Where Do We Meet God?

Kenora 4 Advent
Year B
20 December 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Canticle 18
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

God of scandalous love,
Mary consented to bear the shame
and carry your Word within herself:
may her courage give hope to women and men
who yearn to sing new songs of justice
and find the world a dwelling place for God;
through Jesus Christ, the one who is to come. Amen.

I had an interesting encounter, this week.

I received a call from a gentleman, one evening. He was calling from the emergency room of the hospital where he was being seen for chest pains, and he said that he wanted, that he needed to speak with a member of the clergy. So, naturally, I consulted my calendar, and booked a time to meet with him, the next afternoon.

The next morning, he called again, asking if we could move his appointment to an earlier time as he was now released from the hospital and really felt the need to talk; so, we did. We met first thing in the morning.

And on that morning, I met a man who was travelling from his home on the east coast to spend Christmas with family in Saskatchewan.

By his choice, he was travelling by bus, and along the way he had lost his wallet.

This means that he crossed a good part of Ontario by hitchhiking, and by the effort of his own feet.

By the time he was able to sit down with me, the one question that had been most paramount, for him for over 800 km, was “Where was God in all of his experiences?”

So, we chatted.

Today, in our gospel, we encounter Mary. In her, we encounter a young lady who is raised in the Jewish traditions, the writings of the prophets, the hope of the coming of the Messiah, that is still wished for by all in her day.

We discover Mary being confronted by the angel. And I wonder if we can look at the question I was asked this week, in light of Mary’s experience: Where is God in all of this? Is God even paying attention to what is taking place in the world all around us?

We know Mary as a young woman who is newly engaged to Joseph. We know the community sees her as an average person, and someone we would think of as “a good girl.”

At the same time Mary is living in a time of social and political uncertainty, under Roman occupation, yet at the same time, the maintenance of the Jewish way of life, under King Herod, as well. Stability wasn’t something that was a part of the societal fabric of the day because of the tax burdens and the needs of family and friends.

Yet, throughout her life, she’s been steeped in the prophet’s words and the tradition of the people that says God still watches over the Hebrew people. Tradition that says that God will send the Messiah, the anointed one, to lead the people, when all of the conditions are right, as we’ve been hearing from Isaiah, for the past few weeks.

So, I’m sure Mary has heard from people all around her, and has in her own heart and mind pondered the same question I heard this week, “Where is God in all of this?” and “Is God even paying attention to what is taking place in the world all around us?”

And then we read today’s gospel lesson, we hear once more the canticle, known as Mary’s Song, as the Magnificat, and we learn that what God is doing isn’t necessarily something we’d recognize as the working of God, such as going to Mary, an innocent girl, whose engaged to be married, to be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God.

“the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
From a societal level, without knowledge of or hearing the words of the angel, Mary has just put her very life on the line because if she’s perceived by her fiancé, by the community, by the “society of they” then she is able to be stoned to death for infidelity.” (Lk 1:26b-31)

So, in asking the question “Where is God in all of this?” we need to trust that God is capable of moving heaven and earth to bring God’s will to fulfillment.

In today’s gospel, we see that the angel didn’t go to a random woman, rather he came to Mary.

“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.” (Lk 1:26)

He came to someone who was engaged to someone who is the descendant of the line and house of David.

He went to someone who was destined to return to Bethlehem when Caesar Augustus calls for a census, as we will hear in the Christmas readings.

The angel went to someone who yearns to see the world a better place, as we do, as the gentleman who sat in my office, this week, does as well.

Given the experiences of the gentleman who came to my office, with his question, the experiences of Mary in today’s gospel, both wondering where God is in everything taking place in the world around us.

Well, the answer I gave this gentleman was that in my mind and heart, God is all around us. I told him that God is nearby as well as far away and God is within each one of us, as well.

In looking at the social problems of the world around us, today, we have different problems than we see in the passages of the bible, but we still find ourselves asking, more often than naught, where is God in all of this?

But the answer is more disturbing because God is within us, and all around us, so then effecting change, like for Mary, is often found within us, and something that we need to act on, at some point to find changes happening.

Perhaps, we could see God, in some sense, is like Marley’s ghost, from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol.

When we meet him, Marley is condemned to see the wrongs of the world, but the only cure is to influence our lives and hearts to be, to create, to carry out the ministry of relief efforts, and to provide solutions to the least in our midst.

Today’s gospel shows us the trust and the bravery of Mary to embrace the solutions that the angel presents on God’s behalf. And I say trust and bravery because both are required to make the earth shattering changes that the Messiah brings into the world.

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”” (Lk 1:34)

Trust and bravery are required in Mary’s reply to the angel as this changes, in one phrase, absolutely everything in her life from her standing in the community, to her relationship with her fiancé, and even with her family.

The Nativity Story, released in 2006, has a great line. When Joseph and Mary are leaving Nazareth, Joseph looks at her, as the neighbours watch them pass by, having followed every stage of her pregnancy with interest, and with suspicion, he says “They’re going to miss us.”

Mary listens to the words of the angel, and in them she recognizes the will of God. But still, it requires her participation in God’s plan.

God will not work without our participation in the process of redemption, of making the world a better place, of impacting the social deficiencies in our society, in our community, in our world.

Like Marley trying to convince Scrooge to see beyond his legers, to see the fullness of life that exists all around, including the aid to those who are less fortunate, it took the encounters of three spirits to show Scrooge how much his life, his perception of the world, and so much more, was tied up in being a full participant in the world all around him.

After all, as Dicken’s said of the spirts that Scrooge saw out his window after Marley departed, “they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters.” (A Christmas Carol)

It takes trust and it takes bravery to believe that that moment of change is here, and, in today’s gospel, it happens through the life of one girl for whom, from this point forward, nothing will be the same.

The same is true for each of our lives, as well.

When we accept that the way to change the world is within each of our grasps, this alone can be a life changing revelation. Such change is found in the ability to look each other in the eye, and see the Christ in the eye of the other. Only then are we able to serve Christ in each other, only then is the lasting change that we desire to see possible.

But for Mary, we see it begins here when where hears the words of the angel, and agrees to be the mother of the Son of 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.” (Lk 1:38)

And in our lives, we can echo her bravery with our own as we also say “Hear I am, servant of the Lord.”


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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