December 5, 2021 ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
Well, this is the second Sunday in Advent, and the second Sunday in a row that we have witnessed the angel Gabriel bringing a life-altering message from God. Zechariah, you might remember, doubted the message from God, and thus was left speechless until the prophecy had been fulfilled. Mary, upon hearing the greeting of a heavenly messenger, was, according to biblical translators, perplexed, troubled, baffled, confused, thoroughly shaken, deeply disturbed! But, in pure angelic form, Gabriel reminds Mary, “Do not be afraid!”
You have found favor with God. The power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you. You will give birth to the Savior.” Mary asks, “How can this be?” The angel ~ God’s divine messenger ~ said to her, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
The call of God is to an ordinary woman. It is the call to do something extraordinary. Nothing will be impossible with God.
There is a wonderful story about a man who was home with the children one afternoon while his wife went out Christmas shopping. He was reclining on the couch, half sleeping, half watching a football game, when the kids came bounding into the room. “Dad, we have a play to put on. Do you want to see it?” He really didn’t want to, but he knew he needed to. So he sat up, came out of his slumber, and became a one-person audience.
His four children, ages four, six, eight, and ten years old, were the actors: Mary, Joseph, the Angel, and the Wise Man. Joseph came in with a mop handle. Mary came in with a pillow under her pajamas; another child had a halo and was flapping her arms in winged delight. Finally the last child, the eight year old, came out, with all of the jewelry on that she could find in the house, her arms filled with three presents. “I am all three wise men,” she said. “I bring three precious gifts: gold, circumstance, and mud!”[i]
The father didn’t laugh. The father didn’t correct the Wise One. Rather, he reflected on the word that somehow got to the heart of the Christmas story: God loves us for who we are: our gold—where we are at our best; our circumstances – where we are right now; even our mud – where we are when we are most human. God chose an ordinary human being – Mary – to be the vessel through which the Son of God would be born. What is impossible for us is possible for God. God can take our gold, our circumstance, our mud, and do something glorious with them.
This is what the heavenly messenger shared: the disruptive call of God, for Mary, and, who knows, perhaps for you and me.[ii]
While God’s call may disrupt our “circumstance,” and even call alarming attention to our “mud,” it is usually a call that can transform our chaos into inner peace…that peace which passes all understanding. The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be the Prince of Peace, and yet still today, so many believers are stuck in the mud of their circumstance, with no gold, or PEACE, in sight. All too often, the mud and chaos are of our own making or choosing. We spend much time wishing our circumstances were not the way they actually are. We get stuck in the mud of being perplexed, troubled, baffled, confused, shaken and disturbed. Our ability to creatively see how God might be working within our current situation is diminished by all of the energy we spend on denial or passively waiting for things to change for us.
PEACE comes when we accept what is and we are able to use our energy to live into the what’s next. Speaking from her heart, Mary responded, “Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me.” Mary chose inner peace as she embraced that God would make the impossible possible, and she celebrated how God would bring gold out of the mud!
Dr. Brene Brown, author of several amazing books centering on the theme of wholehearted living, speaks poignantly of practices which develop inner peace. The first two of those practices are: Cultivating authenticity and cultivating self-compassion. Cultivating authenticity requires letting go of determining our value based on what others think of us. Cultivating self-compassion requires us to shed perfectionism – the fear of not measuring up. That equips us to minimize shame, blame, and judgment.
Remember, PEACE comes when we accept what is, and are able to use our energy to live into the what’s next. Our world today has become known by the mud that is slung in all directions. Our current circumstance seems to be shaped increasingly by the human condition that puts others down, in order to artificially lift up those with demeaning rhetoric. Yet, we hope, we believe, we know… that there is gold waiting to be uncovered, and offered as a cherished gift to pay homage to the holy child of God.
So, instead of waiting for things to be more peaceful, how can we be the ones to offer more PEACE?
Mary was following a long line of folks with emerging faith in responding affirmatively to God’s call (with or without an angel!). Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Elizabeth, just to name a few. Will our names be added to the spiritual genealogy of those who have followed God’s call to embrace the circumstance, and see gold when others only see mud? Will we find inner PEACE, wholehearted living, and reasons to rejoice as chaos becomes calling? Remember, with God, nothing is impossible.
Take a slow deep breath! Every time we inhale, we are invited to receive the Spirit of the Living God. The breath/Spirit within us connects the divine with the human in life-enhancing ways. Every time we exhale, we are encouraged to offer a witness to others about how Christ transforms our lives. Receive, embody, and share the PEACE of Christ this day. Breathe! PEACE! Breathe! PEACE!
Holy Living God, Blessed Jesus, Guiding Spirit,
alight within us your flame of peace this day.
Grant us openness to hear your message.
Grant us courage to be your messengers in the world,
creating more peace even in the midst of fear. Amen.[iii]
[i][i] James Moore, “Won’t You Let Him In?” And Advent study for Adults, page 30.
[ii] Bishop Kenneth Carter, “Call and Response” sermon for Advent 4B 2011.
[iii]Dr. Marcia McFee, “Angels Among Us,” Worship Design Studio, 2017.