The Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Welcome to a momentous and very full Sunday. We celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent this morning and then this evening we will celebrate Christmas Eve. As I said, in My Musings in the Weekly Update, this week, we move very quickly from celebrating our anticipation and our expectation to celebrating The Incarnation.
I have to say that I was struck by the thoughts of a couple of different people. I listened to The Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry's Christmas address and I heard him say that inherent in all our Advent celebrations are the words: "Wait, Watch, and Listen." Then, I listened to Karoline Lewis, Matt Skinner, and Joy J. Moore as they discussed the scriptures for this Sunday on the Working Preacher podcast.
At one point, Karoline was reflecting on a commentary she had read, through the week, to prepare for the podcast. She spoke about how the commentator pointed out that Mary's attitude to the Angel Gabriel, and his message, changed when Gabriel said to her that Elizabeth had been blessed with a child.
It was when Mary heard, or when she had the realization, that Elizabeth would also go through pregnancy and childbirth, at a similar time, that she was able to say yes to what Gabriel was saying.
Gabriel says: "And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
It is then that Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Karoline said she had never thought about the idea that it was when Mary heard that she would not have to go through the experience alone that she was able to say yes. I have to admit that I find that concept fascinating. Mary, at this point, has no idea how Joseph is going to respond to this news. Right now, she is faced with the possibility of having to go through the experience alone.
The Working Preacher commentators spent some time talking about the idea of companionship in the journey. The idea, that, sometimes we are able to take the necessary steps forward in what the Lord is asking of us when we have others around us who are going through similar things. That sometimes that is the only way we can move forward. Trusting that there is someone who is our companion in the way.
That got me thinking about times in my own life and spiritual journey when I have known that was true for me. I have had various times when I can look back and recognize the people who were with me on my journey. Now, I have to say that those were not always men. I have had some wonderful fellow companions who were women. I don't believe that companionship is a gender-specific role or task.
They were people, who the Lord brought into my life, and provided a sense of "presence" which allowed me to understand and experience the Lord in a much more tangible way. Sometimes they were listeners, sometimes they were provocateurs, sometimes they were governors of my more impetuous nature. At other times they provided me with an opportunity to exercise my own spiritual giftings, sometimes they needed nurture and encouragement.
Now obviously the most consistent companion for me has been Fiona. She has been all of those things at various times and in various places. I would describe her as my most constant companion, besides Jesus himself. We have experienced a fascinating and wondrous journey together.
One of the roles that we have played in each other's lives connects the thread of my message this morning to the words from the Presiding Bishop: "Watch, Wait, and Listen." These are not new thoughts about the Advent Season. They run through the whole concept of what Advent is about for believers. We are called to Watch, Wait, and Listen at many times throughout this time leading up to the birth of Christ.
I don't want to get too deep into the process or the implications, but I want to say that pregnancy connects the Bishop's words of encouragement and Karoline Lewis' thoughts.
It has been my experience that pregnancy can change a couple. Unfortunately for some couples, it can actually mean the end of a relationship. It is all too common an experience for a couple that when they find out that they are pregnant, that one of them, decides that they are no longer interested in the relationship.
In another part of the Gospel, we hear about Mary having to face Joseph, and then the choice that Joseph has to make. In our world, unfortunately, often pregnancy can pull a couple apart.
Even if the couple does decide to move forward and have the child. Changes, inevitable changes, happen. There can be a deepening of the mutual bond and a mutual affirmation of the commitment of the couple to one another. A richer, fuller knowledge of the other person can develop as the pregnancy moves forward.
But it calls for a commitment on the part of both members of the couple. There is a greater need to watch, wait, and listen to one another. I know that during the various pregnancies that Fiona and I experienced together. I learned a lot about her, and myself, in that process. Priorities shifted and changed as we adjusted to the fact that we were no longer just making decisions about our life goals and expectations for ourselves. We needed to watch, wait, and listen, to the demands and responsibilities of our new life together with its changed expectations and goals.
Some things were postponed, and some things became more of a priority as we understood how our lives were changed by this pregnancy.
Then when it came closer to the time for the child to be born we found ourselves having to watch, wait, and listen even more closely to each other. I had to intensify my watching, my waiting, and my listening. I certainly wouldn't say it was the same as what was happening to Fiona. But, it was necessary for me to be aware. I needed to be ready to respond when the time came.
I hope, that I became Fiona's companion in the journey. I hope I became Fiona's "companion in love" in this experience. I do know that there were times when I fell short in my watching, waiting, and listening. There were probably times when I missed the signs, or the signals, that I should have picked up on. But we got through the experience together and I believe we grew in our appreciation, care, and love for one another.
So, on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, can I ask you? Do you know who your companions in the journey of faith have been or are? Who are the people who have come alongside you and watched, waited, and listened with you, as part of your journey, in the deepening of your faith? Who are the people that you recognize as your companions in the journey of love? How have your experiences, together, deepened your care, your appreciation, and love, both for the other person and for the Lord?
I know for myself when we were in the journey of pregnancy there were plenty of opportunities for disappointment. There were many times when I frustrated Fiona, or I felt frustrated. We probably were less patient than we could have been. Our commitment and our patience were tested by the experience. But we needed each other and we were able to be there for each other.
On this final morning, of the four weeks of Advent, on this Sunday when we celebrate Love, can we pause and think about those we are grateful for on this journey we are on? I know there are plenty of opportunities for frustration, and lack of patience as we live together in this community. Can we focus on the opportunities that we have, to share love, with one another? Can we rejoice for those who have come alongside side us, cared for us, and appreciated us in this journey of love?
Who might we choose, now, to become our companions on the journey? Who will choose to be our companions in the journey of love? Who will we choose to Wait, Watch, and Listen with this Advent, and into the future?
Tonight we will gather to celebrate "The Incarnation." Who can believe that we move so quickly from Advent, expectation, and anticipation, to new life, with the Nativity of the Christ Child? Alleluia what a blessing it is to share this time, together in community, here at Christ Church.
Paul sums it all so well in the reading from the Epistle:
"Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen."
Bishops & Father Mike