Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh
St. Luke’s Portland
December 24, 2017: Advent 4A: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
This fourth Sunday of Advent focuses on Mary, giving us the story of the Annunciation, the time the angel came to Mary and told her that she would conceive and bear a son. The angel didn’t just tell Mary she was pregnant. The angel told Mary that her son would be a king, the Son of David, the Son of God who would turn the world upside down. To this poor, probably illiterate, Palestinian peasant girl, this must have seemed crazy. Even starting with her own pregnancy, she asks the simple but profound question: How can this be?
That, I think, is the real question for Christmas. If believing in Santa Claus is a challenge, believe in the Christ the real St. Nicholas worshipped is even harder. Cast down the mighty from their seats? Not so much these days. Exalt the humble and meek? Feed the poor and sent the rich away empty? Kind of looks like the opposite. The same was true in Mary’s day. The idea of God working in and through her body was strange enough. The idea of God’s kingdom breaking through and into her world, just didn’t make any sense at all.
Yet something happened in that conversation that changed Mary’s mind and completely changed her heart. It came toward the end of the dialogue when the angel said, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” When she heard those words, Mary understood that it wasn’t about her, that this was about God, a God for whom nothing was impossible, a God who would work in her, through her, and with her – and in and through and with her son and all those who would believe in his name. It was then that she said the Magnificat we read a few moments ago.
What would Christmas be like if, like Mary, we listened to the angel’s message and took the angel’s words to heart? Right now, Good News seems hard to find, God’s kingdom of peace and justice, of joy and love, of forgiveness and hope, seems like an impossible dream, and it feels like we are just going through the motions of Christmas to please our kids, our families, and our friends. What would happen if we remembered that nothing is impossible for God? What would happen if we believe that was true?
It’s an odd day – a Sunday that is also Christmas Eve. Within the next hour, we will be joining great numbers of people who are rushing around ready for Christmas, yet believing inside that once it’s over, nothing will have really changed. The readings on this fourth Sunday of Advent tell us that it doesn’t have to be that way. They challenge us to take a moment and think about what the angel said to Mary… and what Mary said in return. If we can do that, we may just discover that nothing is impossible for God – and that come tomorrow afternoon Christmas won’t be over. It will have only just begun.