The Fourth Sunday of Advent
E. Bevan Stanley
December 20, 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Mary said to the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
King David was finally established on his throne. There were no wars at the moment and life is good. He feels bad that he is living in a nice house but the ark of the covenant is still just in a tent. He wants to build a nice house for God, a temple. But God speaks through the prophet Nathan (whose name means “Gift” by the way) and tells David that the Lord never asked for a house. Instead God will make David into a house, that is a dynasty. It’s a pun on the word for house. This is what came to b known as the Davidic covenant. In the words of the Lord, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” After about four hundred years, David’s kingdom falls to the Babylonians. After the exile puppet kings are installed by the Medes and Persians. Then the Greeks come and rule; then the Romans. What has become of the promise God made that there David’s throne would endure forever?
Now we are about a thousand years after David, and Luke starts the story of the messiah with this sentence. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” There is a lot of hope packed into this sentence. First, the sixth month is the sixth month of the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who had been barren. She is already living into a miracle of life that she never expected. God sends his angel Gabriel to a particular address in a town in Galilee, and to a specific person, a young woman named Mary. Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who just happened to be a descendant of King David. God is going to keep the promise to David.
This encounter has a lot of drama in it. The archangel says to the teenage girl, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Now, clearly Mary is not an Episcopalian. If Gabriel said to any of you, “The Lord is with you,” you would respond with what? “And also with you,” of course. Seriously, though all the weird stuff come after this first greeting.
Not receiving any response, the angel continues by telling her that she is going to the mother of a very important person. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The promise to David will be fulfilled.
Mary had stopped listening after the first phrase, “you will conceive and bear a son.” Her response is not to be impressed with what an important person her child is to be, but much more pragmatic. “How can have a baby when I have not had sex with anyone?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said the most amazing thing. This is why she is remembered, this is why she is the foremost of all the saints. She said to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary said “Yes.”
Yes, I am willing to put myself at God’s disposal. Yes, I will cooperate with God’s work. Yes, I will allow God to fill me with divine life. Yes, I will bring this new live into the world.
Why would Mary respond this way? What made Mary say that? She was not married. If she got pregnant, her fiancé would drop her. The neighbors would ostracize her parents. She might even get stoned for adultery. Was she out of her mind?
There was no command. Yet when the angel called her “blessed one,” he was not just being polite. She knew in that moment that she was blessed and favored by God. She knew, too, that what she was being called to do was not merely a biological oddity. She was being asked to participate in some immense divine act. She was being asked to be the doorway through which God would come to earth. She did not understand all that, but she knew that it was bigger than anything she imagined.
What made Mary say “yes?” Faith, foolishness, love, joy, recklessness, passion?
We all know. There is in each one of us a place where Mary’s “yes” makes sense. It may be a small grain of sand, or a dimly burning wick. It may be that Mary’s “yes” sounds like a trumpet blast in our soul. However it is with each of us, we do understand.
Mary is a mirror for the Church. As Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and becomes full of life, so also the Church is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and filled with the divine life. As Mary gives brings forth the incarnate God into the world, so the Church brings Jesus into the world in the person of her members. Like Mary, the Church can only be a source of life when it yields itself to God’s love.
Mary is also a picture of how each of us individually should respond to God. We say yes. No matter how impossible it may seem. No matter how reckless it may seem. Let us look inside our own selves. What if anything is growing there? Are we willing to let go of our own agendas so that this life that is in me but is not me can have its way? We are called to be Maries—full of grace. We don’t know what the child will become, but the whole thing is divine.
What Mary did was to open herself to God. What Mary did was to allow the divine seed to implant itself in her and to grow. And most of all she made room for the impossible. I am struck by the importance of the obvious axiom that all things are possible with God. I realize that most of my fears and anxieties come from the fact that I do not believe all things are possible. I can’t imagine a solution, so I fret. I see only the usual outcomes, and I fear. I can imagine only what has happened in the past, so I become discouraged about the future.
