Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent: with Reference to Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 
A call from God is specific. Our God is a personal God who knows us by name. Not only that, he knows where we live, not just geographically, but spiritually and emotionally. He knows where come from how we got here and all our connections and relationships. 
28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
God’s attitude to us is always one of greeting. He always wants to be in relationship with us. Every last one of us is favoured of God, no matter what we have or haven’t done, no matter how far we’ve drifted from him in our sin. He always wants to be with us and for us to be with him. 
29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 
Often, the one who God is calling is troubled by the call. Mary was, so were Moses and Gideon. Jude and I struggled for 4 years over the call to go to seminary. For a year we agonized over the call to St Barnabas. We liked it where we were, but even though we were troubled, we did realize that we needed to pay attention and to discern whether it was the Lord or not. 

How do you do that? You ask trusted people to pray for you to hear God. You search the Bible for guidance. You listen carefully to the guidance of people who have authority over you in the Lord (in our case, with the call to StB, it was the Bishop). In your case it might be me. 
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
God always responds by saying in one way or another do not be afraid. I will go with you. I will fight for you. Which is not to say that we will not suffer. When one answers God’s call, there will usually be suffering. For Mary, the suffering would be terrible as she watched her first born die on the cross. 

Rarely, though, are we called to suffer to the point of shedding blood. Usually it is because of having to give up things we don’t want to give up; things like security, comfort, a big income, things we want rather than things we need. 
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Sometimes, answering God’s call, leads to being involved in something great. Mother Theresa. For most of us the call is to humbler things which bring very little limelight. 

Always, whatever the call, it will be about bringing Jesus to birth in your world. And we are always called to name him in what ever it is. That is why I’m always on about doing whatever ministry we do in the Name of Jesus so it is absolutely clear that we do what we do because he loves the people we serve and we follow him and want to build him up and make him great in this church and in Medicine Hat. 

Those of you who are delivering hampers this week: what might you say to draw attention to Jesus and build up his reputation as you do that? “Hi. We’re from St Barnabas Anglican Church. We’re happy to give this to you because Jesus loves you and we want to help you and your family celebrate his birth with joy this year. Merry Christmas!!!” 

If what we do is not about bringing Jesus to birth in the lives of the people we’re serving, making him great and building up his reputation, then I think we must question whether it really is God calling us to do it or whether we’re doing it to build ourselves up.  
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
When called by God most of us can’t figure out how he’s going to pull it off. 

Asking this question can have consequences. Remember what happened to Zechariah earlier in this chapter; v18-20, when he questioned what Gabriel was telling him. 
35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
The Holy Spirit of God is upon you. God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. He didn’t look for a conveniently pregnant young woman. He chose Mary. He chooses people like us. We are all, without exception, called to bring Jesus into our world in some way. 

For example, is God calling you to a surprising, new, seemingly impossible, ministry outside the church? Serving the poor? Parents? Schools? Is God is calling one of you to a surprising new, seemingly impossible, ministry in the church? To lead the ACW, for example? To organize the annual women’s dinner? Anyone feeling troubled and unqualified about that? Anyone trying to discern if you’re being called? Anyone trying to ignore or avoid it? Remember what happened to Jonah. And please, don’t wait for me to discern that you are so called and gifted. Say something. Tell me. Offer to help.  

Mary’s call was unique and world changing and is now known all over the world. Our call will probably be way less spectacular. It probably will not be recorded in any earthly book, but I suspect they are all recorded in the Book of Life we read about in Revelation. The power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of ordinary people like us can do impossible things. All we have to do is overcome our fear and with Mary say, 
38 “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”