within the larger theme of active waiting are four sub-themes that show up on each of the four Sundays of Advent.  Those sub-themes are:  be alert, prepare the way, rejoice, and proclaim the greatness of the Lord.

On the first Sunday of Advent we heard the parable of the fig tree:  when you see it sprout leaves, you know the kingdom of God is near.  Don’t be confused or impressed by signs and events that some people misuse to predict the coming of God.  Instead, look at the trees and know that when they sprout leaves the kingdom of God is near.  Be alert, because the kingdom of God is near to us right here and right now.

The second and third Sunday of Advent gave us John the Baptist.  Over these two Sundays he is telling us how to prepare the way of the Lord and giving us reason to rejoice in the Lord.  Raise the valleys, lower the mountains and make his path straight.  Rejoice in loving your neighbor and in the fact that God is working to bring all people into his household.

Today we are focused on Mary.  We hear the story of the Annunciation, her willingness to be used by God as called, her belief that God would fulfill his promises, and her song sung in response to God’s call.  Mary believed, and this belief allowed her to magnify the Lord; or, put another way, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord.  Her faith allowed her to bear the Living Word of God, to nurture that Word, and to eventually turn that Word loose on the world.

Be alert, prepare the way, rejoice in the Lord, and proclaim the greatness of the Lord – four sub-themes of Advent as we actively wait.  But this year those themes seem to have been derailed.  In the middle of our preparation and rejoicing, 20 children and 8 adults were killed in a very violent and brutal way.

In the aftermath of that event, questions are asked faster than answers can be given.  How can I help?  Why did God let this happen?  Can our country do something to prevent this?  How can I continue to believe in a loving God?  Was this really God’s retribution?  And so many more that I can’t now remember.

I don’t have answers to most of those questions.  But I do know that doubts about the type of God we worship, and answers to God questions, are found in Mary.

Mary lived in dark times.  Her country had been overrun with an invading army.  Criminals and dissidents were crucified, lining the roads like billboards line I-5.  Women were chattel.  The question of, “Where is God,” was probably a topic of the day.  But she believed God would fulfill his promise.  That belief allowed her to conceive God incarnate.  That belief allowed God to live within her.  That belief allowed her to nurture the Living Word of God.  And that belief allowed her to loose God incarnate into the world.

People might say we also live in dark times.  Non-straight, white, males are regularly treated as less-than and unequally.  Women have been killed for speaking their minds, and one Mormon woman has received death threats for her movement to wear pants to church.  In Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago alone, there have been over 1000 homicides, most of them involving guns.  The lack of jobs, healthcare and housing are serious issues.  Wars and rumors of wars abound.  Added to this are gunmen who walk into schools, malls and theaters shooting people at random.  The question of, “Where is God,” is certainly a topic of our day.

Mary, though, can be our example.  In these dark times, are you willing to put your belief and faith in God?  Do you believe God will do what he said he would do?  If so, the answer to the God questions may be less of an answer and more of a Marian act of faith.

In dark times, Mary conceived the Word of God.  In dark times, Mary allowed God to live within her.  She nurtured and cared for that Living Word of God and, when it was time, she sent that Word forth into the world.

St. Ambrose said that, like Mary, we also must allow God to live within us, to nurture and care for the Word of God and, when it is time, loose that Word upon the world.  It is in our believing that our souls conceive and bear the Word of God, declaring his works to the world.

These do seem like dark times.  But tomorrow our Advent preparations will end and we will begin our journey with a child born to a young mother in a back alley box.  Tomorrow we will be reminded of Emmanuel – God is with us.

And that might be the most important thing we can do – remember that God is with us.  God is with us in joy and sorrow, laughter and tears.  This is the answer to the God question – God is with us, conceived in love, nurtured and turned loose on the world.  And if we look to Mary, we will know we aren’t alone.

We seem to live in dark times.  As our Advent preparations come to a close, how will you loose the Living, Loving, Word of God that lives in you upon the world to make it less dark?



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