But consider life itself. By any statistical calculation, we are incredibly lucky to be here. For the conditions for biological life to come together is improbable to a degree that we would say it is impossible were it not for the fact that here we are. It is no accident that in proving his point the Angel reminds Mary that her barren cousin is now six months pregnant. The biblical stories of God’s power usually involve the highly improbable arrival of life. The desert will bloom says the prophet Isaiah. Sarah conceives in her old age. Hannah and Elizabeth bear children when all hope was gone. Both Elijah and Elisha restore children to life, as does Jesus. Finally, Jesus rises from the dead. When life is threatened there is healing. When life is ended there is resurrection. When a relationship is torn asunder there is reconciliation. When injury occurs there is healing. When sin damages ourselves and others, there is forgiveness. Nothing is impossible with God.
Nothing is impossible with God. Whatever we may regard as our shortcomings, our looks, our abilities, our accomplishments, in whatever way we feel we are less than we should be, God is present to help and to love. Sometimes, what we regard as a fault, God regards as a gift. Sometimes, what we are unable to do, God is able to do through us. Sometimes, what is necessary but impossible, God only needs someone to say, “Here I am. Be it to me according to your word. God says to David, “Take your three stones and kill Goliath.” The boy gives Jesus five loaves and two fish, and five thousand are fed. A young woman says yes, and the world is saved.
That, of course, is the hitch. God insists on a partnership with us. He insists on our free choice. He requires someone willing to be the agent of impossibility. What we seek–peace, good work, the ability to help others, health, life, joy–these things God wants us to have. When they seem improbable or even impossible, then we need God to do the impossible. And God needs us to be available to the impossible. This is the call of our hearts; this is the call of God.
Today Gabriel comes to each of us to say, “You are blessed. God wants to grow in you.” And we are all invited to say, “Be it unto me a according to your word.” We cannot understand more than Mary at that terrible and glistening moment when the angel comes. But that small part of us that does understand, that spark that ignites when we hear her “Yes” says, “Yes I am willing to go on with story. Yes, I am willing to be filled with the new thing God has planted.
Yes, I will let it grow and be born into the world. I do not understand how this will be. I cannot see how it is possible. I cannot believe that I will live through it. All I know is mouth is saying “Let me to me according to your word,” Amen. Let it be.
O Antiphon,daily December 17 - December 23
Sunday, December 20,
Seasonal Music on the Front Lawn
Carol Sing and Seasonal Readings
Outside the church
Click here for Youtube
5 p.m. on December 24
Join us at 5pm or watch at a later time that is convenient for you.
On Sunday we will join with Episcopalians throughout Connecticut for a
Festival of Lessons and Carols in lieu of having a service in Litchfield
10:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 27.
The direct link for watching the Sunday Service for 12/27/20 is not available yet.
It will air on the Episcopal Church in Connecticut Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/ctepiscopal
The Third Sunday of Advent
E. Bevan Stanley
December 13, 2020
Year B, RCL
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is John the Baptist, not John the author of the Gospel. This John the Baptist was not the light but was a witness to testify to the light. Later on, Jesus will say of this man that there has arisen no prophet greater than he. What did he mean? What about Elijah, at whose word all Israel suffered a drought for three years and who defeated 450 prophets of the false god Baal at Mt. Carmel? What about Elisha, who raised a widow’s child from the dead and cleansed a foreign general of leprosy? What about Isaiah the great writing prophet who stood fast and spoke of hope when the northern kingdom fell and enemies were at the gate if Jerusalem? Whose three Songs of the Servant spoke of the coming Messiah. What of Jeremiah, who saw Jerusalem fall to the Babylonians and spoke of a day when God would once again gather the chosen to Jerusalem? What of Ezekiel, who spoke to the people in exile of a city of God whose waters would nourish all the world? Jesus said John was greater than all of these.
In today’s reading, the Pharisees come to John and ask him who he is. Specifically, they ask if he is Elijah, or the Prophet, or the Messiah. Why these questions? First, we go back to Moses and the first five books of the Bible. In them Moses told the Children of Israel that there would always be a prophet to speak God’s word to them. And so it seemed to be. Then after the return from exile in the middle of the fifth century before Christ, the spirit of prophecy ceased. In the place of this direct communication from God through inspired leaders, the fixed religion of the priests and the written texts came to be the only authority. Nevertheless, the hope remained that some day, at the end of time, God would send a new prophet.
And that hope centered on Elijah. This prophet never died, but was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind and chariot of fire. Jews have held that at the end of time he would return to prepare the way for the Messiah. To this day when Jews celebrate the Passover Seder in their homes, they keep an empty seat at the table reserved for Elijah.
