Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Midweek Advent 4, Luke 1:26-38, Dec 21, 2005

Weekday Advent 4, 2005 St. John’s, Howard, SD
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Greetings!!  God is with you.
Of all the unlikely places, of all the unlikely people, this was the most unlikely of all.  As if Galilee wasn’t odd enough, it all happened in Nazareth.  Nazareth had almost come to mean “nowhere.”  To say,”They come from Nazareth,” meant they were uneducated, uncouth and uncivilized.  There could hardly have been anything that was less significant than Nazareth, unless it was a virgin from Nazareth.  A young woman, not even married yet, only “pledged to be married.”  It was kind of an in-between state, not a girl in her father’s house, not a woman in her husband’s house.  There she was in-between two states of being, waiting for the future, and no longer part of the past.  Her husband, it should be noted, was of slightly more significant, being a descendent of David.  He could be associated with the Great King, but then so could many from Nazareth, even his future wife.  That was only a slightly polished spot on the old clay pot.  Nothing of significance ever happened there, or to those people.  
“Greetings Mary!  Grace to you!  You have been specially picked.”  Boomed the angel’s voice.  It came from Gabriel.  He had been particularly sent for this purpose.  This greeting began the most important message he would ever deliver.  He had been given other important tasks, like helping Daniel understand his dreams or announcing to Elizabeth that she would be a parent, even in her old age.  But, this time it was different.  “The favored one,” sat before him trembling.  He looked at her; there was nothing special about her.  She was young, faithful, beautiful, yet there were many others like her.  She was chosen to be highly favored.  He knew she had done nothing in her short life to deserve what she was about to receive.  But that was the nature of God’s grace it came to undeserving people.  He could see that she was frightened and confused.  It was more than just his presence; she was trying to understand what it meant that she had been “picked.”  “Picked for what?” her eyes pleaded.  “God is with you!”  Gabriel assured her. “You don’t have to be afraid, Mary.  A good thing is about to happen through you.”  The words settled on the girl, she breathed out and calmness appeared on her face.  Mary bowed her head and he could see that she was prepared to hear whatever he would say.  Her heart was open as she sat in silence waiting.  “You are going to have a baby and God wants you to name him Jesus.”  She raised her head and looked at him.  He continued, “He will also be, ‘The Great One,’ known as ‘Son of the Most High.’  He is the long awaited successor to David’s throne.  He is the promised ruler over the nation, the one promised to descendents of Jacob.  His kingdom will go on and on forever.”  The important message was followed by silence as Mary contemplated what the angel had said.  Gabriel watched her as the realization of what he had said came over her.  He could see her scanning her memory for the promises.  Crushing Satan’s head…  Wonderful Counselor…  David’s greater Son… At first there was a look of disbelief then her thoughts culminated in a whispered word…  “Messiah!”  The doubts washed away and Mary sat in silent wonder.  Gabriel let the moment stand in silence.  God’s grace would not be upstaged.  Still, he remained.  She would have questions.  After a pause, she puzzled, “How will this happen?  I am not living with my husband yet.  I have not been with a man.”  Gabriel saw her faith; she didn’t doubt what she had been told.  She only wanted to know how it would come about.  She wanted to know the details of how God’s grace would come to her.  The angel was prepared with an answer.  “It will come about by the Holy Spirit, through the power of God.  God, himself, will be with you, and enter your womb.  That is why, this Holy One who will be born to you, will be called God’s Son.”  There was another pause.  She didn’t need any more proof, she already believed, but Gabriel was instructed to give it anyway.  “Elizabeth is pregnant, too.  Even though people said she was too old and unable, she is six months along.”  “Nothing is impossible in God’s presence.”  He added.  Mary bowed again.  “I am humbled by being chosen.”  She said.  “I give myself to God’s purposes.”  Gabriel marveled at the display of faith he found in, of all places, a humble virgin of Nazareth of Galilee.  He left her there with her head still bowed, praising God as he left, thankful that he was given this task to do.  
Dear Christian friends, Members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard:  This too is an unlikely place and we are all unlikely people.  “They come from Howard,” may not be equivalent to uneducated, uncouth and uncivilized, but it also isn’t equivalent to ‘high society.’  This isn’t the place people would choose to be a point of outreach to the world.  Yet, God has chosen it.  Here on this plot of land.  Here in this church building, named for the Apostle John.  Here is a small portion of the church to which Jesus commanded, “Make disciples of all nations.”  We are a part of the whole Christian church, which Jesus called his ‘bride.’  Like Mary, it is in an in between state. (it is) In between having been pledged to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and his anxiously awaited return to claim us.  Here, in this place, God says to us, “Hello, St. John’s.  I have chosen you.”  We are fearful for we aren’t sure what we will be asked to do.  “Chosen to do what?” we ask, wondering if the budget will pass and if there will be enough money to do whatever it is.  “Do you really mean us?” we think, as we see our little congregation on the plains of South Dakota.  “You don’t need to be afraid, my children, you are all covered by my Grace.  Listen to the words spoken by your Pastor, the words of Grace pronounced upon you, after your confession.  Look at the altar where my body and blood stand, ready for you to taste and feel.  You don’t need to be afraid.  I am with you.  Nothing is impossible in the presence of God!
What we have been asked to do doesn’t come to us in the booming voice of an angel.  It comes on the lips of those dying without God.  It comes in the words of a world blissfully ignorant of its own needs.  From people striving to find meaning in a life that is filled with violence… violence that spills the blood of children, in the name of choice, and rips apart families in the name of personal freedom.  It comes in the words of those pushing for wrong to be called right and the darkness of sin to be held up as an alternative lifestyle.  That is a world that is screaming for help.  
The answer comes in an unlikely place, a pregnant virgin in Nazareth; a church under persecution in Sudan, where its members face death regularly; a small country church, membership 12, in central Nebraska, that hasn’t had a pastor in 4 years; a congregation in Louisiana, suffering the results of racism, struggling to rebuild its burned out sanctuary; and St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard.
Struggling to be relevant in a society that rejects what it believes.  In all these unlikely places, God is present brining salvation to a needy world.
Jesus Christ is the answer.  He was born in an unlikely place, to unlikely people to show that God’s love is especially for the unlikely.  In love he reaches out to a troubled and sinful world with forgiveness won by his death on the cross.  He reaches out to bring healing for the wrongs done in the name of personal choice.  He reaches out with forgiveness when families are broken, and lives destroyed by selfishness.  He reaches out to you and me with forgiveness for all we have done.  Washing our sins away in a bath of his cleansing blood.  That is the task.  We are to take the Good News of the forgiveness of sin, through the work of Jesus Christ to the world, beginning right here; in an unlikely place.
Mary bowed her head, and the impossible happened.  The infinite God entered her womb, became a fetus, and began to grow.  “I am the Lord’s servant.”  She said.  
We bow our heads, the budget not withstanding, and the impossible happens.  People hear the Word of God, the infinite Spirit of God enters their hearts and faith begins to grow.  
We pray:  God of all Grace, Immanuel, God with us:  We thank and praise you for your presence.  Use us, your servants, as you will that the Good News of Jesus Christ might be spread through the whole world, beginning right here in this very unlikely place.  This we ask in your Holy Name, O Christ. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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