Starting with the Basics: Be Like Solomon, Jesus and Mary

I was hoping to be preaching for the home crowd at St Peter’s Lutheran in Cochrane today.

For St Peter’s Lutheran Church

Christmas 2

3/1/21

1 Kings 3:4-15
Ephesians 3:1-12
Luke 2:40-52

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness
to see the radiance of your glory. Amen.

Happy New Year to my St Peter’s family! It is lovely to be with you this morning from across the pond. Would have been lovelier if I had actually been able to be with you in person as I had hoped up until a few weeks ago!

None of us can be too certain about what 2021 holds – we are only three days in after all. On New Year’s Day 2020 I posted this quote from Beth Moore on Facebook: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

This is still very much true as we head into 2021. Many of us have no idea what is coming. I have decided to only use a pencil when putting things on the calendar! We can be sure that God will be faithful, He is going to love us, He will be our light and He will keep his word. Amen!

So where do we start at the beginning of this new and uncertain year? Let’s start with the basics. Many people have learned a lot over the past year, we have learned new ways of doing things, new technology, what we can and can’t live without. We might have learned where our limits are – so many people have been pushed right to the edge of theirs. Some people have never been busier in their lives, others have never been so bored. Some have discovered new activities and hobbies; others have barely made it through each live long day. Some haven’t made it at all.

We need to do something with all this learning. There are a few golden threads running through the readings this morning and we will pull on a few of them. Wisdom is the overarching theme; where and how do we get it? I suggest this morning that we Be like Solomon, Be like Jesus and Be like Mary.

Be like Solomon! Thank you to Pastor Paul for his excellent summary of 1 Kings from his reading. Wisdom comes through asking. As one favourite preacher of mine puts it ‘Go to the throne before you go to the phone. Or Facebook, Twitter, Insta, etc. Much bad advice abounds! I fondly remember a young homeless man when I lived in London. He would sit on the floor in the Tube station on a pile of old sleeping bags. He held up a cardboard sign that said ‘£1 for bad advice’. It was funny and he made some good money, but it was undeniably sad too. Bad advice abounds.

Solomon had it all, he came from a good family, he was likely attractive, rich, intelligent, established a kingdom. Yet, he was smart enough to know what he was lacking. Solomon had been given immense responsibility and power, well beyond his great ability. Solomon wanted an understanding mind to govern his people. Now you might be tempted to think, ‘Oh, if only our politicians had God-given, understanding minds!’ Before you go about calling the kettle black – honestly – how much God-given understanding do you currently have?

In asking for an understanding mind, God blessed Solomon with much more. Solomon sought God, he didn’t go to his advisors, or military leaders. He went to the source of all knowledge and understanding. Solomon went to the throne before he went to the phone.

I had a call from a woman recently who wanted to meet up to talk, let’s called her Sarah. Over the last three years, Sarah has made some unwise life decisions based on some poor advice she was given. The source of the poor advice is her husband. Sarah has a Christian faith and attends a local church when she can. At the end of our first session, I asked her, if at any point she had invited God into her situation? The look on her face spoke volumes. She hadn’t. Sarah had closed this particular compartment of her life to God and was paying a price for that. We ended that first session by praying that she would ask God into her situation, seek his wisdom for the way forward. Her situation is not resolved and likely won’t be for a long-time, but her outlook is different, she has included God, and this is making a difference.

Seek God’s wisdom first, invite him into your situations where you need wisdom. Not the wisdom of the world or heaven help us, social media or even the news. Even the people we love the most and should be the closest can give bad advice. Use God’s wisdom to interpret these other things. Wisdom plays the long game, we build it up, it is collected and gathered along the journey. If you read further on into 1 Kings, Solomon starts well but he goes off course – it would be remiss of me not to tell you that. Had Solomon continued to seek God’s wisdom, the outcome may have been different.

Be like Solomon and keep asking for wisdom, for a discerning mind and heart for whatever tasks lie ahead for you this year.

Be like Jesus in the Temple! This is one of the only stories of Jesus’ childhood in the New Testament. Very little is known other than the flight to Egypt in Matthew and his Presentation in the Temple also in Luke. It is often thought that Mary was one of Luke’s sources for his gospel which makes sense given the detail of this story. As only a mother could tell!

