“Greetings, favored one!”

a sermon, based on Luke 1.26-38, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2017

Reading again and reflecting anew on this story, commonly called the Annunciation, I think about our life’s stories, and I see in Mary a model for us of how to face the many sorts of announcements that come to us. Each of the following announcements, I either have experienced or, through nearly forty years of pastoral ministry, I have heard from the lips of others about their lives…

An executor of an estate announces that you are the beneficiary of the generous bequest of a loved one. An IRS agent announces you are the subject of an audit…

An employer announces that you have been promoted with increased responsibility and recompense or you have been transferred or discharged…

A partner or spouse arrives home announcing a new job opportunity requiring a reconfiguration of family finances or a geographical move…

A partner, spouse, or long-lived friend announces a change in your relationship – a greater connectedness or distance…

A therapist announces the next step in your hard-fought, long-sought journey toward wholeness…

A physician announces that your medical condition or that of a loved one has improved or has worsened.

Each of these annunciation experiences, desired or undesired, raises the specter of the unfamiliar, the uncertain, making it sometimes hard to know what to do. Mary, again, as a model for us, shows us how to be in the moment, listening, waiting for a clarifying revelation.

The Annunciation (1898), Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Gabriel appears. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Though Mary is familiar with the lore of her people Israel about how God speaks through angelic messengers, she has heard no such word. Now, she has and she is perplexed.

“Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” Mary would conceive and bear a son, Jesus, who would reign on the throne of David in an everlasting kingdom. For an oppressed people in an occupied land overrun by the Roman Empire, this is a thrilling word of hope, fulfilling an age-old prophecy of liberation.

But Mary is a virgin, thus, Gabriel’s message abounds with logical and biological impossibilities. “How can this be?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” Then Gabriel offers an anticipatory sign, a revelation concerning Elizabeth, who “also conceived…(although she) was said to be barren; for nothing (is) impossible with God.”

“Here I am…let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s assent is no docile denial of her own will in the face of divine fiat. (Verily, I believe if the only answer Mary can give is “yes” and, thus, she is not granted the freedom to say “no”, then her “yes” wouldn’t be true.) Hers is the “yes” of faith; her conscious acceptance of a new thing, literally, a new creation and with it, a new meaning of and for her life.

The Annunciation. A story of the announcement of the coming of salvation within human history. A story about Mary and her embrace, verily, her embodiment of that divine Word.

Many are the announcements that come to us. May we, like Mary, remain present in the moment, listening, waiting for a clarifying revelation. For even, perhaps especially in the most unlikely, undesirable circumstances, we never can know when an angel may appear calling to us, “Greetings, favored one!”, calling us to bear the life of Jesus in the wombs of our souls, calling us, through our response, to bring the life of Jesus more greatly into the world.

 

Illustration: The Annunciation (1898), Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). Note: I love Tanner’s depiction of The Annunciation – the muted earth tones of the room, for me, expressive of groundedness in the reality of time and space and of the moment of divine-human encounter, Mary, with her hands-clasped prayerful posture, looking upward with patient expectation, and Gabriel, not portrayed in human form, but rather as the pure light of heavenly illumination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 22 (and final), the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day and all days for the wonder of Your Waiting; You Whose tolerance in the timing of Your second coming is meant, I believe…I know to allow me to repent.(1)

O Lord Jesus, ever regarding Your patience as salvation,(2) may I not…make me not resist the loving labor of Your Spirit in bringing me to peace with You that I, this day and alway, may…will rejoice to behold Your appearing.

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See Romans 2.4
(2) See 2 Peter 3.15

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 21, Saturday, December 23, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Wholeness; You in Whom “the fullness of the deity dwells bodily.”(1)

Though made in the imago Dei, I, in my sinfulness and sins, my scattered thoughts and feelings, my self-centered intentions and actions, sully the glorious semblance of divinity in which I have been created.

O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, I pray You refashion my mind and my heart, my soul and my spirit, my being entire that Your Apostle’s word may be true for me, will be true in me; that I come to the measure of Your full stature.(2)

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Colossians 2.9
(2) Ephesians 4.13

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 20, Friday, December 22, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Worship.

