‘The angel said to [Mary], ‘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 holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.’ Luke 1:35-38
Brothers and sisters, I wonder have you begun to feel it yet? I’m talking, of course, about Christmas. Have you begun to feel Christmassy yet? It happened for me on Wednesday. On Wednesday night the choirs of St Laurence’s, St Peter’s, and St George’s got together to film our Christmas Carol service. A service which you’ll be able to watch tonight on YouTube. The candles had already been lit, the lights on the tree were sparkling, and the crib had been unveiled. The church was hushed, the camera was rolling, and then it began… then the choir began to sing one of my favourite Christmas songs ‘O Holy Night’. That was when I began to feel it. When it began to feel a lot like Christmas.
Over the past four weeks - along with the rest of the Church - we have been watching, waiting, and preparing for Christmas. Advent is deliberately a time of preparation. Of preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord. The Advent candles help us count down the weeks, even as the meanings of the candles cast our minds back to the events of yester-year. And now - on this Fourth Sunday of Advent - we tiptoe even closer, as we see all of the work of the Patriarchs, all the calls of the Prophets, and all the shouts of John the Baptist - in fact all of God’s plans for His world - come down to this. The story - the true story of God’s rescue of His people - now rests on the shoulder of one teenage girl. How will she respond? What will she say? If it is a ‘no’ will all things fall apart? But how can it be a ‘yes’ for she is just a girl, just a working class girl, from a back water town, in the middle of nowhere? Can it be that all creation has to wait on this one girls’ response? Can it be that God would leave it up to her? Will it be ‘no’? Or is there a chance she might say ‘yes’? We pick up the story in verse 26 of our Gospel reading:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
A teenager from the priestly clan of Levi, engaged and therefore now legally part of the clan of the great kings is sitting quietly at home. She and her family are poor, and she is to be married to a working class guy who will take car of her through his work as a carpenter. She comes from a religious family. She is marrying a good religious guy, and she remains in her family home until the wedding which usually takes place a year after the proposal. But like all of her people she feels down-hearted. The kings anointed by God have long since disappeared. The nation has lost many in the exile. And even though that exile is now meant to be over, it doesn’t feel like it’s over. The new temple looks pathetic compared to the one built by Solomon. And though the ruler of their nation calls himself a king he just does whatever the enemy occupation tell him to. Many are whispering that God has forgotten them! Only a very few have kept faith, including this teenage girl and her family. Where is God? Where is the king - the king of David’s line - the one who would rule forever? Has God forgotten? Has God given up? What are His people to do now? It’s been so long, and they have been waiting and waiting, and with each year it seems hope has been slipping further and further away. But now in this poor hovel, in this working class home, Mary sees a light, and hears a voice, which is recorded in verse 30:
The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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 ancestor David.
It turns out God hasn’t forgotten! It turns out God hasn’t given up! No God has just been biding His time, and the King of David’s line is on His way. The great rescuer of prophecy - the One who would be a great king, and would be known as ‘God with His people’ - was on His way. The sign that this would happen was that a virgin would give birth, someone who had never known a man would become pregnant. The Virgin’s baby would also be her king. Mary, understandably, said to the angel, ‘How can this be?’ And the angel responds, verse 35:
‘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 holy; he will be called Son of God.
With God, nothing is impossible. The God who made the world out of nothing, would work a new miracle and create a baby in Mary’s womb. The God who breathed life into the first man - the man who fell and cursed the earth - would breathe life into this new man - the One who would die and so redeem that same earth. God’s plan, and God’s preparations through the Patriarchs and Prophets now came down a baby, and a baby who would be born of Mary. But… but… only if Mary agreed. God’s rescue would not be forced on anyone. God’s rescuer would only come through consent. God would once again ask for a free-will decision; a free-will decision on which His rescue plan would hang. How will she respond? What will she say? Cast your eyes down to verse 38: ‘[Mary said], ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ It’s a ‘yes’! A ‘yes’ to whatever God has in store… and at this point Mary has little idea what God has in store. And with that ‘yes’ the creation breathes a sigh of relief.
But the plan is not complete. No, this ‘yes’ is just a beginning, for after Christmas must come Easter and after that first Easter each of us who hear this story faces a similar choice to Mary. A question is posed to all of us; and a response is required from all of us. From each one of us individually. Will we trust God and let Him guide our lives? Like Mary, we do not know what saying ‘yes’ might entail. And like Mary only a free-will decision is accepted. All we know - like Mary - is that when God takes the initiative, it is always love, love which will care for us and take us up into his saving purposes. Mary - this working class girl from the middle of nowhere - is, then, the supreme example of what always happens when God is at work by grace through human beings. God’s power from outside, and the indwelling spirit within, together result in things being done which would have been unthinkable any other way. But as with Mary, the decision is ours to make. We are asked to make this decision initially in order to join the Christian family. And then we are asked afresh each day, to remake the decision to choose to say ‘yes’ once more. This morning then - and for ALL the mornings to come - let us follow Mary’s example, and turn our face back toward God, and with humble hearts let us say with Mary: ‘let it be with me according to your word’. Amen (from the Rev. Mike).