Jesus is found in the temple, sitting and listening and then asked questions. Please notice the order in which Jesus did these things.
He sat, he listened, he asked questions.

We live in a world of noise, so much information comes at us all the time. The platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, Tik Tok, Snap Chat, What’s App, etc give everyone an opportunity to have a voice. Fair enough, we have the right to free speech. Let’s not confuse free speech with cheap speech. Rights come with responsibilities. Use your voice and your thumbs wisely. Even a small amount of time online highlights that so many people are incapable of either of these things. I hope that we have not lost the art of conversation and good disagreement permanently.

When was the last time you just sat and listened? Try it! It is good for the soul. New Year’s challenge – set a timer for 10 minutes once a day, every day this week. Sit down and invite God to speak to you. Listen for his voice. There is no magic, just a bit a discipline.

Be like Jesus at home with Mary & Joseph!

There has always been much debate over how much Jesus knew about himself. Jesus knew that day that he had to be in his Father’s house – as much as this answer confused Mary & Joseph. Jesus then went home to Nazareth and was obedient to them. As Elaine talked about in the children’s story, Jesus grew up and did things that would set him up for his later ministry.

I am not sure what your reaction is when you hear the word obedience or obey. I suspect it is not too popular. Especially in our current world situation with constantly changing rules and opinions. What and who are we to obey? Obey can have negative connotations for many people, especially if it was meant as a form of control or abuse: do as I say, not as I do.


I see obedience to God like the way I see an umbrella. I live in England and it rains a lot, year-round. A good umbrella is an essential tool of living over here. On a rainy day, when my umbrella is up, I stay dry, I can see where I am going as my head is held up, I can see the way ahead of me and walk with confidence.

Under the umbrella of obedience to God, I am protected, I have enough space to live freely within the limits of that umbrella, I don’t worry about getting wet or losing my way and I know that I am loved.

On the same rainy day, I can decide to not put the umbrella up or leave it at home. I will get wet, instinctively my head will drop to keep the rain off my face and out of my eyes. I will not fully see the way ahead. I am not protected from the rain or the wind as I have removed myself from the benefits of protection given by the umbrella.

If I decide to remove myself, either consciously or unconsciously, from the under the umbrella of obedience, I am no longer guaranteed God’s protection or blessing.

God has not moved, I have. My problem is that I don’t always want to stay under the umbrella! Even though I know it is better under it than outside of it. I used this analogy with Sarah who I mentioned earlier, and she very kindly gave me these umbrella socks for Christmas!

Are you operating under or outside the umbrella of obedience? Jesus’ obedience to his parents led to an ‘increase in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favour.’ Forget five minutes of Facebook fame or infamy in most cases, go for divine favour, human favour of the right kind.

Be like Jesus – sit, listen ask and obey.

Finally, Be like Mary! Mary is a great one for pondering and treasuring ‘all these things in her heart.’ Maybe for many 2021 will be a rebuilding year. Some things will have to be left behind and ‘going back to normal’ – whatever that means – might not happen the way we want it to or ever. Treasure what is good, leave out the rubbish that clutters up our lives – whether that is physical, emotional or mental clutter. Pondering means thinking, thinking deeply. It is a form of discipline – think and listening before we speak. Not everything we think needs to go directly from our brains to our tongues and thumbs. Don’t bypass the heart! We are going to need more heart in 2021, more wisdom, more love, more understanding, more gentleness for ourselves and each other. Ponder before you pontificate!

I will end as I began: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

My prayer is that we will be like Solomon and seek God’s wisdom first; go the throne before we go to the phone.

Be like Jesus and sit, listen and then ask questions – in that order.

Be like Jesus and operate under the umbrella of obedience to God, stay dry and keep our heads up!

Be like Mary, ponder and treasure that which is good and let go of the clutter that distracts. His words are sweeter than honey.

Happy New Year! Go well and wisely into this year.

Lent 4: Giving Up

I realize that this is a couple of days late in posting as Mothering Sunday in the UK was this past Sunday. I believe that sermons should be the most useful not on Sunday but later in the week as we live and love and get on with the business of life. I talk about the giving up of motherhood that Moses’ mother and Mary experienced. In this season of Lent we too are asked to give up. It feels hard to do today!