Thus, You spake to Photina,(1) the Samaritan woman at the well: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him.(2)

O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, let my worship of You ne’er be tied to time or bound to space or place. Rather let my prayers, verily, my being of adoration and praise and confession and thanksgiving and petition and intercession and oblation be every word of my mouth and every deed of my doing that I may be…that I will be wholly Yours. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) As I noted previously (waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 8, the Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017), though Scripture gives no name to the Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus at the well (John 4.5-42), Eastern Orthodox tradition calls her Photina (or Photine), from the Greek, phos, “light”, meaning, “the enlightened one”; for she, in her testimony to her fellow Samaritans, led many to believe in Jesus as “the Savior of the world” (John 4.39).
(2) John 4.23

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 19, Thursday, December 21, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day, the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, for the wonder, again, of Your Weal.(1)

Thomas dared to doubt the testimony of his brother and sister disciples, who, beholding Your resurrected glory, proclaimed, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas dared to profess, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”(2) Yet, when confronted by Your appearing, Thomas, needing neither to put his finger in the mark of the nails nor his hand in Your side, dared to confess, “My Lord and my God!”(3)

O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, make me bold in my doubt that I, trusting in Your appearing may…will deepen in faith. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See my previous posts regarding Weal: waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 11, Wednesday, December 13, 2017 and waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 16, Wednesday, December 18, 2017
(2) John 20.25
(3) John 20.28

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 18, Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Wonder; that is, Your holiness, again!(1)

God spake unto His servant, saying, “Moses! Moses!” further saying, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” and Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.(2) Yet You, O Lord Jesus, in the flesh of Your incarnate divinity, hath brought God near, yea, verily, face to face.

O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, may I, without fear, behold Your holiness in every face of family and friend and stranger, of women and men and girls and boys, of aged and young, of gay and lesbian and transgender, of rich and poor, of well and infirm, and, on some day and at some times, perhaps the hardest for me, in the mirror.

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See my post of yesterday regarding Wonder: waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 17, Wednesday, December 19, 2017
(2) See Exodus 3.5-6

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 17, Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Wonder; that is, Your holiness.

Moses beheld the bush that blazed, but was not burned. Yet only when he turned aside to look at this great sight did God speak unto him, saying, “Moses! Moses!”(1)

I wonder, O Lord Jesus, You Who in Your incarnate divinity already hath made Your holy Otherness another-ness with us, where and when and how do You appear, reaching across the chasm between heaven and earth? By faith, yes, I trust that You do, yet I must ask where and when and how and how many times have I missed You; for I, too busy in my thoughts and deeds, too blind of sight, too blunt of mind, failed to turn aside to look?

O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, open my mind, quicken my heart, stir my soul, startle my spirit that I may not…that I will not miss You again. Amen.

 

Footnote:
(1) See Exodus 3.1-4

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 16, Monday, December 18, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Weal again,(1) for I have another thought, verily, two other thoughts about Your Wounds.

The first another thought is of my wounds, my world-weary wounds – some, the festering sores of hurts I have endured from the hands of others and from the fates of life’s chance and circumstance and some, yes, self-inflicted by mine own false choices that flew in the face of all that I know and believe is good and right and true. My wearisome wounds that weigh me down. My wearisome wounds, when, unbidden and unwanted, occupying my attention, from which there is scant relief and release.

The second another thought, O Lord Jesus, is that Your Wounds, those marks in Your flesh of Your suffering and dying, rose from the grave with You, remaining on Your blessed resurrection Body, clear and visible.(2)

I wonder, I pray, O Lord Jesus, whether bearing alway my wounds is a mark of my life’s experience ne’er to be denied, even more, a mark of my learning meant to be remembered and retained, still more, a mark of my salvation in You, verily, Your Power made perfect in my weakness.

