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Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent 4B

Quotes That Make Me Think

"It is no small thing to be regarded, to be favored, especially when you are exceedingly aware that you should not be."

Commentary, Luke 1:26-38, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"It's an incredible thing to be noticed, to be called favored, to be invited into meaning work. This is the gift we can give our people this week, Working Preacher."

"Favored Ones," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.


We may call the Annunciation a “joyful” mystery, but surely the experience was a mixed one for Mary herself. I believe that saying “yes” to God did indeed bring joy to Mary, but that “yes” was also the beginning of terrible responsibility and heartache for her, heartache that would extend all the way to Calvary. In the meantime, she had all of the usual anxieties of the unexpectedly pregnant (and then some). Through all the uncertainty, in the face of every overwhelming obstacle, she was able to trust that God loved and guided her, whether she sensed God’s presence or not.

Certainly this isn’t the only or the best way to interpret the Annunciation. Nevertheless, it was the version I needed that day.

Waiting For God by Elizabeth Desimone


General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com


Prayer

Great and merciful God, from among this world's lowly and humble you choose your servants and call them to work with you to fulfill your loving plan of salvation.  By the power of your Spirit, make your church fertile and fruitful, that, imitating the obedient faith of Mary, the church may welcome your word of life and so become the joyful mother of countless offspring, a great and holy posterity of children destined for undying life.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Luke 1:26-38

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Are we confused? So what is the meaning of Advent and Christmas? As we wait we might ponder and think about the meaning of our life and the life of those closest to us. If we stop for a moment we might look and around and ask what are we doing and for what are we making this great effort? If the bumper sticker wisdom is true and Jesus is the reason for the season we might pause on this Sunday and ask ourselves do our actions tell that story or a different story?

For many people life is simply moving along. We are getting by. We are making our way towards another Christmas. The anxieties about family and being together are growing. Perhaps financial stress and strain is pulling on our souls. We are ramping up and we are wondering is this or that really important?

We are going to Christmas parties and making the rounds and something in the midst of those conversations and relationships may actually seem more real, more worthwhile, than the rest of the business of the season. More people are in church and more people are thinking and wondering as well as wandering quietly about life.

We are confused. It is in fact a confusing time of year with competing messages. It is a confusing time economically. It is a confusing time as people look to the past and then forward into the future. We are a bit confused and we are hoping someone might offer some good news.

I think that is what we are waiting for...a little bit of good news. We are waiting for a little direction. On this Sunday as the fervor is building I believe people are hoping our preachers will some how give us some wisdom, some direction, perhaps interpret what we are experiencing and what it all means.

Mary was confused to be sure. Luke Timothy Johnson translates Mary's response to the angel's words as "utterly confused." (Luke, p 38) At the same time it is likely that all those who heard this story were not confused but rather expected it to be so; this is the way great births happen. This is true in other parts of scripture and it was true in the writings and story telling of Jesus' own day. We might look at the birth of Samson in Judges 13:2-7 as an example of such writings. (38)

Mary is a woman with no special position within the body of faithful people like most of us. Mary is not a particularly righteous person (according to Luke); she is not known and a pious woman but rather an ordinary citizen like most of us. "She is young in a world that values age; female in a world ruled by men; poor in a stratified economy. Furthermore, she has neither husband nor child to validate her existence." (Luke Timothy Johnson; Luke, 39) She actually is of very little value at all. I think that is actually how most people feel about themselves.

In a society which has more, spends more, consumes more, and prides itself on liberty, freedom, and happiness, we are today a body of individuals who feel pretty miserable, imprisoned by our stuff, and of very little value. I think that is why there is so much unrest in our culture. We are confused about our place in the world; our place in relationship to one another. In this world there are those who are poor in spirit and poor in individual wealth. While most Americans may not be the latter we are more often than not poor in spirit. And, in that recognition we discover how much we need one another and how much we are bonded to those who in this holiday season will go without.

It is to Mary, and to humanity, that God comes and gives grace. God gives grace and favor to all people in this moment of annunciation. God conceives in the world grace and love incarnate.

