Advent 3, Year B, 2008

God will make a way.

On this third Sunday of Advent, we have rounded a corner from the repentant beginning of Advent to the great celebration of Christmas.  We light the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath because it represents joy and the act of rejoicing as we begin to anticipate the birth of our Savior.

The problem for us, is that this third Sunday in Advent does not feel very joyous.  Half a million Americans are unemployed. I know I have a handful of friends who work in various state jobs who are nervous about losing their jobs come budget cuts in January.  I have had three serious conversations with friends who are preparing either to move in with relatives or have relatives move in with them should the worst come.  I even have friends who have just flat out cancelled Christmas. We are a nation at edge faced for the first time, in many years, for a dramatic change in the way we live. 

And yet, I tell you today, despite all of this, that God will make a way.  I can say this with confidence because that is just who God is-he is One who makes a way.  Mary’s story reminds us of this.

The Canticle we [read/sing] today are the words of Mary as she fully absorbs the news that she is bearing God’s child.  This news was absurd on many levels. 

First of all, Mary has never been with a man, so her being pregnant isn’t even a possibility.

Second of all, why Mary?  She’s a young girl from a small town.  She’s not from a powerful family.  She’s not rich.  She’s a nobody.

Another word for this kind of absurdity is grace.  Mary is blessed by God not because of who she was or what she did, but because God is a gracious, loving God, who breaks into our world and transforms it.

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary’s annunciation is paired with her cousin’s Elizabeth’s annunciation.  There are many stories of miraculous pregnancies though out the bible and Elizabeth’s fits the pattern beautifully.  Like Sarah and Hannah before her, Elizabeth is older and believes she is barren.  She and her husband are extremely pious.  Zacharias is even a priest in the temple!  They both deeply desire a child and are granted the gift of a child late in their life, much to their surprise.

Placed so close to Elizabeth’s story, we realize how shocking Mary’s story really is!  God made a way to enter the world through Mary in a way completely unprecedented.  Mary’s annunciation happens in a different way so that we know that God is doing something really unusual. Mary does not fit the mold of annunciation stories. Mary is not an older woman who is longing for children.  In fact, children are probably the last thing on her mind!  She is a young teenager, betrothed to Joseph, minding her own business.  The angel Gabriel comes to her not in a temple, but in an ordinary city, probably in an ordinary home or street.  Gabriel does not reassure Mary that she and Joseph will be able to have children, but suggests something entirely different-that the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will bear a child via a miracle of God.

God makes a way to enflesh himself with humanity and he does it in cooperation with an ordinary girl in an ordinary town.  God does not enter our world through the most powerful family or the most religious family.  God makes a way to enter into and redeem our experience by being born of a girl who was willing to be completely open to God’s will for her life.

A month after her experience, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  While there she has a moment of clarity about what is happening to her and she speaks or sings the words of the Magnificat.  The Magnificat is all about Mary’s astonishment at God’s decision to visit his grace upon her.  She understands the deeper implications of this-that God’s grace will no longer be expressed via the kings and the hierarchy, but to the lowly, every day person.  She understands that God is continuing the relationship begun with Abraham, but that he is transforming the nature of the relationship completely.

Mary is no more deserving than other girls of her temperament or background, but she is favored by God as an act of grace.  Jesus’ whole life will be about explaining how the love of God works.  How God loves us without pre-condition and despite our seeming inherent compulsion to betray him.  Our God is a god of grace.  He bestows upon us love, acceptance, forgiveness because of who he is, not because of who we are.

We currently live in a meritocracy, so we have a hard time understanding grace.  We believe we have earned everything in our lives because of our hard work and intelligence.  Our country is now in a time when suddenly hard work and intelligence is not enough.  Good, hardworking, smart people are still losing their jobs through no fault of their own.  The sands are shifting beneath our feet and it feels, for good reason, really frightening.

But God will make a way.

And when I say God will make a way I don’t mean that God is going to swoop in and solve this financial crisis.  I don’t even mean that God will swoop in and solve your personal job or retirement crisis.

What I mean is, that God will make a way for grace in the midst of difficult times.  God will make a way for the unexpected to occur. 

God will make a way to provide for you when you least expect it.  God will make a way for you to experience love and deep connection in your community.  God will help you experience his love for you in new and deeper ways. 

Many of us will be faced with difficult decisions in the next few years, and most of us will have to make some level of sacrifice.  But in the end, what I hope for us, is that in retrospect we will have experienced this economic crisis as a time when the members of Emmanuel really put their trust in God and really opened up to one other.  We are the beloved community.  We are the family of God.  We have the capacity to help each other-not just through moral and practical support, but through holding one another in prayer and asking that we each may experience God’s grace in a new way.

No one could have predicted how Jesus would enter the world.  No one can predict how God’s grace will break through to us over the next few years.  But we know it will-not because we deserve that in-breaking, but because God is a god of grace who extends himself to us over and over and over again.  We join Mary in rejoicing in the goodness of our God and waiting in expectation to see what God will do next.

God will make a way.

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