O Lord Jesus, if this, if any of this be true, then I rejoice in my wounds, ne’er to repeat them or deepen them, but rather…but only to claim the victory of vulnerability in You. Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See my previous post regarding Weal: waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 11, Wednesday, December 13, 2017
(2) Although none of the canonical gospel accounts explicitly state that Jesus, after his resurrection, bore on his body the marks of his suffering and death, John implies it: Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord (John 20.19b-20).

sue God?

a sermon, based on Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11 and John 1.6-8, 19-28reached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017

Isaiah (1896-1902), James Tissot

Over 2500 years ago, the people Israel, after nearly fifty years of captivity in Babylon, were free. For a second time, they would journey to the Promised Land. The prophet Isaiah marked the auspicious occasion with this word of hope: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me…anoint(ing) me…to bring good news to the oppressed…the brokenhearted…the captives…(and) all who mourn.”

By contrast, stories of this past week from around the globe screamed the sorrowful news of the daily revivals of ancient animosities, civil unrest, escalating terrorist violence, and, perhaps most ominously, steps forward and backward and forward again toward the threshold of war with North Korea.

Reading Isaiah, then looking at the world, where is the good news to the oppressed, brokenhearted, captive, and mourning? It’s been 2500 years! Plenty of time for God to bring this glorious vision to light and life. Sometimes, when I think things never will get better, I feel like suing God for breach of promise!

But one thing gives me pause. My belief that we humans bear responsibility for the state of the world. Yes, we pray: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and…come among us…we (who) are sorely hindered by our sins…to help and deliver us.” Yet what seems an honest confession of our need can sound like our abdication of our accountability; our all-too-facile admission of our failings so to absolve ourselves of our guilt and grief over the mess we have made of this world. Perhaps we should sue ourselves, declare moral bankruptcy, and throw ourselves on the mercy of the Court of Cosmic Claims (or Crimes, as the circumstances may warrant)!

However, accepting our responsibility immediately raises the question: For what? And if the “what” are the big and abiding problems of our world – hunger, homelessness, economic disparities between rich and poor, the destruction of the environment, racism, sexism – then every one of us, whether one individual, one community, one congregation, one nation, with limited energy and resources, immediately is overwhelmed.

So, what do we do?

John can help us. To the question, “Who are you?” he confessed, declared, “I am not the Messiah!” that is, in common parlance, to say, “I’m not God!”

Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Saint Jean-Baptiste et les pharisiens), 1886-1894, James Tissot (1836-1902)

John then described himself in terms of his life’s mission: “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’”, thereby, reminding all of their responsibility. If the vision of good news to the oppressed, brokenhearted, captive, and mourning had not then and has not yet dawned, perhaps it was they then and we now have not done all we could do to bring it to light and life.

Thus, in response to the question, What do we do?, which is another way of answering the question, Who are we?, following John, we are to be those who always are mindful of our responsibilities for and to the world. It isn’t about whether we always fulfill our responsibilities. We never always fulfill anything. Ultimately, that’s God’s job. Our job, individually and communally, is to be aware and alert to human need and to our resources (not worrying about what we don’t have and acknowledging what we do have!) and to our commitment to respond, and then in the name of the One for whom we Advent-wait, to make straight the way of the Lord, that is to say, to do something.

 

Illustrations:
Isaiah (1896-1902), James Tissot (1836-1902)
Saint John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Saint Jean-Baptiste et les pharisiens), James Tissot

Footnote:
(1) Full text of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

waiting for Jesus – an Advent-season-prayer-a-day, Day 15, the Third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017

Note: Advent, from the Latin, adventus, “coming”, is the Christian season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, the heart of the Christmas celebration, and, according to scripture and the Christian creeds, his second appearance on some future, unknown day and also according to scripture and Christian tradition, his daily coming through the Holy Spirit. Hence, the theme of waiting for Jesus is Advent’s clarion call.

O Lord Jesus, I wait this day for the wonder of Your Witness, in the words of Your lips and in the works of Your life, to Your irrepressible, indefatigable, unconditional, unchangeable Love. O Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit, lead me, guide me that I, more and more, day by day, may…will respond to You and Your irresistible Love by resting my weary and, yea, my warring soul in You.(1) Amen.

 

Footnote:
(1) Here, I think of the words of George Matheson (1882):
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.