Fourth Sunday of Advent:
A two-for day! This day is both the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. What could be better, right, preacher? Well, choices will have to be made, I suspect. But we want to provide help that you can then use to fit your setting. Not only that, but we also get two Gospel readings for Advent 4 . One takes the place of the psalm, but it is Gospel, nonetheless.
We also have a teaser from the Hebrew Scriptures. Second Samuel 7 tells us that God is going to take charge of making a home. David wants to build God a house, and Nathan at first says, sure; go ahead. But then God shows up and tells Nathan to tell David to hold off. I’ll take care of it when it is time, God says. Now, the natural implication here is that it wasn’t David’s task, but Solomon’s. But when you lay these words alongside the Annunciation in Luke, we hear something completely different. We hear God wanting to take up residence a little more intimately than in a grand temple on a hill in Jerusalem. God wants to move a little closer than that. Are you ready for that new neighbor?
Advent is all about getting ready. No, forget that; Advent is all about being ready. But we’re not. Are we? No, no way. Ready for what? Um, now that’s a poser. What exactly are we supposed to be ready for? Because most of the things that are rolling in my direction this holiday season aren’t things that I would have chosen to be ready for. Frankly, most things that are rolling in most people’s direction aren’t things they would have chosen. Am I right? We’ve all had plans, we’ve all had dreams, and suddenly things take a turn.
You’ve been on those curves, haven’t you? The road bends in unexpected directions. As if there were a detour, road construction, bridge out. Right? What could be worse than an interruption on your journey? A roadblock to your destination? Well, how about a disturbance that comes to meet you where you live? How about an angel in your living room? Huh? How about that? Right, Mary?
One biblical commentator wondered in how many living rooms did Gabriel have to make an appearance before he found one who said “yes”? Never thought of it that way before. I mean we assume God knew who was going to say “yes.” That it was all worked out, a no-brainer, a slam-dunk, God had it in the bag before Gabriel ever set out. But if that’s true, then Mary’s response is somewhat diminished, isn’t it? If there wasn’t at least the possibility that she would say “no,” then her “yes” doesn’t count for much. And, for centuries, the church has celebrated Mary’s “yes.”
Mary is the model for what it means to be a follower. She shows us what surrendering to God is all about. She is the quintessential disciple of the one to whom she is about to give birth if that doesn’t mess with your head a little bit. But it wasn’t an easy “yes.” It wasn’t just a “sure, whatever you say” kind of thing. It was startling; it was an angel in the living room, for heaven’s sake!
Luke, in his usual understated style, says that she was “much perplexed.” Not just perplexed, but much perplexed. I’m not all that sure that perplexed would cover it if I had such an annunciation. Perplexed is what happens when you don’t know what your next move in chess ought to be. Not when an angel is standing in your living room asking to take over your life. Mary was much perplexed.
She may have wondered at what sort of greeting this might be. Perhaps she looked over her shoulder in case the angel was talking to her mom or something. Surely, this word wasn’t for her. “Greetings, favored one!” She couldn’t be favored. She was just ... Mary. A kid. A young woman giddy at her engagement. “The Lord is with you.” Really? With me? The Lord doesn’t have more important things to do? More important places to go? More important people to see? What sort of greeting was it? Was it for her or someone else? Well, yes.
It was for Mary and for someone else. Or, rather, it was for the someone else she was being called to be. See, that’s what sort of greeting this was, a life-changing one. A “nothing will ever be the same again” kind of greeting. This was a love that transforms. She was asked to give birth to the Kingdom through her own flesh and blood, through her own sweat and tears. She was invited to have faith in something beyond her understanding. She wasn’t given a whole lot of information. Oh, she asked, “How can this be? I’m not qualified, I don’t have the credentials, I don’t have the experience, I don’t know what in the world I am doing. How can this be?” And you can’t help but feel that Gabriel was embarrassed by the question. His answer is specific but lacking in detail. It is a declaration of faith and not a gynecological arrangement. He basically says, “God’s got it covered. You can trust that.” Nothing, and when I say nothing, I mean to include such outlandish things as this rather messy incarnation business, but nothing is impossible with God.
Which apparently is enough. Because the next thing that happens is Mary says “yes.” Without any more to go on than that, she says “yes.” Without a blueprint or signed contract, without an escape clause or planned compensation, she says “yes.” To the inconvenience of making God real enough to touch. To the imposition of surrendering her peace of mind; her quiet, cozy and hard but comfortable life. To the disruption of her plans and preferences, the way she had imagined her life might go. To the transforming love that is so profound to as to be incomprehensible, she said “yes.” And the angel left.
And she had to wonder, did she imagine it all? Was it really going to happen? So, she ran to cousin Elizabeth’s house. That’s what happens next. She hightails it out of town. But not to run away from her “yes.” At least not completely. She went to see the other one who had an angel, although Elizabeth’s angel was a secondhand angel. Still, it was unsettling enough. That’s what they do, these angels in the living room. They’re like a force of nature, beautiful and awesome, but they leave a mess behind them.
