Advent 4 Sermon


Advent 4 YrC 018 10.15am Group Castle Acre Waiting with joyful expectation – we come to this final Sunday in the season of Advent. Christmas is not here yet – despite the abundance of tinsel and carols and Christmas decorations around us with Christmas lights, and canned carols. The liturgical colour is still purple. There is still time to make one’s confession. Still an opportunity to make ready the pathway for God to enter in and make his dwelling in us. To emphasise this sense of waiting - the gospel reading today presents us with two different women both waiting, both expecting – expecting the birth of children in fulfilment of the promise of God to them. I speak of Mary and her kinswoman Elizabeth. Two women at risk by the customs and laws of the day and yet many a sermon will gloss over that thought and focus instead on Mary’s obedience. Why are they at risk? For both there is a recognition of the excitement they share in expecting a child – Elizabeth after many years of not conceiving and Mary – a young woman whose excitement must also be mixed with anxiety and foreboding given that we are told she had had no sexual relations with Joseph – How can this be? Says Mary for I am still a young woman i.e. virgin. Susan and I share that mixture of emotion of excitement and yet concern as Andrew our son has told us that Anne his wife is expecting twins! Tradition tells us that Mary on hearing her news goes with haste to greet her kinswoman Elizabeth – a journey of about 3 days. Perhaps she needed to see Elizabeth to verify the truth of Gabriel’s message that “Elizabeth in her old age had conceived a son.” Both women are at risk for different reasons. Mary because she is young and betrothed but not yet married to Joseph – although being betrothed was seen as good as being married. Joseph we are told thought to put her away but he too receives a message from God not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Custom and law of the time meant that Mary could have been stoned to death. What the account conveys for us is that Jesus did not have a Father in the normally understood way. Likewise Elizabeth was a woman in danger. Again according to custom and law Zechariah could have divorced her for not presenting him with a child and then she might have found herself homeless. Thankfully society today is more enlightened – which does not mean that women in similar circumstances don’t find themselves in danger but there is help and safe refuges to offer protection. The presence of Mary and Elizabeth as two women in danger reminds us, as we stand ready to enter in and worship the Christ child of Bethlehem, that there are many people – male and female who are vulnerable or different for a whole variety of reasons. Today in our society at least there is a proper concern to offer support to the vulnerable so that they can be protected and included rather than excluded or abused. Having said that there will still be those who do not agree with embracing the vulnerable. The focus on vulnerability as we prepare to open the stable door to celebrate the birth of Christ in 3 days time – is upon a scene which is also one of vulnerability. Of two people – Mary and Joseph struggling to find somewhere to stay for the night. Somewhere to give birth to child in safety and security who according to the prophetic tradition as received from Micah is to be a Saviour the looked for Messiah or Promised One. Yet this Saviour comes not in power or strength but rather as a fragile child born in less than savoury conditions who will also at the end of his days be the vulnerable one on the cross. The place of the vulnerable and the role of community toward them is at the heart of Mary’s song the Magnificat. It is very akin to Hannah’s song to God in 1 Samuel to the news that she too would give birth. Mary begins her song by affirming her confidence, her faithfulness in God who has looked favourably upon her and leads on to the understanding that the poor and the oppressed will find their vindication – he will bring down the mighty and raise up the lowly and the hungry. At this time of the year many respond with generosity to the needs of the vulnerable e.g. through Crisis at Christmas, the Salvation Army or the Children’s Society. Both Mary and Elizabeth share a common hope, a shared dream that God is coming amongst his people. His coming is recognised by the child in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) who we are told leapt inside her at the coming of Mary to see Elizabeth. He is to be the herald of the one who comes after him. Thus at the end of the period of waiting whether it is in this season of Advent or the pregnancy of these two ladies – they offer their praises and rejoicing to God who has fulfilled his long held promise. Canon Stuart Nairn