When Advent meets Christmas

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, which is the morning of Christmas Eve, 2017

We talked earlier in Advent about the way in which this season messes with our sense of time – and here, as though to prove it, we have the announcement to Mary of her pregnancy first thing in the morning, and by tonight, the child is born: Jesus Christ, fully formed, fully human, fully divine, God’s Son and our blessed Saviour.

How long, I wonder, did Gabriel wait for an answer? In Luke’s account, it seems so straightforward, except for that moment in which Mary pondered the angel’s greeting. “Pondered” suggests a lengthier process than a short hour of church service can reflect. “Pondered” suggests something weighty, ponderous. And after all, if it were you, confronted by an angel announcing impossibilities from heaven, wouldn’t you want to take at least a moment to make sure that this was not a dream, or a prank, or a lapse into madness?

For Mary, Gabriel has opened a portal, a wormhole, an anomaly through which our history, this moment in which the blessed Incarnation is begun, is fused with eternity. The angel has all the time in the world. The plan – God’s mission of love and mercy – is as old as creation. Since making the human in God’s image, it had been inevitable that God would come close, meet us in the mirror, reconcile that image with God’ own properties of steadfast love and faithfulness.

The angel has all of the time that God has placed at its disposal and it will wait on Mary for as long as she needs to find her voice, and her courage, and her faith, and enter into the story, which will give birth to the gospel we now know, and will hear again tonight.

Now, says Paul, we have that story to tell, at once ancient and always new: one which offers strength and courage: new life, heart; a story that begins here, with an ordinary young woman making the extraordinary choice to trust God with her life, her body and soul, her present, her future, even how they will talk about her past: all of the time in her possession.

We have compressed into one day that which is timeless: God pregnant with possibility, overflowing with love, reaching into our lives to turn the everyday into the eternal, the ordinary into revelation. No wonder we are feeling the pressure of moments flying past!

But God, and Gabriel by delegation, have all the time in the world. It is precisely because of God’s patience, and Gabriel’s timelessness, and Mary’s persistent, ponderous faith that we have such a story to tell, and such a celebration to make.

Whatever we have left to do, and whatever we leave undone: they will wait on us. Whenever we glance at the clock or the calendar and wonder where the time has gone, they have opened the door to eternity. However the tyranny of time tries to catch us in its net, God, and the archangel Gabriel, and maybe Mary, too, are slicing through its bonds, making for us a nest, a cradle of calm, a portal, a wormhole to another dimension of life that whispers, “Now. Now is God’s time. Now God is with you. Now is the season of Emmanuel.”

And if we can catch ourselves out of the whirling dervish dance of last-minute preparations and activities, then perhaps we can hear them, hear the angels tuning up their glorias; hear the still, small voice of God, lighter than a baby’s first cry: “Now, I am with you.”

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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