4th Sunday in Advent - THE UNEXPECTED JOURNEY - 12/21 - Pastor April's Sermon

When was the last moment when someone saw you? I don’t mean saw you as in – Oh, there you are – but saw you – saw in you the beauty and potential and worth and possibility –

When was the last time someone saw something in you that you didn't really know was there?

And their seeing something in you seemed to help you see that it was possible for that thing to be birthed in your life.

When was the last time someone saw you?

 

I wonder how Mary would have answered that question before the day that the angel came to visit her.

We don’t know much about her. We know she was about 13 years old. 13 years old. Living in Nazareth, a small, poor, working class town. She probably did not come from a family of money. Her life was a simple one.

And in this day and age – women lived their lives in the background. They stayed in the home. They tended to their own affairs.

News about their futures was decided by the men in their family.

They were along for the ride.

 

So, Mary’s experience on that fateful evening – of an angel who not only saw her but spoke directly TO her – it would have been an entirely unusual and extraordinary thing.

 

Greetings, favored one.

 

First of all, angels don’t speak to women. And Favored one?

That was a greeting for the rich, for the privileged, for the remarkable and accomplished.

 

She was just an ordinary girl from Nazareth.

 

No wonder she was confused and wondered what kind of greeting this was.

 

the angel goes on – greetings favored one, don’t be afraid – for God is going to do a new thing in you.

 

In you.

 

In you, Mary.

An ordinary, 13 year old girl.

 

You will conceive and give birth to a son, you are to call him jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the most high.

 

Now, normally news about Mary’s future – about her role as a wife and a mother – it would be directed to her father or her future husband.

Never directly to her.

 

But the angel comes to bring this news DIRECTLY to Mary.

 

The Son of the Living God will come into the world.

 

How?

 

By the Power of the Spirit. It will be God working in and through you.

The holy one will be called the son of God.

Nothing is impossible with God.

 

You, Mary, are going to bring the Son of God into the world.

 

There are these mixed emotions that happen when someone really sees you.

When they name some things about you. When they tell you – that maybe you are more blessed than you realized. When they challenge you to see yourself as more. When they tell you that out of your life can come extraordinary possibility and promise.

 

The emotions are mixed.

It is affirming to be noticed and to be told that we are favored and blessed.

But it is also uncomfortable – it is unnerving. Who me?

Are you sure you have the right person?

And what if what you say is true?

What does that mean for me?

How must my life be different?

What must I face and come to grips with?

 

I will never forget the week in seminary where two very important women SAW me.

It was the fall of my 2nd year of seminary and while still firmly committed to the idea that I was not going to get ordained as an elder, lead a church or preach, I had become more open to the idea that perhaps God was inviting me down a path that I hadn’t anticipated.

 

I was taking two classes that fall – a church leadership class with a retired bishop, Bishop Craig. And a history class with Dr. Diane Lobody.

And that week, I received two grades back on two papers I had written.

The first was from Bishop Craig and it was a – well, let’s just say – a not so great mark.

There was a lot of red on the page and she asked me to stay afterward to talk about it.

I was not feeling so good about where this was going to go.

She handed me the paper back and she said – I’m going to ask you to rewrite this paper.

I asked you to do theological reflection about the church where you are serving and how God is working in and through your ministry and frankly, you didn’t do what I asked.

And so I want you to go back to your desk, and I want you to pray, and listen and rewrite – and tell me how it is that God is actually working in and through these moments.

Then she said this, “You know, I could have just given you the grade and left it at that. But, April, I see something in you. I see possibility and promise. And I think God is trying to work in your life in a way that you aren’t paying attention to.

And I don’t want you to miss it.”

 

So go back and listen. And come back.

 

The next day, my history professor was preparing to pass back our first papers of the semester. She prefaced this passing back of the papers with a long speech about how terrible the large majority of the papers had been. How they were not at all what had been assigned, how we had missed the point, and I quote, how we were all a bunch of “knuckleheads.”

 

I braced myself for the worst.

And then I received my paper back.

 

It also had red all over it, but it wasn’t the red I was expecting.

 

A+ it said at the top.

 

Excellent work.

 

And the note on the final page read something like this (Disclaimer: I don't have the original paper, so this is more what I heard as opposed to what was written) – Ms. Blaine, this is a remarkable paper and shows an ability to articulate and communicate that will carry you far in your ministry as a leader in our conference. Do not miss the gift that God is given you and be sure you are brave and courageous enough to use it in the world.

 

I remember walking outside of the school, and sitting for over an hour outside on a bench overlooking the pond that day.

 

Because when someone has seen you – really seen you, when someone has called forth something out of you – out of the depths of who you are –

There are a lot of mixed feelings.

I think the people who saw me crying that day assumed that like them, I had failed the paper as well.

And I let them think what they needed to think.

But that week – from the words of my two professors – I had been seen and I knew that I couldn’t hide anymore. And that my life would never be the same.

 

The words that Mary is reported as responding to the Angel are

 

Let it be to me as you have said.

 

But I wonder what she was feeling inside as she spoke those words.

 

The mixture of emotions at the God of the universe having seen her and called her – to be more than she thought she could be.

 

To do this thing – to follow this call.

To say yes to the unexpected journey where she would never again be the same.

 

Was to acknowledge that what the angel saw in her – what God saw in her - as crazy as it sounds – that something about it was true.

 

Let it be to me as you have said.

 

May what you said be true in my life. May it be true.

 

I think that Mary’s story so often get’s romanticized and made into this kind of otherworldly experience. Where we lift Mary up as this Holy Saint that is nothing like us.

 

But I think actually – we are seriously missing the point of this story.

 

If God chose a 13 year old girl from a small town, from a poor family, who hasn’t done anything remarkable to make herself stand out in the world – if God saw in Mary the ability to bring the Son of God into the world –

 

Then what does God see in you?

 

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas and it is a time where we are waiting with expectation, with hope for Jesus to come into the world. Advent literally means arrival. And so we remember the first arrival of Jesus into the world.

 

And how the first arrival of Jesus, the incarnate God, came into the world by calling forth the best parts of the humanity of a young woman on the fringes of a small town in the middle of nowhere.

 

But the heart of Advent today isn’t just to remember the story – it is also the firm belief in the Christian tradition that Jesus is still arriving into the world all the time,

Through us.

The heart of Advent is the belief that we are all Mary.

Mary wasn’t the extraordinary person we know her to be today before this encounter. But she did say – Let it Be – Let me live into the possibility that you have for me.

 

So this Advent and Christmas I wonder about two things.

 

Where has God seen you? Where is God seeking to arrive in your own life – to bring forth the best parts of who you are – so that the light of God might come into the world? Where have others seen it in you and you have been yet to speak the words –

Let it be to me as you have said. Yes. I am willing.

 

 

And I also wonder this season – where you need to be like this angel – speaking a word of encouragement and hope – seeing another person with all of their gifts and graces and speaking to them a word from God about what you see in them – about the possibilities and about what God is doing?

 

Who do you need to see this season through the eyes of God to offer them that same word of hope?

 

 

Because – the truth is –

 

We are all ordinary people through whom – extraordinary things are possible.

 

This is how God came into the world and this is STILL how God is coming into the world.

 

So – Let it Be – to Us – As God has spoken.