The rest of a sermon delivered at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Elyria, OH, Sunday December 18th 2011
Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.
Mary was perplexed. She was confused, bewildered, frightened. She was thunderstruck, gobsmacked, utterly flabbergasted. She was troubled. She was shocked. She was amazed.
For all of its beauty, I am not sure that our language is sufficient to sum up in one word the reactions of a young girl who is greeted, out of the blue, by a full-on archangel on a mission from God.
Then, the angel dropped the other shoe.
“Do not be afraid, Mary. You are going to have a baby.”
Miracles can be overwhelming. They can be too much to bear.
Mary was terrified. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid. God loves you. And with God, nothing is impossible.”
But although nothing is impossible for God, God’s miracles are never easy, never cheap.
One of the most marvellous, and one of the most dangerous words that mother Mary ever uttered was “Let it be.”
“Let it be to me as you have said.”
When Mary opened her womb to the child of God, when she undertook to bring him to birth and to raise her son, she took a profound risk.
Being pregnant, especially single and pregnant, could have killed Mary, and it could have killed Jesus before he was ever named.
The work that God calls us to may not be tidy, pretty, or popular. It may not be fit even for polite conversation.
That was the sort of work that Mary was called to.
Because one of the most profound mysteries of the Incarnation of God is that Jesus, the son of God, was born.
God, in Jesus, chose to share in the universal and unique experience of growing in a woman’s womb, being formed by her hopes and fears, sharing in her food and her hunger, in her labor and her love.
And that journey through the darkness became a part of his Incarnation, an experience of humanity so profound that without it none of us ever comes into being. By accepting the dangers of Mary’s womb, he became fully human, a man of the house of David, the hope of the world, the light to the nations.
But we are not comfortable with impossible things. We are shy of the language of miracles. So we try to tame it. We explain away the mystery, make it manageable, prosaic even.
And then again, sometimes, when we do look for a miracle, it just doesn’t happen, at least, not for us.
So we lower our expectations. We call finding a convenient parking space on a busy shopping day a miracle. We look for a miraculous coming together of our politicians to solve a financial deadlock and carry on functioning. We look for lottery windfalls or light snowfalls to provide our Christmas miracles.
And we don’t trust the hope that we do see around us. If the politicians agree, we know it’s only until they hit the next roadblock. Even as we celebrate the end of the war for us in Iraq, we know that we do not leave a country or a region at peace with itself.
The thing is, we forget that it is not just about us. It is not we who perform wonders in the world, but God working in us.
Nothing is impossible for God, but we do not bend God to our will. Rather, God invites us into the life that God sees for us, out of infinite wisdom, infinite love.
When David offers to build God a house, God (gently) corrects him, saying, “You’ve got it backwards. I’m going to build you a house, a legacy; you will not establish my home with you. I have always made my home with you.”
And when Mary says, “How can his be? I’ve done nothing to start a child!” she is told, gently, “It is God ‘s own self that will make this happen. For God, nothing is impossible.”
We cannot provide Peace on Earth. God’s peace passes all our understanding. But we can celebrate with those who safely return or retire from war and support them in their uncertain future. We can offer our prayers and care to the families who are broken by conflict. We can push for peaceful solutions to dangerous situations. We can let God’s powerful peace work through us.
Unlike the Son of God, we cannot feed five thousand men, not counting women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish. But we can enter into Jesus’ attitude of compassion towards the hungry and give what we can to the people around us who have too little to eat, through the food pantry, the two cents program, the hot meals. We can share what we have to bring to the table.
When we teach a child to read, we cannot imagine what wonders we are opening them up to, how God will touch them through story and learning and inspiration in the years to come.
Or what if next Advent, next Christmas, we were to commit as a parish to ask everyone who gives us gifts to donate half instead of what they’d normally spend to help St Andrew’s not only continue but expand its efforts to feed the hungry, to bring healing and hope to the people of Elyria. What wonders would God work with that?
It is God who, as Mary sings, exalts the humble and the lowly, and scatters the proud in the imaginations of their hearts, and maybe we are counted among them. Still, with God’s help, we can keep ourselves occupied finding ways to uphold the dignity of every human being, and to seek and serve Christ in all people.
We ask in our baptismal covenant to be included in God’s work in the world, to participate in the resolutions of the Magnificat, Mary’s proclamation of the agenda of God at work within her own body, as the God Incarnate grows.
For God, nothing is impossible, but God asked for Mary’s consent, assent to the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
We do not bend, coerce, or often even know God’s will. But if we are open to God’s prompting, the reassurance of the Holy Spirit, God’s surprises, we can participate in all that God offers us to share in.
The miracle that we hope for may not be the miracle that we get. The invitation of God may take us by surprise, leave us perplexed, astonished, frightened and flabbergasted.
But if we can hear the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid. God loves you. And with God, nothing is impossible,” who knows what God might work in and through you?