Finally, there was the hope of the Messiah himself. This was based on the promises God had made to King David, that his dynasty would never end. It went underground, as it were, for centuries after Alexander the Great subjugated the entire Middle East. But all during the repressive Greek occupation and then the Roman, the Jews kept looking for the day, when the Messiah, the anointed king, would return and reestablish Jewish sovereignty and usher in a time of peace and justice.
These then are the traditions and hopes that lie behind the questions to John the Baptist. But he said, “No, I am not Elijah. I am not the Prophet. I am not the Messiah. I am merely the voice of one calling in the wilderness to prepare a straight, even, flat road for the coming of the Messiah. Later on, in this first chapter of the Gospel of John, John will point to Jesus and say, “There he is. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John is the one who points to Jesus. In religious art there is a convention that John is almost always pictured as pointing to Jesus. When you see pictures or statues and one of the figures is pointing to Jesus, the odds are good that it is John the Baptist.
This is what makes John greater than all the prophets before him. John the Baptist actually could point to Jesus and say, “Here he is. This one, not me.”
There is another thing about John. Notice where his is first mentioned in the fourth Gospel. Right in the middle of the most abstract and theological passage in all of Scripture. The famous prologue to this Gospel begins: In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. In him was life and the life was the light of mortals. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. No transition, just –Bang! There he is. All of a sudden we have moved from the abstract to the concrete. We start with Word of God. Life. Light. Suddenly, there was a human being. It is in fact the pattern of the Incarnation for which John is to prepare us. The medium is the message. Flesh and blood human to point to the God of flesh and blood.
This is our ministry, too, as individuals. We are to point to Jesus. What makes us happy? Jesus. How can we face our troubles, our husband’s cancer, or the loss of a job? The COVID19 Pandemic? Jesus. What gives meaning to our lives? Jesus. How can you forgive that person who has wronged you? Through Jesus, and by the grace that he gives. We are people sent from God. This person sent from God whose name is Peter, or Richard, or Sara, or David. Each of us is here to be a witness to the light. We are here to point to Jesus.
This is our ministry as the Church as well. We point to Jesus. When we gather for worship, we say to one another and to our guests, here he is. Here is the savior of the world. Here is the hope of the world. Here is the one who can bring us justice and freedom and love. Here is the Word of God read and meditated on and discussed. Here in the Sacrament of God’s life-giving body and blood. Here in the gathering of people all animated by the Spirit of God. We point to Jesus present here and now in our midst, in the world, in our lives.
I love strong starts to stories: “Call me Ishmael.” ‘I sing of arms and the man.” “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Or as in Beowulf, the single word, “Listen!” This Gospel of John has a particularly powerful opening: “In the beginning was the Word.” It is a grand theological vision that sets the context for all that follows. In this Gospel, God is present in the human being Jesus. God becomes flesh. Suddenly, into the midst of this mystical language breaks this very earthy statement; “There was man sent from God, whose name was John.” This divine theology is lived out on this very earthy earth. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
This Advent season is also the beginning of a story, a story we tell every year in the liturgical cycle. Now, at this beginning, when we prepare for the coming of the Messiah, we remember John, the greatest of all the prophets. We imitate him in pointing to Jesus. We take joy in the coming of the one greater than ourselves. We recognize that advent in real people in this very real world. We will stay awake and look for the Christ Child everywhere.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” Amen.
fourth “Pop the Trunk” Delivery
1,764 lbs of food was delivered to
64 children, 78 Adults, 45 Seniors
Each household received canned ham, rice, soup, tuna, peanut butter, apples, cooking oil, condiments, selections from the “specials” table and other items to augment turkey and assist with leftovers,
Thank you to our volunteers and supporters.
- canned hams
- canned fruit (not pears) and applesauce
- cold cereal, especially non/low sugar varieties
- rice and pasta mixes
- baked beans
- canned beans — all varieties
- canned pasta
- pasta sauces — marinara, pesto, alfredo, meat
- jelly — all varieties
- canned soup
- canned tomatoes
- canned veggies (not peas or beets)
- baking mixes — brownies, cookies, cakes, pancake/waffle, muffins, etc
- granola bars
- condiments — mustard, ketchup, oils, bbq or steak sauce (not mayo)
- coffee and tea
- shelf stable beverages — milk, juice, etc