Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve sermon--Final

This is pretty much what I will be preaching this afternoon. It's in manuscript form and I'll be turning it into an outline, but here it is. Thanks to RevGalBlogPals for encouragement and goodies along the way!

Luke 1

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! "But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? "For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.

And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,

As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever."

Will you pray with me? God of light, God of love, give us grace to open our hearts to receive you. May our spirits receive you with joy. Amen.

I don’t have to tell you, of course, that today is Christmas Eve. But actually, we’re not celebrating Christmas Eve this afternoon—that will come tonight at the 11 pm service. That’s because today is also the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we celebrate that first, this afternoon—and then Christmas Eve in the evening.

You see, just like in our scripture reading, Jesus isn’t here yet! Mary is praising God and reminding us of all the things God will do—God will do, soon. But not yet. Not yet. Mary is still journeying this afternoon, still on her way to that stable, and the star and the shepherds and the angels.

And I have to wonder—what is she thinking, this young first time mother, as she and her husband Joseph search for a place to rest, and as she prepares to bear her baby? What is going through her mind? Is she worried? Frightened? Excited? Curious? Or is she just tired and uncomfortable, and hoping they will find a place to spend the night soon?

I know what I was feeling, eighteen years ago, when I was expecting my son. Like Mary, I had never had a baby before. Like Mary, I did not know what to expect. For those of you who are not parents, let me tell you that this can be very scary. I didn’t know what it would be like to have a baby—what kind of pain there would be, how I would feel about actually being a mother, once the baby was born, how it would all happen. I took a childbirth class, I talked to my mother, my sisters, my friends, to see what their experiences had been. It will come as no surprise to most of you that I read books, too—about being pregnant, about childbirth, about taking care of a baby. I just didn’t know what to expect. And in many ways, those last few days were the worst. I was uncomfortable—you trying walking around with a beach ball attached to your stomach—I was thinking way too much about what might happen, and I was excited about the baby’s arrival, all at the same time.

I suspect Mary, too, felt some of those things. She probably talked to her mother or her aunts, or the other women in the village about what it was like—and they probably gave her lots of advice, only about half of it really useful, just like the advice I got. And she probably felt some other things that I didn’t have to worry about. Childbirth was a lot more dangerous in those days—many women died bearing children. She and Joseph may not have been financially very secure—Ben’s father and I had good jobs and health insurance, a house, two cars. So Mary was, maybe, more scared than I was. She may have wondered if she could take care of a baby. And then, she knew who this child was that she carried—she knew this was the child of God. I wonder if that made it easier for her or more difficult, to know that she was carrying God’s own child in her body? I wonder what was going through her mind as she waited.

We’re waiting too, aren’t we? Waiting with Mary, for the birth, for the arrival of the Child of God, now at Christmas and then sometime, when we don’t know, at the end of all times. We don’t know what those end-times will be like—we wonder, we make up stories, we talk about it with each other. Some of us think it will happen one way—like the “Left Behind” series of books; and some of us another way. There are so many interpretations and predictions. But, just like the first time that Jesus arrived on earth at Christmas, his return is going to be unpredictable, too. He tells us so—that no one knows the day or hour, only God. As I said a couple of weeks ago, God keeps promises, but loves surprises.

How will we know? What will it look like, when Jesus comes back? Will it be frightening or glorious? Will it be exciting or dangerous or very, very quiet?

God’s given us some clues, I think, in Mary’s song. The traditional name for this song that she sings to Elizabeth is the Magnificat, which is the Latin for the first words—“My soul magnifies God.” We heard the traditional translation this afternoon because it is so beautiful and familiar. But many of those words are difficult to understand, and so is the grammar. A very modern translation, from The Message by Eugene Peterson, reads,

“I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Saviour God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.”

Well, the poetry isn’t there, but the meaning surely is!

When we see the world turned upside-down, when the ones who have the least suddenly have the most, when the homeless are given mansions, when the people who are pushed to the margins are made the centre of attention, when the poor become rich and the downtrodden stand upright—then we know God is very near to us. When gay men are elected to Parliament, when lesbians govern universities, when bisexual men and women are heads of law enforcement and the military, when transgendered men and women control huge corporations, then we will know that God is near.

But wait! Some of those things are happening now, aren’t they? Hmmm.

God is coming very close to us—very close. Journalists have the five W’s and an H that they are supposed to cover in their stories—who, why, what, when, where, and how. What do we know? We know the who—the God of all nations—and the why—because God’s love is for all God’s children—but not the rest. We don’t know what it will look like, when it will be, where it will be or how it will look. But we know God’s time is coming.

Like Mary, we’re getting anxious. We’re not sure what it’s going to be like, and we’re a bit nervous. But, again like Mary, we trust God, and say, “As you will it, God.” And we wait. For a baby, and for—what? We don’t know. But God keeps promises, and God loves surprises.

God surprised the world once with a baby. Who knows what God will do next time? But we remember the birth of that baby, of God’s own child, Jesus, the one Mary is waiting for, Emmanuel, God with us.

In the many names of the one creating God who is with us always, amen.


revabi said...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New year.

Thank you for all your input on the Tuesday Lectionary leanings and on other posts and comments.

I hope this is a great year for you.

Barbara said...

Beautiful sermon!
In my mind though, God has already come and can easily be found if one takes the time to look.

Remember the exhortation to hospitality in Hebrews 13:2
"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

It may be child-like but I like to think that God is all around me and can be found not only in the elements of nature but in the people who come into my life.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...