Fourth Sunday of Advent

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Opening Hymn

Readings

Psalm 89:1-4,19-26 (NLT)

I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever!
    Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.
Your unfailing love will last forever.
    Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.

The Lord said, “I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant.
    I have sworn this oath to him:
‘I will establish your descendants as kings forever;
    they will sit on your throne from now until eternity.’”

19 Long ago you spoke in a vision to your faithful people.
You said, “I have raised up a warrior.
    I have selected him from the common people to be king.
20 I have found my servant David.
    I have anointed him with my holy oil.
21 I will steady him with my hand;
    with my powerful arm I will make him strong.
22 His enemies will not defeat him,
    nor will the wicked overpower him.
23 I will beat down his adversaries before him
    and destroy those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him,
    and by my authority he will grow in power.
25 I will extend his rule over the sea,
    his dominion over the rivers.
26 And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Homily by Rev’d Jo Joyce

‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

How do you think of Mary? Young, innocent, trusting perhaps? Maybe naïve, a small figure dressed in blue, who seems meek and obedient. And yet…

‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

Those must be some of the most daring words in scripture, brave and determined, courageous. I wonder how many teenagers you know that you would trust with such a momentous event, and yet she proves the doubters wrong. She faces the wrath of her fiancée and more than likely her family – who is ever going to believe a pregnancy that happened in this way, and still she goes ahead.

‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

Mary gets somewhat of a raw deal in the Anglican tradition. Often, she is airbrushed out of things, a brief mention at the nativity, a silent, compliant figure barely known beyond the words of the Magnificat, which is a shame because we have so much we can learn from her. In Mary we have humanity at the very heart of God. For the Orthodox she is the Theotokos – the God bearer, mysteriously connected to the Trinity through being the mother of Christ. For Catholics she intercedes on our behalf, lifting our prayers to God. It is worth thinking on. What would our faith be like with a greater appreciation of her story?   

‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

Perhaps if we reflect a little on her story, we will start to get some appreciation of just how momentous and courageous she was. I wonder too if we need some of the faith that she had – unsullied by the cynicism of age, trusting and confident – God has spoken so it will be, rather than ‘did God really say?’ Perhaps we need to move beyond the meekness of the figure in blue giving birth in a stable, to the joy of the Magnificat, the wonder of the pregnancy of her cousin Elizabeth, her faith at the wedding in Cana, the rebuke of her son, or the vigil at the cross. It is not just her pregnancy and motherhood that is remarkable, it is her presence alongside our Lord throughout his life. Her hopes for her new-born, her pondering in the temple.

Sometimes people criticise the song ‘Mary did you know’ as mansplaining at its worst, but I like it because it voices for me those things about her that I wonder at. How much did she know as a young girl, saying yes to the angel of what was to come? Did she have any inkling of the story that was to unfold? Was it one moment of faithfulness and lifetime of trying to work it out – or did she indeed know deep in her heart that this miraculous birth was going to go on to be something far greater? My prayer is that as we reflect on her story, we too may have a little of the courage she had, and that by the grace of God we too will be able to say:

‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

Prayers

To all who wonder about the Divine,
who grasp at the words of this season
with hope.
Come, Lord Jesus.

To all who live with confusion and uncertainty
praying for insight and understanding.
Come, Lord Jesus.

To all who would tread gently, cautiously,
On a tenuous, fragile path,
but who long to be brave.
Come, Lord Jesus

(written by Rev’d Wendy Bray)

Closing Hymn

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