Lent 4 – Mothering Sunday

Exodus 2:1-10
Psalm 34:1-11
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Luke 2: 33-35

While I fully appreciate and celebrate Mothering Sunday for the joy that it brings, I know that this day is difficult for many people. Motherhood can bring great heartache for many different reasons; for those who wanted to be mothers but were not able to for various reasons, the mothers who found it difficult to be a mother and carry that guilt or resentment. Some people’s mothers weren’t exactly as loving and caring as they were supposed to be and the hurt of that lingers on. I think of the mother’s whose children have died before them and the enormity of that grief. Others here may be missing their mothers who are far away or no longer living.

It is important to hold these tensions together this morning as this is what church family does. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Yet we try to find a way to celebrate mothers and motherhood for the joy and delight it brings. I know that motherhood has brought joy to many here as I have listened to your stories and remembered you and them in my prayers.

The aspect of motherhood that I want to focus on today is one that most people overlook or portray in a negative light: ‘giving up’ that is required of mothers.

The giving up of motherhood begins in pregnancy with the giving up of one’s body as it is inhabited by another. Not having ever experienced this I can only imagine what this would be like. Everything is shared as a mother must care for her own body so that it can provide the right environment for the baby as it grows and changes.

Mothers may also have to give up or at least put aside their own dreams and goals for the sake of their child/children. This can be harder for some than for others. This is a considerable issue for many young women in the current workplace; women who put off having a family for their careers face consequences of fertility issues as they age. Some women also need to consider the effects that having a family can present to career advancement later. Many women must go to work out of financial necessity so staying home is not an option for many. We can also fall into the trap that ‘giving up’ something must always be framed in a negative light; that giving up is the same as giving in. It is not!

In this season of Lent, we are asked to give up those things (albeit temporarily) which distract us from our relationships with God. Part of our growth and maturity as Christians is to give up those things that ultimately bring harm to ourselves and others. Giving up is not always a bad thing! It can be a challenge, – especially if that something is not what we are prepared to give up. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.

But to give up a child? Or give up on the prospect of having children for the sake of a career or vocation? It’s one thing to lay off the booze and biscuits – but a baby?!

In our readings this morning we see two mothers, Moses’ unnamed mother and Mary, who both must give up their children. Moses’ mother does what she can to keep him hidden until it was no longer possible. She did not want to let him go but ultimately does. Mary is told that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High.

Mary may not have understood what this meant at the time but there was a plan and purpose for her child’s life known to God. Moses’ mother has no assurance of that that, no guarantee that he would be safe and not drown in the Nile, no safety net that putting him in a basket and floating him down the river would work out in the end. Both mothers simply trust that their sons will be taken care.

Moses’ Mother

I think that Moses’ mother was a very brave and cleaver woman. At this time in Israel’s history, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and Pharaoh has commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill any baby boys but to let the baby girls live. The midwives feared God and let the boys live. When Moses was born his mother saw that he was ‘fine’ and she kept him and hid him. Risking his life and her own. She had no idea if anyone would rescue him from the water.

In a rather cleaver move, we can assume, that she sent her daughter, the unnamed sister, to stand at a distance and watch. She might have hoped that an Egyptian would rescue him. Moses was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, the very person who was demanding his little life. Did she mean to give her baby to the slave-driver of her people?

By giving him up, Moses’ mother saved his life and got him back. She was good to her word; nursed him and when he grew up took him back to Pharaoh’s daughter. Sometimes we are asked to give things up, we might do it for the season of Lent or maybe it is a permanent give up. If we do it because God has asked it of us, we get it back, maybe not in the way we think we will or even in this lifetime, but God will replace what we have given with better things. God is faithful and knows what we sacrifice and will care for us and love us through it.

Mary

These few verses are part of the bigger story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple to undergo the purification rituals required of new Jewish parents.

The whole of Christian life is one of blessing and sacrifice – we see that in the stories of Moses’ mother, Joseph and Mary. They were given their babies to care for and then had to give them back to God.

