Sermon St Mary MaryTavy 11am 20 December 2020 Advent 4
2 Sam 7v1-11, 16 Magnificat Rom 16v25-end Luke 1v26-38
The beauty, but also the frustration of our Anglican Lectionary, is that so often we get too many good scripture readings coming together all at once, and today is no exception.
So what aspect is appropriate for this last Sunday of Advent before the great celebration of our Saviour’s birth later in the week? I thought that this morning we could focus on just three words that seem to jump out from our readings, Favour, Mystery and Obedience.
I wonder how you ladies would have responded if an angel had appeared to you as a young teenage girl and said you were going to have a baby? First there would have been the shock of seeing an angel, and then the sudden realisation of the stigma, and for my generation, the reaction of parents and boyfriend. But it would have been even worse, and far more severe for Mary in her second Temple culture.
For her, and for her generation two thousand years ago living in Israel, it would not just have been the stigma, and the pain and hurt that it would cause to Joseph, but it would have been a capital offense to have been betrothed to Joseph and found pregnant, an offense punishable by stoning. But what was Mary’s reaction, “let it be to me according to your word”.
No wonder the angel greeted her with such wonderful words, “Hail, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!” Mary, as a young and virtuous woman, had found God’s favour, and that same favour God has also bestowed upon you and upon me as well. Through the grace and mercy of our God, the one true and living God, the God who spoke, and the universe came into being, has shown us His favour. That favour was made possible because God broke forth into His own creation through the babe that the virgin Mary was to deliver. God Himself in Jesus entered into His physical creation in order to reconcile us rebellious children to Himself, so that we can now call Him “Abba” Father. Does that not stir up a thrill within your innermost being? That we can be at one with the creator God.
One Christian tradition has it that Mary’s parents Anne and Joachim lived near the pools of Bethesda, and today the Church of Saint Anne is said to mark Mary’s birthplace. As is so often the case in Christian tradition it is a cave in the basement of the church.
This house was located just north of the Temple Mount upon which the Holy second Temple was built, and one tradition says Mary spent her time as a young girl growing up helping and praying daily in the Temple. Perhaps that was one reason why she found God’s favour to become the mother of our Lord.
The incarnation, the birth of the Son of God, certainly came as a Mystery, not just to Mary, but to the whole of the Jewish nation then, now, and still to much of the world’s population even today. But as Saint Paul says in his letter to the Roman Christian’s it is “a mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made know to all the Gentiles”. A mystery that has been made know to you and to me, but which many still do not yet recognise or understand.
You see, all those Old Testament prophets that I hope we read on a regular basis, serve as a revelation to us Christians that is missed by so many. They point to the coming of Jesus, and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are able to understand the mystery that was kept secret for long. It is well worth studying the many prophecies that point to the first coming, the first advent of our Lord at Bethlehem, prophecies that we find so beautiful during this season, and which were all fulfilled. But do you realise there are far more prophecies relating to our Lord’s second advent, to His return as our Sovereign Lord, King and judge. If only we had time, but we must move on.
So far we have looked at Favour and Mystery, but what of Obedience, now that is where it starts to get tough and to touch us personally. But we have to ask ourselves, do we really want to become disciples, and as Jesus commissioned us, “to make disciples of all nations?” Paul went on to say that the mystery was disclosed in order to “bring about the obedience of faith.”
We remember that Jesus was of the house or family of King David, and like us David at times strayed from the will of God for him as a king. When David disclosed to Nathan the Prophet that he wanted to build a house for the ark of the covenant, Nathans first reaction was to say go ahead and do it, but hold on.
God then had to remind Nathan, and so often has to remind us too, not to always act upon impulsive first reactions. Nathan had to go back to David, and in obedience to the word from God to him say, “hang on a moment David, not yet and not for you to do”. Obedience can, and usually is, costly to our pride, even if we are well intentioned.
But what a reward comes to us through the obedience of faith, through our obedience to the call of the gospel upon our lives. Through putting our faith and trust in Jesus, that divine babe born to Mary, we Christians now have such an amazing hope set before us. A hope that should, and I trust has, transformed our lives
In a moment we shall once again in obedience to our Lord’s command at the last supper, take bread in remembrance of Him. As we have gathered in fellowship with one another, with our brothers and sisters, both here below, and those who have gone before, we remember also the real presence of Jesus Himself is here in our midst.
We shall hear again the familiar but comfortable words of hope from the promise, “the body of Christ, keep you in eternal life”.
Let us at this Advent time resolve with all our brother and sister saints, to give ourselves in obedience as God may call, and to strive, through the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, to build His kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness.
Let us pray:-the shorter collect for this fourth Sunday of Advent:
Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, and as we now wait for His coming in glory, bring us through the birth pangs of this present age, and open our eyes to see His kingdom at work and to share the great salvation that we have in Jesus our Lord. Amen