Fourth Sunday in Advent

An angel came to Mary with an announcement.
“You are going to have a baby!”
What joyful news!
What a gift from God!

I remember when I received news that I was going to be a Mom.
It was a phone call from a social worker which told us that the long wait was almost over.
We would travel to Ukraine in just a few more weeks,
and there we would become the parents of a baby boy.
And the second time, when the doctor said, “you’re going to have a baby!”
I was almost as surprised as Mary!
Becoming a parent – what a gift, what a joy.

And, as I knew but was soon to learn much more deeply in experience,
becoming a parent is a huge responsibility.
Even in the ideal circumstances of a baby born into a family longing for
and preparing for a child, a baby is a huge responsibility.
Once you’re a parent, life is never the same again.

Mary was not in such an ideal position to have a baby.
Not yet married, Mary had a lot to lose by carrying this baby –
her future husband, her reputation,
perhaps even her life, since the punishment for adultery was stoning.
But Mary agreed to bear a child,
and therefore to bear the responsibility that came with it.

Mary accepted her responsibility – that is, her ability to respond.
Could Mary have refused?
The angel did not, after all, ask Mary’s permission.
The angel announced – “you will have a child, and his name will be Jesus.”
He gave his news as a gift.

Perhaps Mary’s only ability to respond was in how she accepted the gift God gave.
We don’t know what would have happened if Mary had said,
“Not now – come back after I’m married” or
“Not me – find someone older, someone wealthier, someone wiser than me.”
We do know that Mary didn’t respond that way.
Mary responded with trust.
God gave Mary a gift,
and Mary received that gift with trust and faithfulness.
Mary was willing to set aside her own expectations for her life,
in exchange for God’s expectations.
Well, that was Mary.
It’s easy to hold her apart, as indeed, much of the tradition of the church has done.
Mary was unique in her sinlessness, some believe.
Mary is revered in some traditions, practically divine herself.
Certainly she must have a special holiness due to her unique role
in bearing God into the world.
Then it’s easy to think,
It’s just a good thing God didn’t ask me.
I don’t have the humility – the trust – the boldness – to bear Jesus.
It’s a good thing it was Mary, and not me.

But that’s where we get caught.
God has always used people to bear God’s message of salvation in the world –
Mary and Elizabeth,
Abraham and Sarah,
Moses and Aaron and Joshua,
Paul and Peter and Mary Magdalene.
God has always used people – faithful, flawed people – to bear God’s Word in the world.
And bearing Jesus into the world is precisely what we, as Christians, are called to do.

We, too, receive a gift at Christmas –
the gift of a baby who is our salvation.
Remember John the Baptist, which his colorful language and demands?
If you have a coat, share it with someone who does not.
If you have food, share it with someone who does not.
If you have a position of power over others, don’t use it for your own gain,
but be fair in your dealings with others.

In Advent we prepare ourselves for Christ to come.
But the coming of Christ is not an end – it is the beginning –
the beginning of new life for each of us.
In baptism, Paul says, I die to myself and am reborn in Christ.
It is Christ who lives in me.
The demands of John the Baptist are preparations not just to meet Jesus,
but to bear Jesus once we have met him.

Martin Luther once gave a Christmas sermon which describes our responsibility
in receiving the gift of Christ.
Christ was born for you, Luther proclaims.
It is to you that the good news of Christ is given.
And he continues
See to it that you do not treat the Gospel only as history, for that is only transient;
neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith.
Rather, see to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you.
The Gospel does not merely teach about the history of Christ. No, it enables all
who believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates.

If Christ has indeed become your own, and you have by such faith been
cleansed through him and have received your inheritance without any personal
merit, it follows that you will do good works by doing to your neighbor as
Christ has done to you. Since you have received enough and become rich, you
have no other commandment than to serve Christ and render obedience to him.
Direct your works that they may be of benefit to your neighbor, just as the
works of Christ are of benefit to you.

For this reason Jesus said at the Last Supper: ‘This is my commandment, that
you love one another; even as I have loved you.’ Here it is seen that he loved us
and did everything for our benefit, in order that we may do the same, not to
him, for he needs it not, but to our neighbor. This is his commandment, and this
is our obedience. Christ helps us, so we in return help our neighbor, and all
have enough.

We, too, have been given the gift of a baby, the Christ.
We, too, have the ability to respond.
What will we do with the gift God has given us in the birth of Jesus?

Unto us a child is born.
Unto us a son is given.
And his name is Emmanuel, God with us.
And his name is Jesus, our salvation.
And when he is born,
not only 2000 years ago but once again right here, this day, in our hearts,
we too become God-bearers.

Thanks be to God!

Lutheran Church of the Servant, Santa Fe, NM December 24, 2006

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