In this exchange in the Temple, Mary and Joseph are probably shocked at what Simeon has to say! All parents learn about their children by getting to know them, spending time together, paying attention to them. I would suggest that very few parents learn about their children, let alone their future through elderly strangers at church! Mary and Joseph do not know very much about their baby – up to this point, the shepherds knew more than they did.

Simeon doesn’t bless baby Jesus – instead he blesses Mary. Mary and Joseph needed to be blessed! Tough times were ahead for them! They may not have fully realized in that moment what they were being told or fully understood the sacrifice that was to come. Simeon tells Mary and Joseph that, ‘this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed.’ Jesus would be the baby who grew up to become to new Passover lamb. The one who would be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world.

Lent is a season of sacrifice; giving up those things that we are either asked to by God or voluntarily give to him. Moses’ mother got her baby back to give him up again later into the household of Israel’s oppressor. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple where his future was spoken over him, much to their surprise. They received a blessing of mercy. Why? Mary would one day stand at the foot of the cross while her first-born was crucified for the sins of the world.

How much sacrifice of giving up is asked of us? I don’t think we can quite compare with Moses’ mother or Mary. In the crucifixion and resurrection, we see the ultimate act of sacrifice and the greatest act of blessing. We are blessed and restored through the sacrifice and giving up of Jesus and Mary.

Jesus cares for us completely and fully. However much or little we are/were loved by our mothers, Jesus loves us more, cares more deeply, knows us better and longer than they ever will. This is also true for those of you with children – Jesus loves them more than you do!

Wherever you sit today in the range of feelings on yet another Mothering Sunday – bless you. Let the love of God fall on you today.

Lent 4: Mothering Sunday – Giving Up & Motherhood

Image result for hearts with cross lentI’ve fallen behind! I meant to do more writing and posting this Lent but  just haven’t made the time to do it. My last two sermons for Lent 2 & 3 were okay – passable even. I am still working on the condition of my heart – listening to it, having it tested through a number of events and it beats on. It is Mothering Sunday in the UK today. A day when hearts both rejoice and mourn. Here is my offering from this morning.

1 Samuel 1:20-28 & Luke 2:2-33-35

Well here we are again! Mothering Sunday. Looking around this morning I am aware that for many of you – this is not your first Mothering Sunday. Yet you made it to church – well done. Maybe you have had a thought or two about what you might hear this morning in the sermon and wondered if you would hear anything new. I have wondered that myself too!

While I fully appreciate and celebrate Mothering Sunday for the joy that it does bring, I know that this day is difficult for many people; motherhood can bring great heartache for many different reasons. It can be difficult for those who wanted to be mothers but were not able to for various reasons.

There are the mothers who found it difficult to be a mother who carry some guilt or resentment. Some people’s mothers weren’t exactly the loving and caring mothers they were supposed to be and the hurt of that lingers on. I think of the mother’s whose children died before they did and the enormity of that grief. Others here may be missing their Mothers who are far away or no longer living.

It is important to hold these tensions together this morning as this is what church family does. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Yet we try to find a way to celebrate mothers and motherhood for the joy and delight that it brings too. I know that motherhood has brought joy to many here as I have listened to your stories over the time I have been here. We have prayed for many of your children too.

One aspect of motherhood that I think most people overlook or portray in a negative light is the ‘giving up’ that is required of mothers. The giving up of motherhood begins in pregnancy with the giving up of one’s body as it is inhabited by another. Not having ever experienced this I can only imagine what this would be like. Everything is shared as a mother must care for her own body so that it can provide the right environment for the baby as it grows and changes.

Mothers may also have to give up or at least put aside their own dreams and goals for the sake of their child/children. This can be harder for some than for others. This is a considerable issue for many young women in the current workplace; women who put off having a family for their careers face consequences of fertility issues as they age. Some women also need to consider the effects that having a family can present to career advancement later. Many women must go to work out of financial necessity so staying home is not an option for many.

We can also fall into the trap that ‘giving up’ something must always be framed in a negative light; that giving up is the same as giving in. It is not!

In this season of Lent, we are asked to give up those things (albeit temporarily) which distract us from our relationships with God. Part of our growth and maturity as Christians is to give up those things that ultimately bring harm to ourselves and others. Giving up is not always a bad thing! Giving up can be difficult – especially if it is something that we are not prepared to give up. But that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.

