Saturday 14 December 2013

Advent 3

On this third Advent Sunday we remember Mary, chosen by God to give birth to Jesus. Mary was a young girl possibly a teenager. She suddenly finds herself pregnant and visited by angels. It could be a bad hair day!  The child she is carrying is destined to fulfill the prophesies concerning the Jewish Messiah. He will change history and be a beacon for those who are oppressed, a standard for all to live by in opposition to the standards of society. She knew it was going to be hard and she was just a teenager. In her life she had some hard journeys to make, to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, to Egypt, where they had to go to escape the soldiers, and to the cross, where she watched her son die.

And yet she said yes to the angel.

The Magnificat sung by Mary as she carries the baby born to be such an important person in human history, gives us hope of material relief from poverty. In the story we hear described that an angel comes to Mary to tell her she will be  pregnant before marriage. We also know from Matthew that Joseph, thinking the worst, plans to divorce her. It's a story with ominous beginnings. A story of crisis.

Mary went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth who also was expecting a baby but was further advanced in her pregnancy. She went to a town in the hill country of Judea. The Song of Mary is in the form of a hymn of praise directed to God for his kindness toward Mary, with particular reference to remnant Israel and reflecting the Old Testament sense of God's covenant loyalty and loving kindness toward Israel, his hesed, (Heb. "faithful love"). To those who acknowledge God's position and authority, the hymn says, his mercy extends to all people in all ages. Mary stayed approximately three months, indicating that Mary probably stayed till the birth of John.

The Christ/Mass festival has been celebrated since about 400 AD. Christ' means 'Messiah' or 'Anointed One' - the title given to Jesus - and 'Mass' was a religious festival. Today if you visited Britain from another planet you would be forgiven for thinking that Christmas was a retail festival! This Christmas we will rush around fulfilling the need to buy presents for our loved ones and friends. But this is not the true meaning of Christmas.

If you have no contact with the spiritual at this time, then Christmas is empty. It is purely a retail affair, extended if you have family. For the poor and the solitary it is painful. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a return to God and to keeping God’s laws as a basis for living in peace, peace with God, with one another and themselves. When God’s people wander away from their true calling, and forget the plight of others, they become aimless and empty, and their souls are not fed. Only God can satisfy the hungry soul, and so Gods prophets cry in the emptiness and chaos, because in their hearts is a dream which refuses to die. Isaiah speaks of a light in the darkness. Its an everlasting promise, there will be light in the darkness for Gods people. There is the theme of justice that runs through the hymn, ironic in this day, when there is little justice. It is a contrary vision, a utopia for our dystopia.

And so like the rest of the church throughout the world we are waiting this Advent for that God to be born again in our hearts, in our lives, in our communities-this God, tabernacled, putting up his tent next to us, living with us. Immanuel.

None of us want our ordered world disturbed with the scandalous and unexpected, especially if it involves family pride or losing face. The 
Christmas story begins with shame, the shame of a pregnant, unmarried mother and an imminent divorce. It goes on to release its power through the childless, the dumb, the poor. This Christmas they are all with us. Those we despise because of their situation. Those who are vulnerable and powerless. It is to these and many others that the Christ light gives hope, lifting up the lowly, proclaiming release to the captives.

If we can take time and space to be still with God, take time to look at ourselves, our lives, our priorities as we approach the end of another year and take time to put right relationships around us as far as is possible, take time to give to others less fortunate than ourselves, then the Spirit of Justice and Hope will be with us and we will know it by the peace in our hearts.



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