Sermon for Advent 4, Year B December 24, 2017

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16                         Canticle 15                          Romans 16:25-27                              Luke 1:26-27

Advent is always the four Sundays BEFORE Christmas, so this morning we are observing the fourth Sunday of Advent, rather than celebrating Christmas – as I expect many other churches are doing.  Tonight, in keeping with the Jewish tradition of beginning the day at sunset, we will celebrate Christmas with our two services at 5:00 and 10:30.  But, since tradition is important to our practice of faith, this morning we have lit the fourth candle on our Advent Wreath and we have said/sung the Trisagion (Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One), one more time rather than the Gloria.

One of the reason, in our tradition, we don’t just skip this last Sunday of Advent when it falls on Christmas Eve, is that we value the scriptures as well as tradition.  The scriptures appointed for today include two that are important for us to remember before we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Both the Canticle we used for our psalm, The Song of Mary, and the gospel reading from Luke tell us the story of Mary and her faithfulness.  Upon learning that God has chosen her to give birth to the messiah, she says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

The Song of Mary is her response to her cousin Elizabeth, who greets Mary by saying:

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me.  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

Elizabeth sees Mary, her faith and willingness to raise the Christ child.  Mary’s response to Elizabeth is one of joy, and awe, and excitement.  She, although not yet married, feels blessed to be pregnant with the one, who Gabriel has told her is to be the savior of our world.

If we look past the miraculous in this story we can picture in our minds the experience of many a pregnant woman.  Joy, wonder, and determination, are among the feelings a woman experiences as she participates in the miracle of bringing a new life into this world.  I know, not because I’ve experience it myself, but I felt the same way when Cathy was pregnant with each of our three children.

Although these stories do not speak to the fear Mary experienced, we know she was afraid – for the angel Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid,” and whenever we hear these words said to us, we naturally fear what will come next.  Gabriel speaks of the great things Jesus will do, but says nothing about how her fiancé, Joseph, will respond to the news that Mary is pregnant.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that how Jesus enters into the world is messy, like life.  We can and we do experience joy and fear together.  Uncertainty abounds.  When Gabriel comes to Mary, her response is an example of one who is willing to take risks to do what God wants.  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

She does not let fear limit what she will do for God.  This is what makes her a good choice for the one who carries the hope of the world within her, and it is why this fourth Sunday in Advent needs to be observed.  We need to remember her faithfulness so that we, too, might be willing to take risk to do what God call us to do.

On this final Sunday of Advent, the mood of the scriptures has changed from one in which we have been anticipating the coming of Christ, the messiah, complete with John the Baptist calling on us to repent, to one in which we are anticipating the birth of Jesus.  We are not anticipating his return today, but his coming to live among us.

So just as new parents prepare for the birth of a child by making room in their homes, we need to make room in our lives to care for and nurture the one who has come to live among us – not apart from us, but with us.  The beauty of the coming of Christ in Bethlehem is that he comes to us as an infant needing us to care for him.

All the talk in the previous Advent lessons of our need to repent, to prepare ourselves for judgement, is replaced in today’s scriptures with a call to us to serve Christ, by caring for others as we would a helpless newborn.  Thus, the question is not, are you ready to be judged?  The question is, are you ready to care and nurture Christ who comes to live among us?

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for never giving up on us, for seeking to find a place in our lives.  Help us, we pray, to be mindful of your need for our service in the world you created.  Help us live our lives in such a way that the love you share with us will continue to grow, and that your kingdom will prevail on earth.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.