Fourth Sunday of Advent
10 a.m. Service
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:26-38

‘Tis the season in which we affirm that the impossible is possible.  It is a season fraught with mystery and wonder as we listen to the ancient story of God who not only wants us but wants to be with us.  We begin to dream new dreams about ourselves and the world in which we live.

We are enchanted by the magic, wonder, and hope of a Savior born as a helpless baby in a far away, obscure place; and the hope of peace on earth, good-will to all people.  We long for that day, do we not?  And for the possibility that one day, there will be justice on the earth, a system of equity, in which the lion and the lamb will lie down together in perfect harmony – and generous, gracious love, joy, and hope will be the constant.

Today of all days, we affirm the nearness of God breaking in on us in surprising and unexpected ways.  That God has come and God is coming; and God dwells in strange and mysterious and impossible places – even the likes of us: in a church like this, a city like New York, our country and our world; in times like these; amid all the nonsense; the violence, terror, bombings, and threats; amid racial slurs and misogyny, sexual harassment, mass incarceration; the name calling, and exploitation; religious and political bigotry; amid the grief and loss of our love ones; health scares and diagnosis; loss of jobs; amid the brokenness and vulnerability, fear, and anger; and anxiety that seem to vex our souls on every side –  we say God is still here somehow.

And we listen for the sound of angels calling to us:  “Greetings highly favored one; you are blessed.  The Lord is with you.”

Eugene Peterson in the Message Bible puts it this way:

“Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out.  God be with you.”[1]

We listen and watch; we wait for the good news of Jesus Christ and for a few moments, a few days, we say God has entered here.

Do not be afraid for the Holy Spirit will come upon you and power from on high will overshadow you.

For with God, nothing will be impossible with God.  Nothing is impossible with God.

In the old days, the followers of God thought that God resided only in temples; in the ark of the covenant, on tablets of clay and stone.  They wanted to build monuments so they could go over there and be where God is.  But this morning we are reminded that we don’t have to go anywhere to be with God because long before humanity ever had such a thought, God had already decided to be where we are.   Beautiful one.  Highly favored.  Blessed.

Mary stands in for all of us.  She is not only the mother of Jesus but she is the prototype; the first disciple.  She was a most unlikely candidate; the least of those expected.  Perhaps you are one of those impossible possibilities.  One of those persons for whom the odds-makers would have completely written off.  They would have counted you out completely given your pedigree, your status in life.  They would have gambled against you suggesting that there would have been no hope, no love in you or for you at all.  But they would have been wrong.  They did not take everything into consideration.  No, there are parts of your life, parts of your journey, parts of your yearning that no one else could have comprehended, and here you are on this holy day surrounded by good love and more determined than ever to live out your one and precious life as best you can.

Mary asks for all of us:  “How can these things be?” Perhaps you have asked that yourself more times than you care to admit.  Someone caught you by surprise; showed up with a word or proposition so bizarre; an invitation so compelling that it stopped you in your tracks.  Perhaps you thought they were inviting you into one thing but before you knew it, you were hooked onto something else. Things took a whole different spin.  Perhaps even coming here to the church was a notion you had not counted on, had not anticipated; you did not expect to still be here but here you are this fine Sunday morning on the eve of the day we celebrate our Savior’s birth and for some odd reason, you keep coming back.  Surprise!  Perhaps in hindsight you are able to affirm that God was already ahead, working it out; drawing you in; catching you off guard.

How can this be?  Who can believe such wild and illogical things?  For our entire faith is wrapped up in such awe and wonder.  Which is more difficult?  That an old woman like Elizabeth could get pregnant or a virgin girl could conceive and bear a child?  That she should fear not or that you should not be afraid when all about, it looks as if fear should be the order of the day?  That God is with you and for you no matter what?  That the impossible becomes possible.  A man could die for love’s sake and even more strange, that resurrection would happen three days later?

That it is truly possible to lay down our weapons and give peace a chance.  That one can forgive and be reconciled.  It is possible to treat people with respect and dignity; and to be treated the same – and to work at it to make it so?  That love and forgiveness will have the final say?  Darkness and vulnerability will not be the end of things? That extraordinary hope and amazing grace are breaking out everywhere?

When we read the texts honestly, we know that Mary like us needed that kind of assurance.  For everything was not worked out for her ahead of time.  She did not know – not fully –  what it would mean in the day to day any more than we might know.  For throughout the gospel of Luke, he tells us over and over again that Mary had to sit with certain things; she pondered them in her heart.  At times she did not recognize her own Son.  He may have been the Savior of the World but for Mary, he was still her flesh and she was there with him until the end; through all the mockery and pain and watching him die.

We know that life is not linear; never a straight line.  It is fraught with all sorts of ups and downs; hills and valleys; joys and sorrows; excitement and frustration.  We set out not knowing what lies ahead; what stumbling blocks will be in our way.  Not knowing who our champions are or will become; nor our haters for they will be there too.  We don’t know what circumstances will happen along the way.  Not always sure of ourselves and yet somehow, it seems, we press on because God has spoken.

Like us, Mary wrestled.  She was curious, cautious, and afraid.  Amazed and perplexed.  But ultimately, her words are undeniable.  She takes the risk and changes everything in order to live into God’s plan.  In the end, Mary said, I’m here; I’m willing.  I’m unsure but I can be counted on.   Though she does not understand; though she is filled with the full range of human emotion; her resignation is simply this:  “Behold the maid servant of the Lord.”

Can God be born in “little old you” and “little old me” to those looking to be comforted?  Those whose days are dark and whose journey is rocky?  Who like Mary, are carrying the weight of the world?

It is worth noting Mary’s song of praise.  By the time we get to verse 46 she can barely contain herself.  Though she starts out in fear and complexity, in the common and ordinary, she ends up with this extraordinary ending.  All these years later people around the world still call her blessed.  Mother of God.  The first disciple.  The archetype of committed faithfulness.

Listen to her song of praise:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”[2]

This morning I invite you to listen carefully:  and you just might hear God saying how beautiful you are.  How beautiful and loved and blessed of God.  Listen carefully and you might hear that something new and wonderful can happen in you; for you; with you.  Do not be afraid; the Spirit of God is with you.  What seems impossible is possible.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.


[1] Luke 1:28 The Message Bible

[2] Luke 1:46b-50