Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon: December 20

Sermon given at the 8 AM service...

O God of Elizabeth and Mary, you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption in the coming of the Savior. Make our hearts leap with joy and fill our mouths with songs of praise, so that we may announce glad tidings of peace and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen

An icon of Mary & Jesus hangs in the room of Jared & Aidan, the icon reminds my boys not only of the presence of Christ near them but of their relationship, of this holy mother & child. In the Orthodox Tradition, from which this icon originates, Mary is called the Theotokos that is God bearer. For as Elizabeth says to Mary: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

To us in the Western Church, she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. And in the Gospel, Elizabeth reminds us that it was Mary who said yes to God, to bear the son of God, for she believed and God acted. And of course, Mary sings her song: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…
As Dietrich Bonheoffer reflected on Mary’s song: “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.… This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.”
The story begins for Mary as a teenager and is beautifully captured in his song Let Me Be Like Mary by Eric Law.
Mary was a woman who had her life to live.
She was to marry Joseph, a man with much to give.
Then one day God asked her to be the mother of a Child
who would change and save the world.
It is the angel Gabriel who changes everything for her with a request from God, and it is Mary’s yes that would set her on a very unique journey.
Wise and Gentle Mary, she just said yes to God.
Strong and gentle Mary she bore the child of God.
Brave and gentle Mary owned the joy and pain
Of giving birth to Christ for the world.
Her pregnancy was a scandal. She was unmarried, pregnant, and Joseph was not the father. She took it all on, and for the sake of the world, bore the joy and pain of giving birth to Christ for the world. But it isn’t enough to hear her song and understand that God is at work in this world in mysterious ways. We can look at our icons, our beautiful stained glass windows, and leave Mary there or we might consider what her story means for us today.
We are just like Mary who have our lives to live.
We might have our families, our jobs & homes to keep
But what will you do if God asks you to be a servant
who’ll make Christ known to the world
It’s in those everyday encounters when we say Yes… Everyday encounters bearing Christ and his love and reconciliation to this hurting world.
At the Denver airport, a 46-year-old woman is sitting at the gate waiting for her flight. She glances up to find a young man in front of her. Although there are several open seats around, he tilts his head at the seat next to her, then toward her suitcase blocking the chair. Why this one? she wonders. Mildly annoyed, she moves her bag.

He sits and drops his duffel bag at his feet. He is wearing a U.S. Army camouflage uniform. "Where you headed?" he asks. "Home," she replies.

He tells her that he has just come home from Afghanistan and is heading to Florida to surprise his mom. It's been five years since he's seen her. What was he most looking forward to, the woman asked. A shower, he said. He grinned when she asked if his mother would cook his favorite meal.

He says it was almost harder to leave the war than to stay, leaving others behind, knowing he had to go back. But this might be his last chance to see his mother.

The woman notices how he keeps scanning the room warily as he talks. How when he looks at her, his eyes keep no distance. He wants something from her, but at first she doesn't know what. He says it's hard to stop scanning for danger. Yesterday he was in the desert. Fellow soldiers, men under his command, had been blown into pieces around him. Today he is in an airport trying to fathom anger over flight delays, the rush for coffee. He doesn't know how to be here in this place.

The woman understands. One week before, her friend's teenage son had died suddenly and, being a mother herself, felt so disoriented and distant from the everyday world around her. She tells the soldier about it. He breaths deeply, shows a small smile. They had made a sliver of connection. The woman writes: "He'd seen the raw and unbearable. He knew what was real and mattered. He knew it was not the time of the flight, or a latte. But he did not know how to tell us. This was what he needed from me, I realized. What we all need. He did not want the seat beside mine. He wanted to sit with me. He needed to feel safe and understood for a brief while between here and there." [From "Sitting with a soldier: An airport encounter leads to an understanding about what we all need" by Stacy Clark, The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, September 7, 2014.]
A soldier finds an understanding "mom" to talk to in a busy airport; a teenage mother-to-be goes to be with her elderly cousin, also pregnant, and finds consolation and support. In both meetings, we see grace: love that enables one cousin to put aside her own plight to help the other cousin, compassion that enables a mom to provide a safe, understanding place for another mom's son.

In Mary and Elizabeth's visit and in our own similar encounters, the Spirit of God is present in the healing, comfort and support we can extend to one another in such moments. For it is up to each of us in our own day to say Yes, to give birth to Christ for the world:
Let me be like Mary and just say yes to God.
Brave and strong like Mary to bear the child of God.
Let me share with Mary all the joy and pain
of giving birth to Christ for the world. Amen.

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