Unlike Zechariah who demands proof of this coming Christ, Mary simply wants to be less confused. She just wants to know, in a simple way, how can this be? How is it that such a simple person with no seeming value can be a bearer of God's grace and favor in the world?

After all that may be the question for which we are all seeking the answer.

Such a simple question and we seem so adrift. I think this is the great travesty in our church, that we may have forgotten the answer to this question. We in our church have forgotten that everyone, ALL people, those like us, those unlike us, those we agree with, those we don't agree with, those who worship like us, those who do not worship like us, those with money and those without money...ALL people are created in such a way that through God's power (and God's power alone) we are vessels of grace in the world.

In a world where reputations, wealth, and personal identity are more often than not built upon tearing others down we desperately need to be reminded of this simple truth - god chooses Mary particularly and in so doing God chooses all of us.

We in the mainline denominations in this world have spent a lot of time making clear who the righteous and who the righteous are not. We have chosen to use our pulpits publicly to require proof of people's righteousness. And, we have chastised used our power to make others feel bad about themselves. I believe that preachers (both liberal and conservative) do this. And, in so doing what has happened is that the rest of the plebes sancti dei (the sacred people of God) have born witness and are left wondering if they too may not be good enough. Who is? We have echoed consumerism's maxim that we are not worthy enough alone we must need something else to make us special. We have translated right belief (whatever you define that as) to be the status criteria for all believers; and in the end we have preached the leaving out of one another from God's embrace.

When we make Mary out to be anything other than the poor, culturally worthless, outsider she is - we distill a message that is not good news at all.

This Sunday, across the globe, Episcopalian and Anglican preachers will stand in pulpits and in front of their congregations and look into the eyes of virtually every kind of person that God has created. And, we have a moment. Sure some will preach for 8 minutes others longer, but in that sermon there will be but one moment in which we have an opportunity to offer God's people an answer to the questions and concerns they bring with them and set before God and God's church. They are asking, they are wondering, is it possible...is it just possible... that God's grace and favor if meant for the likes of Mary is meant for me? Overwhelmingly the answer must be a loud cry of "YES."

May we have the courage to look our people in the eye and see their hearts and speak to them and to say: "Yes, you are chosen like Mary, and God's Holy Spirit is upon you, and you are of value to God, for in you and through you God has chosen to make his Grace, favor, and love known in this world. Yes, you are the one. You have been chosen."


Some Thoughts on Romans 16:25-27




Resources for Sunday's Epistle


"The image of God has been restored and believers now live in that image, witnessing and inviting all into this covenantal relationship."

Commentary, Romans 16:25-27, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"This passage places the incarnation, which we will shortly celebrate, in the broad arena of God's never ending, always existent desire for humanity to live in peace. The reconciliation that is offered in the gospel is the reconciliation to what humanity was created to be."

Commentary, Romans 16:25-27, L. Ann Jervis, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"... 'obedience of faith' ... suggests rather an ongoing relationship which includes involvement in God's life and compassion reaching out into the world."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary: Advent 4," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

The passage for today is the doxology for the letter to the Romans and is a routine way Paul brings his correspondence to an end - in accordance with the custom of the day.

It is a blessing and a kind of proclamation from which we have insight into Paul's understanding of his work - and perhaps our own. Paul believes that God is the one strengthening him to proclaim Jesus. Paul himself is dependent upon the Gospel itself. The living word empowers him as it has empowered the work of God on earth since the very beginning.  He is making it clear that the letter is not simply Paul writing - but God speaking through Paul to the church. God is in Paul's own ministry and writing expanding the kingdom of God on God's behalf and through the power of God.

Paul is clear that his mission is God's mission. God's mission is the inclusion of the gentile into the kingdom and it is this inclusion and expansion which is obedience.

Moreover, the God who is involved in this expansive vision of the kingdom of God is the God of the Hebrew bible - the creator God who is wise and has set all things into motion.

As we think and ponder it is wise to remind ourselves that for the Christian the incarnation is not some add on to an ancient tradition. The incarnation is itself the reconciliation moment of God's historical movement to embrace and fulfill his covenant with creation.


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