Advent IV 12/24/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

If you were not familiar with our Christmas story, today’s Gospel reading would be one of the strangest things you’d ever read. It would never sell, even as fiction. Nobody would believe it.

We get this “angel Gabriel creature”, whatever it is, being sent by God to a little backwoods town in Galilee, to a virgin, – probably better translated “young woman”, –who is committed to marry a man named Joseph. They didn’t have engagements then. Marriages were arranged by families. Well, we learn that the young woman’s name was Mary, and this “angel creature” appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Oh, come on now. That’s not even realistic. A young woman, and this thing in the air saying this to her? And how do we know its name? The whole thing makes no sense.

Well, it says Mary was “much perplexed.” That’s got to be an understatement. Now, the “angel creature” tells her that God likes her, so she is going to have a son. No way! Gabriel then tells her what name she is to give the child, and that he will be called “the Son of the most high”, or “the Son of God”, and that he will inherit the throne of King David, and his kingdom will never end.

None of this makes sense to Mary. She questions the whole thing, especially since she is young and has not had relations with a man. Gabriel gives her this bazaar description of how the “Holy Spirit” is going to inseminate her. The whole thing would be absolutely terrifying to a young country girl, in this little back woods town. It’s sort of terrifying to us, if we think about it. Then Gabriel tells her that her elderly relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren all of her life, was now in her 6th month of pregnancy.

You may remember a homily that I did a few months ago when I talked about the verb “to be” being the “key” that opens communication with God. If you don’t remember, in the Bible, any form of the verb “to be”, used as a response, unlocks communication with “the Holy.” “Where are you Adam?” “Here am I.” “Who shall I send?” “Here am I, send me.” And here in this text, Mary responds, “Here am I, the servant of God.” Mary uses “the key” to open herself directly to God, pledges herself to God, and Gabriel disappears.

As I said at the beginning, this is all too fanciful to be believable. But it is the beginning of the story of the birth of God in human form on this earth. It is the beginning of humankind’s new relationship with God. And that new relationship with God is going to be just as “messy” as our story this morning from the Gospel of Luke. The fact is, that when God moves in this creation, it is always “messy.” We like to think of God as doing sweet, nice, sunshiny, pastel things in our lives: clouds, and sunsets, and flowers, and puppies. But it doesn’t work that way. The wonder and beauty of God is somehow revealed in pain, and confusion, and big messes.

The birth of a child is a beautiful act of God, but it is painful and messy. Death is probably a beautiful act of God, but it is painful and messy.

I like almost all musical forms, except for a few like Acid Rock. I’ll never quite understand it. But one of my favorite forms would be a contemporary piece with a lot of gentle discord, that at the very end finds the resolving chord in just the right key, and pulls it all together. We’re listening to this confusion, and dissonance, and it’s building tension, and it might even be getting a little bit ugly, and then, suddenly it is all resolved with a beautiful chord that pulls the discord together, and all is well. And when we hear that resolving chord, we relax and smile.

I look at God as that “final chord” in the dissonance of our lives. There is the pain. There is the misunderstanding. There is the birth. There is the death. There is the war. There is the illness. There is the Holocaust. There is the Crucifixion. AND THEN, there is God resolving the whole thing.

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according the your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.”

The discord has begun. God has acted, and it is messy. We’ve had this irregular pregnancy that could have resulted in Mary’s being stoned to death. We’ve had this census. We’ve had this horrible trip to Bethlehem, in the final days of pregnancy. We’ve had no decent place for them to stay, when they arrived in Bethlehem. They’ve ended up in a dark, dangerous cave stable under the village of Bethlehem, probably one of the worst places on earth. The whole thing has been a big mess, from the beginning.

And that’s where we stop today. If you want to hear the “resolving chord”, you have to come back to church tonight.

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”


Posted December 26, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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