It’s such a complicated idea, running against every natural impulse within us, that it takes something dramatic to make us grasp the concept. Or maybe not even grasp the concept, not even understand, but to say “yes” to this life of faith that brings hope to a whole world, through ordinary people like Mary, like us. It takes a power that comes from beyond us. It takes a faith given to us like a gift at Christmas. It takes nothing less than an angel in our living room. An angel that leads us to sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” Because as Mary’s song suggests, the transformation that this love brings is not just to individual hearts, but to the whole world. The world will be turned upside down – or rather right side up – by the power of this love that is coming, that has come, into the world. With her, we give thanks, and our spirits rejoice in God, our Savior.
It’s Christmas Eve, and everyone is already tired, even though they are also excited. At least the littlest ones are excited. It has been a full day. Advent in the morning and Christmas Eve in the evening. Is it too much? Do we have room for all of this celebration? However, you choose to observe this event, preacher, suggest that we need to make room for the light. Light, we think, doesn’t take up much room, though. So, it should be easy. Except this light seems to need room, lots of room, all the room we can spare. This light asks a lot of us. Asks for a shocking hope and a just peace. We are asked to express a fierce joy and to embrace the love that transforms. It asks a lot, this light, as wondrous as it is. It wants to take over our whole life, our lives as the community of faith, the body of Christ. Our problem, this Christmas Eve is that we’ve gotten too used to the darkness.
The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light. We have? Where? On them has the light shined. Really? It has? For unto them a son is given. A what? Unto them a child is born. A child? Wait, I don’t know about this. And the government shall be upon his shoulders. Ah, this is a government plot. Count me out! And they missed it. Announcements came and went; proclaimers proclaimed; heralds heralded. And they missed it. It was too long coming. It was too obscure. Not enough press, not enough bright lights. Sure, there was the star thing, but we see stars all the time. Angels? Well, everybody and Charlie has angels. No big deal. Foreigners showing up? Keep them out, too risky. They missed it.
We miss it. Sometimes we miss it because it is old news. God with us? Yeah, I have a bumper sticker. I’m good. It’s old news. We forget to be amazed. We forget to be humbled. We forget to be grateful. What have you done for us lately? A baby over 2,000 years ago? OK, got it, thanks. Next?
Except that baby grew up to say “I will be with you always. Even to the end of the age.” Always. All ways. Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow. On your best days, he’s there celebrating with you, being proud of you, clapping you on the shoulder, giving high fives and atta boys, atta girls. On your worst days when even your mother is disappointed in you, when even you are disappointed in you, and you want to dig a hole and crawl in, pulling it over you, he’s there. The days of emptiness and brokenness, the days of fullness and joy. The days of love overflowing and the days of loneliness that suck at your soul. “I am with you always.” This baby didn’t stay a baby. But he stayed. Stayed God with you. God with me. God with us.
We have to lean into the light. We have to make room. In our busy lives, we have to make room. Because this baby, this Savior is polite; he has the manners his mom taught him. He’ll wait. He won’t force himself on you, won’t horn his way into your busyness and demand attention. He’ll wait. Until you turn. Until you stop running. And turn and give a hint. That’s all, just a hint. Just an opening. Just a tear shed or a smile offered. Just a hand held out, hoping, wishing, wanting someone to take it and hold on for dear life. And then he’ll come. He’ll fill you. He’ll want you. He’ll remind you that you are one of the special ones, one of the chosen ones. He’ll lift you up until you think you can fly. He’ll bandage your wounds until you forget that you even had them; even the scars will be forgotten. He’ll turn you around until your head is spinning, and you find your feet on the path you wanted all along, even if you didn’t know it.
We have to make room. For the story, for the song. For hope and fulfillment. For the here and the not yet. For the dreams you still dream and the longings of your heart, even as you claim contentment with what already is. For the love you have and the love you need. We have to make room. For a child, that’s all. Just a tiny baby. Like all babies, this one seems so small, so helpless, so simple – feed me, clean me, love me – yet, who takes up more room than you thought possible.
We had room, my wife and I, 30 some years ago; we had room, and we had no idea how much room our son needed. And a few years later, we still had room. And, once more, we were surprised at the room our daughter had taken over. More room than we thought we had, more room that we didn’t know we had. Jesus comes to fill the emptiness that you don’t even know you have because you’ve filled it with so much else. But none of that really fills the emptiness like you thought it would. Until Him. Until God with us. Until the Firstborn. The Word made flesh.
And Luke takes that flesh and turns it back into Word. And we love the story he tells. Love it enough not to worry about the detail, about the timing. I mean Quirinius was not governor when Herod was on the throne; the dates don’t match. But who cares? It’s the story that matters. And Luke gets that right. We have to make room, he says.
We have to make room. No, wait. We get to make room. So ... make room. This blessed Christmas season, make room.