But to give up a child? Or give up on the prospect of having children for the sake of a career or vocation? It’s one thing to lay off the booze and biscuits – but a baby?!  In our readings this morning we see two mothers, Hannah and Mary, who both must give up their children.

Hannah seems to give up her Samuel voluntarily as she makes a vow to God. Mary is told that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High – this not a normal baby! Mary says yes to God – let it be according to your word.

Hannah (1 Samuel 1:20-28)

Hannah’s story is one of pain that is both public and private. Her pain centres on wanting something that she does not and at the beginning of the story cannot have. A baby. Hannah is desperate to have a baby – she is one of two wives and the other one was producing children. Hannah was tormented by Peninnah for not being able to have children.

We know from the beginning of 1 Samuel that the Lord has withheld children from Hannah and we are not sure why. Hannah has a husband who loves her regardless of whether she can have children or not. But his other, fertile wife is making sure that Hannah knows that she is deficient, worthless. This happens privately at home.

Hannah prays that God will remember her and not forget her and her misery. In due time – that is a way of saying that it happened when the Lord planned it – Hannah conceives a child. Like Moses mother, Hannah had to give up her son. Hannah wanted nothing more than to have a baby. She fought for one, pleaded for one, took all sorts of abuse about not having one. True to her word – once Samuel is weaned Hannah takes him to the temple and leaves him with Eli the priest.

Hannah’s sacrifice is rewarded with more children – 3 sons and 2 daughters. These children do not of course replace Samuel! He was the first one! But the others were a sign of God’s faithfulness.

Back to – sometimes we have to give things up – things we might feel we deserve or entitled to. Do we trust God enough that He will come through for us? Do we believe that He will remember us as He remembered Hannah?If we give up the things that God’s asks from us, we will be rewarded. We might not see the reward on this side of heaven – have to live with that.

We must remember that our view of the world is not God’s view of the world. He sees the past, the present and the future all at once. We are so much more limited and sometimes we apply our dim vision to God. But God is faithful and knows what we sacrifice and will care for us and love us through it.

Mary (Luke 2:33-35)

These few verses are part of a bigger story – one that we heard as part of Candlemas a few weeks ago as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to undergo the purification rituals required of new Jewish parents.

The whole of Christian life is one of blessing and sacrifice – we see that in the stories of Hannah and Joseph and Mary. They were given their babies to care for and then had to give them back to God. Hannah was remembered and rewarded. We too are remembered and will be rewarded.

In this exchange in the Temple, Mary and Joseph are probably shocked at what Simeon has to say! All parents learn about their children by getting to know them, spending time together, paying attention to them. I would suggest that very few parents learn about their children, let alone their future through elderly strangers at church!

Mary and Joseph do not know very much about their baby – up to this point, the shepherds knew more than they did. The other interesting part in this story is that Simeon doesn’t bless baby Jesus – instead he blesses Mary. Then he says, ‘this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed.’

Mary and Joseph needed to be blessed! Tough times were ahead for them! They may not have fully realized in that moment what they were being told or fully understood the sacrifice that was to come. Jesus would be the baby who grew up to become to new Passover lamb. The one who would be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world.

Likewise, parents need to be blessed! I spent a good portion of my Friday afternoon holding the week-old baby of some very good friends. Baby Lilian is not the next Messiah and probably won’t be destined for the rising and falling of many. But her parents need to be blessed – with sleep, with support, with guidance as they guide Lilian and make sacrifices on her behalf. I would encourage you to bless the mother’s you know – young and ‘more experienced’. Encourage and remind them of the blessing and sacrifice that being a mother brings.

Lent is a season of sacrifice; giving up those things that we are either asked to by God or voluntarily give to him. Hannah gave up her first-born son to God to thank Him for the gift of motherhood. She was blessed with five more children.

Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple where his future was spoken over him, much to their surprise. They received a blessing of mercy. Why? Mary would one day stand at the foot of the cross while her first-born was crucified for the sins of the world.

How much sacrifice of giving up is asked of us? I don’t think we can quite compare with Mary. In the resurrection we see the ultimate act of sacrifice and the greatest act of blessing. We are blessed and restored through the sacrifice and giving up of Jesus and Mary.

