Monday, December 21, 2020

Year B Advent 4 2020 Love You Most

Year B Advent 4, 20 December 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Love You Most”

Collect: Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Romans 16:25-27

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Luke 1:26-38

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. And he came to her and said, “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. The angel said to her, “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.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 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, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

“...The revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed…”

God had been holding God’s breath for millenia, since the foundation of the world, since the beginning of time. Cain and Abel wrestled over how to please God, and it led to murder. They did not understand the secret. The human heart has been continuing that awful tradition ever since, so we pretty much have missed the point, too. But the lesson we were to take was that we were and are our sister’s and our brother’s keepers, and that ripples out from that mystery as well.

The revelation, that which was unveiled, was the mystery, the secret sauce that God sprinkled throughout creation. So often we worry and fret over what we need to do to please God. What might we need to do to get God’s attention?

Blessed Mary here, in her innocence and simplicity, just was who God made her to be. It wasn’t about doing, or abstaining, or refraining, or fasting. It was and is about being. Jesus said it best, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” 

Jesus did not come to make us miserable, cranky, or judgmental. The opposite of that, exactly. Loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. (Galatians 5:22-23) But what it makes us is not the secret, this revelation of the mystery. What we are and what we can become is the outcome of the mystery.

As we reside in who God made us to be, we latch onto the mystery, written in the DNA of the universe. In our daily lectionary readings this week, these verses caught my attention from Psalm 49:

4 Why should I be afraid in evil days, *

    when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,

5 The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, *

    and boast of their great riches?

6 We can never ransom ourselves, *

    or deliver to God the price of our life;

7 For the ransom of our life is so great, *

    that we should never have enough to pay it,

8 In order to live for ever and ever, *

    and never see the grave.

15 But God will ransom my life; *

    he will snatch me from the grasp of death.

16 Do not be envious when some become rich, *

    or when the grandeur of their house increases;

17 For they will carry nothing away at their death, *

    nor will their grandeur follow them.

It is not about what we do, or about what we gain. The esteem of our colleagues or the jealousy of our rivals means nothing to God. We are seen as who we are because of whose we are. We are Beloved, because we are the Children of God.

As the beautiful hymn to the Divine Word, the LOGOS, the Christ, declares:

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (vv. 11-13)

In that hymn at the beginning of the Gospel of John we are told plainly that we do not choose God, God already chose us. So it was with Mary. God looked at all creation across the ages and said, “Yes, she is the one. She will be just right! 

And not only was Mary chosen, you were, too! God wants you in the Family! If you ever worried or doubted that, know this. God is, and always has been only an arm’s length away because that is as far as you can hold God back.

What is so beautiful about today’s Gospel reading is that Blessed Mary, in her youthful naivete grasped and claimed, was that she was the Lord’s and she was willing to do what God would have of her. Mary chose to be a part of the Mystery. When invited she said, “Yes.” 

Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

The revelation of the mystery is this, that enables us to love all our sisters and brothers, that enables us to grow in the Spirit and be loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, and all the rest, that God loves you. God loves you at your worst. God loves you at your best. God’s love is so big, that God loves your enemies, too. And God loves you enough that you can even love your enemies, too. 

When my kids were young, one of the games we played at night as they were going to sleep went like this. 

“Love you.” 

“Love you more.” 

“Love you most.”

After a while they figured out that whoever said Love You first, was the one who “won” and got to say “Love you most!” And so it is with God. God loved first. God loved most. God loves best.

As we conclude Advent, as we finish these weeks of preparation for the Christmas that was so long ago and the Return that is yet to Come, we recognize that each and every one of us has the choice given to Mary. Will we, like Mary, say yes to God? We will allow that first love, that love of God, to take hold, nestle in, and grow to maturity in us?

In the final verse of one of our favorite Christmas Carols we sing yearly. Have you heard the words? Have you meant them? 

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray,

cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.

May you feel it, and know it this Christmas, especially this Christmas. 

[singing] O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.

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Blessings, Rock