Creekside Church
Sermon of December 20, 2020

"In the Mood for Miracles"
Luke 1:26-35

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! We are standing on the threshold of Christmas. Whatever form your plans are taking this year -- maybe they won’t include traveling or a big gathering with family, or maybe you’re letting Creekside do the cooking for Christmas morning -- those things we do or don’t do can’t cause Christmas to come, and they certainly can’t stop Christmas from arriving. It’s been a season when we have been searching for hope. If you are in the mood for miracles this year, Mary, an ordinary girl from Nazareth, delivers (see what I did there?)

If you have been within earshot and paying attention for the past three weeks, you’ll know that our Advent theme is Give Light, and to this point, I’ve been preaching on Old Testament texts from the prophet Isaiah. This has undoubtedly made some of you impatient, or even frustrated: it’s almost Christmas; when are we going to get to the birth of Jesus for cryin’ out loud? If you’ve been feeling that way, God bless you -- that is precisely the feeling which Advent is supposed to evoke; that is what the Jewish people experienced. When are we going to get to the real deal? When are we going to stop hearing from the prophets and actually see the Messiah? Now that our text is from the New Testament gospel of Luke (it’s about time, right?) we’re a lot closer, but there’s still about nine months of the story to go until Christmas Eve.

So in the spirit of Christmas, and in the mood of miracles, I want to share something with you. I want to tell you what I’m getting my husband for Christmas. It isn’t a surprise, because he’s getting the same thing for me -- just one of them. Something I would not have imagined purchasing even just a few months ago, and something that 10 years ago I would have scoffed at as boring. Tim and I are getting -- have already gotten, in fact -- a spotting scope; a low-power telescope. Here’s why: there a planetary event going on right now, called the Great Conjunction. Jupiter and Saturn for the past two nights and the next two, are closer together when viewed from earth than they have been since 1623 -- almost 400 years ago. The Indiana overcast weather may keep us from doing any local viewing, but having an event called the Great Conjunction so close to Christmas opened up an image of Christmas and this text from Luke for me.

Conjunction literally means “joined with.” In grammatical terms, a conjunction is a word which joins words together, like the and in peanut butter and jelly. Of course the planets Jupiter and Saturn aren’t joining together -- from the perspective of Earth they just happen to be in the same place at the same: two strangers meeting in the night after 397 years of doing their own thing. It is amazing to me that there were astronomers in 1693 who had the equipment and mathematical skills to calculate that this Great Conjunction was going to happen. It’s amazing, but I wouldn’t call it a miracle. Planetary motion is entirely predictable, if you understand the math: Intelligent people could predict when it happened last, when it will happen in 2020, and have already calculated that the next time will be in 2080.

But this text from Luke 1 is a conjunction of a different order. Something miraculous which no one -- not even the prophets who had been on the look out for something of the sort for centuries, could have predicted. The day we really should be reading this text this is March 25, nine months before the birth of Jesus, which is, indeed, the Feast of the Annunciation in Catholic tradition. It’s the day an angel made an announcement to a girl in Nazareth, named Mary, that she was going to conceive a son and that child will be called the Son of the Most High and that his kingdom will know no end. That child is to be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a Great Conjunction of an entirely different kind -- something the world has not seen before or since: a conjunction of divine and human: Emmanuel, God with Us. God and Us combined in a single unique life.

Nobody really knows in a physiological sense how this conjunction -- or in this case, conception -- happened. There’s been plenty of speculation about this in the Catholic Church, and a whole tradition around Mary’s own conception and purity, but that isn’t the part of the story that is the most interesting to me. What has always impressed me about this story is that a young woman was visited by an angel and asked to do a task which defied reason and even imagination, and she says Yes. Yes; let it be with me according to your word. She cannot have known what she was getting into. She had to know that this would cause some friction with her fiancée, Joseph, who was an honorable man. This Great Conjunction of heaven and earth, divine and human was going to turn her life upside down in ways she could not possibly predict. But she said Yes.

If you can remember back to the end of November, we lit a candle for Hope and heard Isaiah’s call to God to tear open the heavens and come down. Get down here and shake things up, do something awesome and let your enemies know they’re in trouble. Come on God, we know you can do it. And here we are, five days before Christmas, and we’re talking about a conversation between and angel and an ordinary young woman in a Galilean backwater, probably poor and uneducated, certainly about to be shunned by her family and fiancée, maybe even disciplined by faith leaders -- she could have been put to death for adultery by Jewish law. What could have motivated this girl to agree to a request so reckless that it might endanger her life? What do you think? Would you take a risk like that out of a sense of obligation, or resignation that, “Well, I guess somebody has to do it.” I don’t think so. I think it had to be love; but love in a more complicated way than we typically think about it. It wasn’t romantic love for Joseph, for sure -- Mary was about to mess up his life. It might have been love for the child which was not yet born -- not even yet conceived, or maybe Mary was in love with the idea of being the mother of the Most High. But I think it was love of God, love for God, and maybe love and God -- that covers a lot of conjunctions. If we read on in Luke chapter 1, we have the account of Mary’s meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John -- later to be known as John the Baptist.

Beginning in Luke 1:46, Mary sings a song, a joyful song. It isn’t a love song to Joseph, hoping that he won’t break up with her, it isn’t a lullaby to the baby in her womb, conceived by the Holy Spirit, it isn’t a proud Mary song about how great it will be to finally get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It is a song about God, and how God has blessed her, and God’s mercy and faithfulness. It’s a gutsy and prophetic song about how the powerful will be brought down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up. It’s a song about the hope of the Jewish people, the justice and peace of God’s reign, and the joy that Mary feels to be a part of the prophetic tradition. But mostly it’s a demonstration of Mary’s incandescent love of God. For me, it is one of passages of scripture which glows with light and promise. It is spoken by a teenage girl who was about to be in a lot of trouble, but who nevertheless had the courage to allow her own body to be the location of the conjunction of heaven and earth. It is an amazing song, and an awesome task which Mary accepted.

You’re probably familiar with what happens next in Mary’s life -- we usually piece together the accounts from the gospels of Luke and Matthew: an angel who comes to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed; a journey to Bethlehem, the city of David; humble accommodations, angels, shepherds and the greatest gift which has even been given to the world. God’s gift of love, the conjunction of heaven and earth, divine and human, the light of the world, Jesus Christ. When we gather this Thursday, Christmas Eve, we will hear that story and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a way none of us has likely ever done before: not in this Worship Center, blazing with light and the sound of trumpets and organ and 100 people singing carols. God willing, that is how we’ll celebrate Christmas Eve 2021. This year will be quieter -- even if you blast your car radio on 106.7, there is probably less activity going on in your homes and with outside groups of people. We don’t cause Christmas to come, and we can’t stop it, but whenever and however we open our hearts and our lives to Jesus Christ, we participate in that Great Conjunction of God with Us; God and Us, God in Us. We are invited to glow with the same light of love and purpose that still shines when we remember the commitment of Mary and the courage of Joseph, and with the faithful through all generations who have reflected God’s light. Give light -- not just any light, but the light of love for God, and the light of God’s love for the Word. Give the light of Christ. Merry Christmas, and God bless you.

 

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