Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 4th Sunday of Advent

Not on Mary’s Christmas List
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -


My friend, Susan Sparks, is pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. She is also a lawyer and a comedian and travels around the USA on a very large motorcycle! Her comedy is often part of the “Laugh in Peace” comedy tour with her two friends, Rabbi Bob Alper and Muslim comic Aman Ali. And she writes weekly reflections that I enjoy reading. I like her a lot, even more so since I found out her husband grew up Lutheran!


This week, Pastor Sparks wrote about a Christmas gift she received around twenty years ago from her cousin who, Pastor Sparks notes, her cousin who has what she calls a “random” sense of humor. Pastor Sparks’ cousin sent her sent a most unusual gift, a toilet paper dispenser that played the song “All My Rowdy Friends are Coming Over Tonight” by Hank Williams, Jr.

 

Sparks’ reaction, which she notes she did not share with her cousin, Spark’s reaction was to think, “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want it. This was NOT on MY list!”

 

This was not on my list!
We have all been there. Maybe it was a crazy holiday present. Or maybe it was something more sinister, like a relationship conflict, or an elderly parent that needs increasing care, or a diagnosis that contains scary words like “cancer.” Things that make us want to say, “um, I didn’t ask for this, I don’t want it. This was NOT on MY list!”

 

maryAndbabyJesusLet me tell you about someone else who must have been tempted to say those exact words: Mary – the mother of Jesus.
In today’s gospel lesson from the book of Luke, the angel Gabriel appears and tells Mary that she, an unwed teenage mother, that Mary was pregnant and was going to give birth, in a barn, to the Messiah.

 

If ever there was a time for someone to say, “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want it. This was NOT on MY list!” it would be right here. But Mary doesn’t. She hears the news, and instead of getting mad, or scared, or running away as fast as she can, she sings a song of thanks, a song Luke records in the verses which follow today’s Gospel lesson.
We sing Mary’s song, called The Magnificat, every time we use the Holden prayer service as we are doing this morning.
Remember the words?


My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you, You have looked with love on her servant here, and blessed me all my life through. Great and mighty are you, O Holy One, strong is your kindness evermore. How you favor the week and lowly one, humbling the proud of heart.



Not the first thing you would think someone in her position would say. The more appropriate response (at least in my mind) might be something like, “WUUUUUT?” But not Mary. She uses her fear for something more. Mary says to the angel, as we heard in today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

 

Like Mary, we are all called—all given sacred jobs in this life. None are as dramatic as Mary’s sacred job, birthing the Son of God, but all are important. And sometimes what God calls us to do can be terrifying. Sometimes we may want to say “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want it. This was NOT on MY list!”
In those situations, we have two choices: We can push them away in fear, or we can use that fear for transformation.

 

We all know our own fears – health, job, family, friends, fears for our community and nation. You can add your own. Sometimes the call of God can be frightening, terrifying. And, faced with these fearsome situations it is very tempting just to avoid them, to say “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want it. This is NOT on MY list.”


But, as we see in today’s Gospel lesson, that is not how Mary responded when the angel told her incredible news and gave her a sacred, scary job, birthing the Son of God.
Two thousand years ago in a tiny town by the Galilee a brave young woman was given news that would have terrified many a soul. But Mary chose to face those fears with thanksgiving. To look her fear in the face, and say let this give birth to something great.

 

Mary looked fear in the face and then Mary gave birth to something great.


On this Fourth Sunday in Advent, as we anticipate Jesus Christ born anew into our hearts this Christmas, and as we each face our own fears, let us remember Mary and have the courage to do the same, let us sing with Mary: My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you, You have looked with love on her servant here, and blessed me all my life through.

 


Amen.

 

(With thanks to the Rev. Susan Sparks, pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.)

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Dec. 23 & 24, 2017


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