Sermon for 4th Sunday of Advent – Year B (1)

2 Samuel 7.1-11,16
Luke 1:26-38

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve heard John the Baptist, a messenger of God, proclaiming the coming of the Christ in a loud voice, to a nation of expectant people.

Today we hear two other messengers of God speaking quietly and privately to individuals.

There’s Nathan the prophet. A messenger sent by God to David to tell him that God has always travelled and lived among his people and he wants to remain with his people not separated from them by the walls of a house David wants to build for him.

There’s the angel Gabriel. A messenger sent by God to Mary to tell her that she will bear a son whose life will be a message to us that God wants to live among and be with his people in a new and extraordinary way.

There’s Mary whose message to us is one of hope, encouragement and faith in a God for whom all things are possible. God wants to be with his people, us, and live among us in a new way.

How can he make that message real and personal to each one of us?

There’s an apparent assumption around us that the run up to Christmas is always stressful, busy, hectic, exhausting and expensive! Magazines offer “101 ways to make Christmas more simple” and for Christians there’s the added pressure that we “ought” to make time for God as well.

If our lives are like that the message of hope, encouragement and faith will ease the stress, change our perception, help us to get our priorities right and reclaim Advent as part of our spiritual journey.

But for many people, maybe for all of us at some time, Advent is not like that. For some time is heavy and even the shortest day will seem never-ending. We’d like to be queuing up with a trolley full of food to prepare for other people. We’d like to be busily getting our house ready for family or friends. We’d like our lives to be just that little bit more hectic.

If our lives are like that the message of hope, encouragement and faith will tell us that each of us is favoured, loved by God. A voice speaking in the stifling silence to tell us that we are not alone, the Lord is with each of us.

Let’s be sensitively aware of each other’s experiences. How will we recognise God’s messenger and know what His message is? If we reflect on Mary’s experience we might get some idea of what to expect.

And the first thing to expect is that it will be unexpected.

The time now is (10.24am):
What will you be doing this time tomorrow? Probably not sitting in your best clothes, kettle on, waiting for the Angel Gabriel to call at any moment!

We don’t know what Mary was doing when the angel greeted her but it was probably some daily routine task. An angel suddenly appearing in the room where you’re sweeping the floor is certainly going to get your attention.

And God will do whatever he has to do to gain our attention.

He may alert us to his presence through words we read, music we hear, people we meet or a programme on television or radio. If our lives are busy and noisy he may have to make the message leap out at us several times before we’re paying attention.

He may be soft and gentle in the too silent quietness around us. A still small voice saying “you are not alone, I am with you. I love you and I have something special to say to you.”

Then we’ll get our own unique and personal message.

Gabriel’s message to Mary could hardly be more personal and intimate.

You’re going to conceive and give birth to a son called Jesus. And this baby is going to be extraordinary: He’ll be son of the most high, given throne of David – for ever – no end to his kingdom

God’s calling can be to do something unexpected, outrageous, impossible.

Or maybe not.

Even if we feel there’s nothing we can do for God, we do have his favour and he does have something for each of us to do that only we can do.

Mary’s response Is that of men and women through the ages, including us, who have been called by God to a specific way of life or a specific task

“How can this be”
“who, me?”,
“yer ‘aving a larf aint yer?”

And God’s reply to Mary is his reply to all those men and women including us:

“Don’t be afraid. I will be with you”.

God makes an awesome promise to Mary through Gabriel:

“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”

When God sends his messenger to us we stand on holy and sacred ground. And it’s not altogether comfortable.

We can imagine something of what Mary will go through as she faces her family and community suddenly and unexpectedly pregnant. We know with hindsight what happens to this holy child and again can imagine his mother’s agony. Perhaps as the angel speaks to Mary, in the background, coming from Joseph’s workshop, is the sound of nails being hammered into wood.

Being called by God, being God’s favoured one is not to be freed from suffering. But His promise is that in the suffering “I will be with you”.

When the Angel Gabriel has finished speaking to Mary. I imagine a deep silence while God waits for Mary’s answer.

God needs our consent to his call and that may not be an easy decision to make. We may take much longer than Mary, we may agonise over it, talk it through over and over again with people we trust.

God takes a huge risk when he asks us to take a risk for him. We have the choice of saying “no” but we might also say, with Mary,

“Here am I … let it be with me according to your word”

And after all the listening, talking, agonising and after we have finally said “yes” to God we might also say joyfully, with Mary,

“My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.
the Mighty One has done great things for me
and holy is his name”.

At the heart of our readings today is the message that God wants to live among and be with his people in a new and extraordinary way.

And when God sends his messenger to us we stand on holy and sacred ground.

Let us pray:

Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here.
He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister his grace.
No work too hard for him,
In faith receive from him;
Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here.