Sermon 20 December 2015

Advent 4 2015  Micah 5:2-5a Hebrews 10:5-10 Luke 1:39-45

Those of us who are men or who do not have children often find it hard to make the right noises when a pregnancy is announced.  Should I congratulate the prospective parents or commiserate that systems failed? It is difficult to avoid deflating the exuberant bearer of news or being excited when the news is not too welcome. How do I express delight when I think this was not really the best thing to do?

Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth and for Elizabeth there is nothing to worry about. She gets a kick in the ribs with the not so subtle message, jump up and down and shout hooray. While Elizabeth is gushing Mary has a moment to think and theologises the whole thing. It is a bit strange.  How many of us would go beyond the theological ‘Thank God?’
Luke is announcing his gospel, his telling of the good news for the world and he puts it in this human context. The stable and the birth and ox and ass are yet to come, no-one knows about them yet.

Holy Church, you and me, is pregnant with this same news.  It’s not sweet and pink about a baby or the opportunity to sing sanitised songs of peace and goodwill, it is real, to a world in either the pain of need and violence or a world sated with so much that being human is becoming difficult.  When we read the gospels that is what we find on the pages, the suffering relieved and re-understood and the comfortable kicked in the ribs. Advent and Christmas 2016 are another starting point in our journey of understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

Mary’s words are some of the most revolutionary ever uttered – the scattering of the proud, the bringing down of the powerful, the upturning of social order, the filling of the hungry, the emptying of the rich.  Perhaps the good thing which comes out of not going to Evensong (these words are part of the service – Magnificat) is that they move away from the familiar which we recite without thinking to the surprising and shocking. We should take them as a warning of the implications of wandering away from the purposes of God.  Wander too far and the announcing angel might stop us and tell us we have to experience not so much our own new birth but a new pain of giving new birth.

When asked what he was looking forward to, Tim Peake said it was seeing the world from the perspective of space, looking out of the window to see it below. I can’t imagine it and if I could I would probably be so emotional that my eyes would not work properly. This big bump of life straining for the new birth of each day, each year.

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews has Christ talking back to God. He looks through the religious practice of the time to the enfleshment promised in the promise of a child. A couple may look back through their coming together to see the enfleshment of their relation. As it were standing above and away to see clearly and to hope of what might be.

The town of Bethlehem remains in labour pain, struggling to be a real place where people are born and grow and the life of God is lived.  The world continues to stifle the hope.

The Iona Community, an international dispersed community of Christians publishes worship material and hymn and songs.  Sometimes there is a new slant on an old one. An alternative first verse for a carol we know very well is:
O little town of Bethlehem
We hear thy suff’ring cry
Among thy holy, ancient streets,
Where fear and anguish lie.
We hear, as well, an echo from
Two thousand years before.
When Christ cried out; a child new-born
Brought hope for evermore
It isn’t just Bethlehem of course, but many places, others with names which we will sing in the next few weeks and some we will commit to our prayers and hope.
Just after the birth Joseph realised that it was time to go. The political situation was getting too bad.  The baby and perhaps all of them could lose their lives. They flee to another country. We worship the one made known in that act.
One day, maybe, we will see the world as God sees it. One world in peace and glory caught up in the reconciling love of a God who weeps at the loss of a friend and cries out in the agony of the cross and goes on to show that there is life after agony if we look for it and look in the places we don’t expect to find it. According to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants for ever.


© 2015 Frank Wright

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