Friday, December 19, 2014

Ember Wednesday in Advent



"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus" (Luke 1).

We often fantasize about living somewhere warm like celebrities, maybe in Southern California or Beverly Hills perhaps. We think that’s where things are really happening and maybe it’s human nature to glance casually at celebrity gossip magazines on the way through the checkout at Walmart.

But if there was a celebrity gossip magazine at the time of Jesus birth, there would be no reference to any of it – even though it’s the most important even in history. Mary is not a celebrity. She’s a maid and a servant. She is no more than 15 years old, perhaps even an orphan. Her name in Hebrew literally means “bitter myrrh.” For the Jews at this time, babies were named based upon the circumstances in which they entered the world. So, even from the time of Mary’s birth, there exists in her life, a bitterness which anticipates the life of her Son. The old man at the temple, Simeon, will later tell Mary that a sword will pierce her soul.  

For now, Mary draws no ones attention except another poor hardworking carpenter named Joseph.
The town in which they lived is not Beverly Hills. It’s Nazareth. And all scholars and archaeologists agree there is nothing really significant at all about the town. Nazareth is tiny, maybe even a bit of a slum. There is no reference to Nazareth in the Old Testament and in the New Testament there is only one reference where a scoffer yells out to Jesus that nothing good could ever come out of Nazareth.

But nevertheless, the mightiest angel in heaven is sent by God to announce a significant birth among insignificant people in an insignificant village. Gabriel greets her with the words “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God, and behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus."

Unlike Sarah, Mary does not laugh. She is not old and cynical like us. She is childlike in her faith. She closes her eyes and trusts in God. She listens to the angels -  even though common sense was against everything she heard. She shut her eyes and opened her ears. The angels speak and in response she sings - she believes. 

And so she conceived God in human flesh in her womb. Here we see the new and greater Eve. Pregnant and carrying with Her the eternal Word of God. She is the mother of all the living. And in her womb is the seed, which is Christ, who will crush the serpents head -  unbar the gates of paradise and raise up man to be born again - to live before God in innocence and purity forever.

This faith of Mary is a miracle greater than the Virgin Birth because she believes that she is the mother of God. She believes that the child nursing from her breast will feed the whole world. She believes that she holds the merciful and gentle Savior of the nations upon her breast. She cradles Him in her arms.  She kisses him with her lips. The Lord will fall asleep in her lap.

There will be no paparazzi there to witness what happens in a stable, next to animals. But it doesn’t matter because all the heavenly hosts are already singing.

For you, tonight, when the angels come to you to tell you that the Lord is with you, that he loves you, that your sins are forgiven, how will you react. Do you doubt it? Are you numb or indifferent to the love of God. Have you become tone deaf to the speaking of the angels? Maybe.

Life takes a toll on all of us. Unfortunatly we all become grownups and soon all that we think and do is conceived in sin. So tonight we look at the Mary, the mother of Our Lord.

Mary in Hebrew means 'bitter myrrh.' And like Mary, and all Christians, your years of life have left behind you a trail of bitter tears. A sword has pierced your soul as well, with bitter losses, hurts, betrayals, and regrets.

But when the angels announce to Mary that she will carry the Savior of the world, she believes. She shuts her eyes and opens her ears. She trusts in God. We all must do the same and believe that God is good and gracious to us.

We close our eyes and receive Christ. And this child belongs to you. He dries your tears. He draws near in the Holy Eucharist. You cradle him in your hands. You kiss him with your lips.       

Tonight we follow the star to where he lays – in a manger – on an altar – given and shed for you. He lives and everything good that you have comes from this child. In the Christ-Child all bitterness dissolves and all the sweetness of life is fully restored.  

Our lives may not be as exciting as our favorite celebrities. We may not live in Beverly Hills or have fairy tale lives. Maybe the world pays no attention to you, but God so clearly does. Maybe we have said silly things like the people in Jesus day, saying, nothing good can come out of Nazareth or Wittenberg for that matter.

But tonight there is no better place to be than here.  Because the same message spoken from the angels to Mary is heralded to you tonight by the very same angels. The angels are saying to you, “Rejoice, for the Lord is with you.” Meaning, that he notices you. You are in his heart, you are in his prayers, your name is on his lips. You are of supreme importance to him. He has dealt with all your sins and remembers them no more. Through His cross He looks kindly upon you without any disappointment, without any reservation.

Through the church, you are born again. In baptism you are Immaculately conceived. Rejoice, O highly favored one.

Let yourself be transformed by his love. Like Mary, close your eyes and trust in God. Carry the Lord with you wherever you go. Let your heart be softened by his touch. Your Lord and Your God is sweet and gentle as a baby. And this child belongs to you. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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