Jesus cares for us completely and fully. However much or little we were loved by our mothers – Jesus loves us more, cares more deeply, knows us better and longer than they ever will. This is also true for those of you with children – Jesus loves them more than you do!

Wherever you sit today in the range of feelings on yet another Mothering Sunday – bless you. Let the love of God fall on you today.

Amen.

 

Advent 4: The Things We Miss (sometimes): Gabriel & Mary

I am posting my two morning sermons from Christmas Eve & Day. They don’t particularly overlap (except for the introduction) but the style is similar. I decided to read slowly through Luke’s Gospel telling of the First Christmas and let various aspects fall on me in a new way. I then did some exegesis to unpick some of the ‘new’ aspects.

Christ the Worker  9:30
St Mary’s 11:00
Advent 4
24/12/17 (Morning Services)

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89
Romans 16:25-end
Luke 1:26-38

One of the many things that I love about this season is how the story of the first Christmas comes alive. We see it in the pictures on Christmas cards; we hear it in the words of Christmas carols; we see the drama played out in Christingle and Crib services.

Even in commercialization and secularization of our society the story of that first Christmas does get told – not always in words but in the symbols and pictures; seen if we pay attention to the world around us.

We know that many people who do not normally darken the door come to church for Christmas services. Why is that? Tradition and ritual? Just the done thing? Maybe – naively on my part – they want to hear the first Christmas story told again in a way that is familiar, comfortable. The church tells the story of that first Christmas through our worship and liturgy.

But sometimes if or when we pick up the Bible to read it – we can lose the sense of awe and wonder. I was aware of this as I sat to read all of Luke’s First Christmas account as I was preparing for this weekend. Sometimes when I read familiar passages I like to get behind the story. Go slowly through it and see what is going on behind it. It helps me to do undo some of the assumptions I may have developed. Helps to regain my awe and wonder of the words.

I want to highlight a few parts of this amazing story this morning.

The angel Gabriel. 4 words in! Gabriel is a fascinating character; he is a Messenger of God. In any depiction, Gabriel looks to be tall with huge white, feathery wings. He often has a trumpet or a lily in his hand. Angels are created beings of God – as we are. They are not made – as it has been popularized – out of dead human beings. There is no biblical evidence for this – however comforting this notion might be.

Gabriel appears in the Old Testament as he was sent to explain the visions that the prophet Daniel was having. Gabriel has been around for a few hundred years at least.

Gabriel is now back on the scene – six months before greeting Mary, God sent Gabriel to Jerusalem to foretell another unexpected birth – this one to an elderly priest named Zechariah whose aged wife would Elizabeth would bear John the Baptist. On that occasion Gabriel was sent to Herod’s temple – one of the wonders of the civilized world. This time Gabriel is going to a backwater town called Nazareth.

Does he fly? He has wings after all! Does he cross the sky like a shooting star? A rocket?

Prior to these visits approximately 400 years had passed since God had sent any message to earth. Then twice in 6 months Gabriel is called into service with life changing news for the most unsuspecting of people.

Now we move on a few verses and turn our attention to Mary. Mary the Virgin, maybe 13 or 14 years old, engaged to be married to that bloke Joseph. He wasn’t a local though as his family came from Bethlehem, the house of David. Bethlehem is about 80 miles from Nazareth – takes about 2 hours to drive between the two places. Would have taken about 5-6 days to walk. How and why did Joseph’s family end up in Nazareth? It wasn’t exactly a desirable place to live. People on the whole didn’t tend to move around very much – you stayed where you were from.

Doing well – 3 verses in now. Gabriel’s opening to Mary of ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you!’ I wonder what Mary was doing at that moment – she was alone. Was she in her bedroom or our carrying water?
It sounds nice doesn’t it – you can read it as a positive message, friendly even. A large, friendly, winged man with a trumpet or a lily in his hand approaching a 13-year-old girl. Nothing weird about that!

But seriously – Mary is perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. There is a lot of meaning here – Mary is deeply agitated – she is taken aback, disturbed, anxious. One explanation that I particularly liked was ‘stirred up throughout’ – by this appearance of Gabriel.

