Live “Yes” to Life

Sermon Title: Live a “Yes” to Life

Date: 21 December 2014

Preacher: Kate Lord

Church Calendar Date: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2014

Lectionary Reading:  2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-27, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

 

In the name of our Trinitarian God.  Amen.

On the twelfth of September 2001, I woke to the ongoing saga that was planes crashing into the World Trade Centre.  Later that morning, I visited my close friend, Annmarie, who was pregnant with twins.  She asked me, “What am I doing bringing two more children into this world?”

This week has been such a week that might make us ask the same sort of question.  Unsuspecting people were caught up in a siege in a Sydney café that resulted in three deaths.  One hundred and thirty-two school children and their teachers were slaughtered in Pakistan.  Seven siblings and one cousin were murdered, and their mother is assisting police with their investigations.

These are events that leave us heart-broken and speechless.  We find ourselves caught up in all those emotions that we don’t like – grief, anger, fear.  We look for someone – individuals or institutions – to blame.  We question again our society’s gun laws, our treatment of those with mental illness, our immigration policies.  We find ourselves tempted to isolate and insulate ourselves, to answer a collective “No” to life and its tough questions.

Yet amid the myriad voices that spoke into the aftermath, especially of Sydney’s event, were some angelic voices.  On Monday afternoon, a woman posted online about an encounter she almost had with another woman whom she saw remove a headscarf.

While the story known as “I’ll ride with you” may have developed viral, even mythological proportions, the message is the same: when the small voice within us prompts us to act selflessly for the good of another human being, and when we act on that call, we embody – make incarnate – the Word of God.

And so we turn to today’s gospel reading.  Israel was, two thousand years ago, occupied by foreign forces.  It was a multi-racial and multi-religious society.  The Christians to whom Luke addresses his version of the good news were one of the few groups persecuted more than the Jews.  Violence and fear were used to keep the populace in check, not unlike many parts of the world today.

In a remote village on the edge of the Roman Empire, a teenage bride-to-be is visited by an angel.  It is not a still, small voice, but a visitation of angelic proportions that calls Mary to make manifest in the world the Word of God.

The angel’s first words to Mary are not the stock standard “Do not be afraid”.  Instead, she is addressed, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured!  The Lord is with you”.  Mary was, justifiably, perplexed, and wondered what kind of greeting this was.  Where was her assurance to be not afraid?!  It followed soon afterward – perhaps Gabriel realised that this is still necessary even for such people as Mary!

Mary’s response to the angel’s pronouncement is to question the logistics, rather than the fact of this miraculous birth.  I do not have time here to explore the details of the mechanics of the conception of Christ, for which Susanne will breathe a sigh of relief.  But it is noteworthy that Mary does not question that this is possible for God, as did Zechariah only six months earlier.  She seems to spend very little time deciding how to respond to God concerning a matter that will change the rest of her life, even though she did not have the benefit of the New Testament to tell her how the story would end!

I have been grappling, this year, with the concept of time.  We experience our lives minute by minute, day by day, year by year.  Each year takes, well, a whole year to go by, even if each year seems to go by faster!  But when we read history books, and books such as the Bible, we can read about an entire year, generation or century in a matter of minutes!  For example, we can read a book on World War I in a few sittings, but the people who experienced that War had to live through every. single. minute. of it.  Their nights fearing the next attack in the trenches, or dreading the next letter pronouncing the death of a loved one, lasted as long as do our longest nights.

Likewise, we read today’s story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary, and know that, within a couple of pages, Jesus will be born, will be left behind in Jerusalem at the age of 12, and will begin his public ministry as an adult.  But these historical events took as long as it takes us to wait nine months to give birth, to panic when a child gets lost in the city, and to find out what our own children will do when they grow up.

With this perspective, I want us to sit alongside Mary during this conversation with Gabriel.  Let us spend one last moment in Advent, awaiting the coming of the Christ Child, before we rush on to the Christmas story.

Mary has much to lose: her reputation, her prospective marriage to a hard-working man, her acceptance by family and society.  How long would you and I consider these issues prior to taking on such an unexpected enterprise?!  But rather than listen to the voices that urge us to say “No”, Mary listens to her heart, and says “Yes” to God.  In so doing, the world as she knew it was changed.  With the benefit of hindsight and two thousand years of reflection, we know that this change was for the better.  At the time of her response, however, Mary did not know the story that is so familiar to us today.

Mary’s uniqueness within the Christian tradition is not her perfection, but her willingness to say “Yes” to the unexpected and apparently impossible.  She aligns her will with God’s will, and miracles occur.  For with God, nothing is impossible.  What we deem impossible may be part of God’s deeper reality breaking forth in our lives.[1]

Now you and I have a similar choice to make, for God comes to each of us and invites us to bring to birth that which is placed within us.  The miracle is saying “Yes” to God.  When we choose to say “No” to God, we perpetuate the growing distance between the rich and poor, the unjust distribution of the world’s resources, and the destruction of the earth and its ecosystems.[2]

In the light of the events of this week, this response is tempting.  I have heard people talking about avoiding public places such as the MCG, being nervous about travelling on public transport, and even wishing our laws permitted them to carry guns.  But these are the responses of a victim mentality.  With every “No” we give to life, and we usually do so through fear of one thing or another, we reinforce the victimhood within ourselves.

Those of you familiar with the Harry Potter books and films will be familiar with the character Neville Longbottom.  Neville is the ultimate victim.  That is until the point, depicted in the fourth film, where he chooses to stand up and literally join the dance.  From that moment on, he becomes a force for good rather than a passenger and victim.

And the image of dancing brings me full circle.  One of Annmarie’s twins, Flynn, who was born eight months after the tragedy of 9/11, is now 12 years old.  He danced here in our church at Pentecost last year.  Wherever he dances, he brings light and life.  Dancing is God’s gift to Flynn, and Flynn’s gift to the world.  Each of us has had such gifts placed within us, and each of us is called to assent to their being made incarnate, to give them back to the world.

There are many moments in each of our lives when we are called to join the dance.  We can respond from our heads, concerned that we don’t know the steps and may look foolish, worrying about our reputations, fearing what it will mean for our future security and prosperity – as if we have any control over such things!  Or we can respond from our hearts, which softly speak to us of connection and freedom and beauty and adventure and laughter and love and life.  Because it is God who places within us the seed of the divine life, who calls us to make that manifest in the world, who invites us to say, with Mary, “Let it be with me according to your word”.

Each of us is called to live a “Yes” to life, not to hide within a “No”.  As we approach the coming of Christ, may we each accept the gifts that God gives us, and God’s invitation to dance through life.  In so doing, may each of us become the gifts that we are to the world, bringing hope, peace, joy and love wherever we go.

The Lord be with you.

[1]  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2014/12/adventurous-lectionary-december-21-2014-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent/#ixzz3MR2R7Apt

[2]  Ibid.