Advent 4, Dec. 20, 2020

From our Gospel reading, these words of Mary: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with
me according to your word.” Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Here is our theme for today: I absolutely love this time of year! First, a question: Who feels this
way? Whose sentiment does this reflect? I would have to say the ladies whom I love most in
this world—from 4 to 50-something years old—would almost certainly say they absolutely love
this time of year. A lot of us would say this, right… even in spite of this COVID mess.

Second question: Who loves Christmas presents? Another rather silly question, I suppose. It
would seem everyone loves to receive gifts, and most people also love to give presents to their
loved ones. But who else would say “I absolutely love this time of year, and I love to give
presents!”? God. But this would have a different kind of meaning. The sending of God’s only
Son on a mission which would begin with a lowly birth to a poor young woman in the humblest
of settings and would end with an excruciating execution followed by a glorious resurrection
was an act of absolute love. This time of the year is about remembering, celebrating, and
responding to that absolute love of God.

So, we might say that God the Father gave the first and by far the most important and wonderful
Christmas present of all… the gift of grace in the Babe born in Bethlehem. And we can also
point to the truth that God continues to love giving presents. While our first thought might be
the many undeserved blessings we receive from our Abba, the greatest ongoing gift we receive
is the presence of Jesus, our “Immanuel… God with us.”

We do well to trust that our Father does indeed desire to bless us with Jesus’ presence, and to
seek to comprehend that reality in increasingly powerful ways. This is the work of another gift,
another presence, of God—His Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit will not do all the work needed
for us to grow in faith and discipleship for us. We must seek the Lord to increasingly experience
His transforming presence. But we cannot do this without the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to
seek our Abba and empowers us to live more and more fully in the way of our Brother, Jesus.

Let’s seek after God right here and right now, and start by pondering the meaning of the story
of the “Visitation of Mary.” There is much here for us to learn.

Contrary to what some have believed for a long time, there truly was nothing extraordinary about
Mary, no super status or superior qualities which made her the perfect choice. Yes, I know,
Christians have for a long time tried to make heroes of the characters of the Bible, like Mary.
But the truth is, there is only one Hero revealed in the Scriptures, and that is God. Every other
person who played a role in the story was just like you and me, some strengths and some
weaknesses, some talents and some deficiencies, some faith and some doubt.

It was not Mary’s qualities which moved God to choose her as the “favored one” who would
serve as the vessel through whom Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, entered this world. It was grace.
Always has been, and always will be. As the contemporary song goes, God uses broken things.
What is remarkable about Mary is how she ultimately responded to God’s extraordinary calling.

Mary’s first reaction to the visitation by what we can only assume was an overwhelmingly
magnificent creature was one of perplexity and fear. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with
you.” Mary may have been perplexed by the idea of her, of all people, being visited by an
angel, or by the greeting, “favored one!” “Who? Me?” The young girl, probably in her teens,
likely did not feel significant enough to be called favored one!

The angel first calmed Mary’s fears, speaking words which the Lord had spoken to His people
throughout the ages through other angelic beings, as well as through some of His prophets,
words Jesus would say repeatedly following His resurrection from the dead: “Fear not!” But
her perplexity only increased when Gabriel told her of God’s plan: “you will conceive in your
womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Mary’s response shows her increasing
confusion: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

It might seem that Mary’s eventual acceptance of the message was quite remarkable. And yet
one might also conclude that a message delivered in such a way would be hard to refute. If the
Lord were to speak to you or me in such a way, I’m guessing we would come around to trust the
message and respond, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

The truth is, God is calling us to accept the same honor as Mary. God is calling out to you and
to me this morning to carry on the mission began by Mary-- the wonderful honor of bringing
Jesus into the world. Hear Gabriel’s words spoken to you: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is
with you.” And contemplate whether you might make the same reply, “Here am I, the servant of
the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Such a response will change our lives.

Like Mary, you might wonder how you could possibly be called “favored one.” You might be
burdened with guilt or shame, or might see yourself as nothing special, with no great talents or
abilities to offer. Some might think themselves to be too young, or others too old. But make no
mistake about it—you are a favored one, a beloved child of God by grace. You are gifted… each
and every one of us is uniquely gifted by God and called to serve as vessels through whom Jesus
comes into this world as the darkness-piercing, sin-erasing, life-giving, gift of God’s presence.

Again, we must remember that the gift of faith and the gift of the transforming presence of
Jesus in our hearts and lives takes place through the coming upon us of the Holy Spirit. In this
way faith and the presence of Jesus are conceived within us, empowering us to bear the light of
Jesus Christ into this dark world. We do not trust in our own strengths or worthiness, but only
in the infinite power of our God, remembering the words of Gabriel: “ For nothing will be
impossible with God.”

This deeply broken and wounded world, where darkness seems to be increasingly pervasive, is
not beyond God’s salvation. As beloved children of God, we have a calling of the highest
honor—the calling to be bearers of the Light. May the Lord work through us to bring the gift of
His presence to others during these strange and difficult times.

We pray: “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be
born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide
with us, Our Lord Immanuel.” Amen.

  January 2021  
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