Some of us here know what it is like to be ‘stirred up throughout’. I know a lot of people who have been stirred up throughout this year. That news that comes unexpectedly that moves adrenaline at lighting speed – good or bad that shakes us to the core.

It is not just by Gabriel’s appearance – it is his greeting, his words that have caused her reaction. Mary’s reaction could be that she knew that this greeting was coming with an overwhelming challenge.

Paula Gooder in her Advent book ‘The Meaning is in the Waiting’ writes, ‘Gabriel’s greeting is somewhat reminiscent of the ancient Chinese proverb ‘May you live in interesting times’, which can be seen as either a curse or a blessing. In the same way, Gabriel’s greeting can either be seen as good or bad: to be in receipt of God’s favour, especially beloved and granted his presence, can only mean that Mary’s life is about to be turned upside down. She is surely right and sensible to be disturbed by this greeting.’

I think that being a Christian is sometimes an overwhelming challenge. Forget being a priest – just the act of being a Christian is daunting! Doing what God’s asks of us is often hard, it is inconvenient, it is messy sometimes.

The giant winged Angel-man then declares ‘Do not be afraid!’ Yeah okay! The phrase ‘Do not be afraid’ appears 366 times in the Bible. One for each day of the year and an extra for Leap Years.

Do not be afraid is then followed with the sweet words ‘you have found favour with God.’ How did she do that? A 13-year-old girl from a poor, back water town. What was it about Mary?

We can do all the religiousy, churchy stuff in the world – but this doesn’t mean we have found God’s favour. It isn’t in what we do – it is in who we are. We were created by God out of God’s love for us – despite everything about us that is unlovely. We can still find God’s favour. What we do should be an offering back to God – out of our love as thanksgiving for his love.

Mary then gets the news that she is going to conceive and bear a son whom she will name Jesus.

Jesus. Do you realize that this was the first proclamation of our Saviour’s personal name since the beginning of time? Jesus. The very name at which one day every knee will bow? The very name at which every tongue will confess? A name with no parallel in any vocabulary? A name with power like no other name? Jesus.

Gabriel tells Mary ‘He will be great’. Oh yes he is.

Gabriel then carries on with some details of what is to happen. On closer reading, these details are not as shocking to Mary as the first appearance and greeting of Gabriel were. Paula Gooder again writes, ‘For Mary – the message that God has chosen her is far more frightening than what he has chosen for her to do.’

Not sure about you – but if a winged-man angel appeared to me and started to discuss my womb and its imminent call to service – I would have a little more to say!

Mary’s concern is for the practicalities – she obviously knew were babies came from. We see something of her innocence too. Gabriel has the answer for Mary – ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’. Come upon here means ‘to arrive, invade, resting upon and operating in a person.’

For nothing will be impossible with God says Gabriel. This was in one of the readings at Morning Prayer this past week. It is a verse that I remind myself of frequently. But sometimes it just comes in a new way.

Nothing will be impossible with God. I sometimes laugh to myself when I hear people resisting change or offering up a list of excuses about why something can or can’t be done. If it is of God – nothing is impossible.

Imagine for a moment if Doreen/Peggy/Joan – lovely Doreen/Peggy or Joan – came to church pregnant! It could happen! It happened to Elizabeth in her old age. This is the impossible thing that was made possible that Gabriel is referring to!

Sometimes it is us who need a little more courage or imagination.

It is after she heard ‘that nothing is impossible’ – that Mary says ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ I seriously wonder what our lives, our families, our community and our world would look like if this was our response to God. ‘Here am I’.

And not just when the news is good or happy or the request is something that we really want to do. When about when the news is uncertain or just plain hard, comes with a price tag we don’t want to pay. Or the inconvenience doesn’t seem worth it. ‘Here am I.’

Then the angel departed from her. As I am about to depart from you, I hope that you will know and experience the great love God has for you this Christmas.

Not just at Christmas but at every moment of every day of your life – when things are calm and happy but more so when you are stirred up throughout.

I hope that you will know the Lord’s favour upon you.

I hope the name of Jesus falls sweetly on your ears and off your tongue.

The Lord is with you. Nothing will be impossible with God.

Do not be afraid – The Lord is with you.