Sunday, December 20, 2020

20 December 2020 ~ Advent IV ~ Sermon by the Rev. Peter M. Carey


20 December 2020 ~ Advent IV Sermon by the Rev. Peter M. Carey

20 December 2020

Sermon ~ Advent 4

The Rev. Peter M. Carey

Many years ago, when I was preparing to teach at Episcopal Academy,

I spent the summer getting myself in the right frame of mind and body and spirit

to teach in the upper school, having taught middle school for 5 years before that. 

I had taught history and humanities, but had yet to teach religion as an entire course,

and so, in order to stay a few weeks ahead of my students, I spent vacation time

reading every book that was assigned for the courses I would be teaching. 

And, so, I lay down in the hammock on a beautiful June day and cracked open

Marcus Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.”  This was the right book

at the right time for me to read.  Theologians call holy time “kairos,” and others

might call this “kismet.”  I had grown up in the church, but had fallen into more

of a solely intellectual interest, and had perhaps lost some of the freshness and

awareness of the light and life that God provides.

In some key ways, the book, “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” lived up

to its title, and I was, in fact, given the opportunity to meet Jesus “again,” and in

a fresh and life-giving way.  

I am thankful for the encounter with the book, and for the space in that hammock,

where I read the entire book in one sitting.  It was not in a church, and it was not

in an approved liturgy, and it was not written by a priest (actually written by a priest’s

spouse).  But that encounter allowed me to be aware of God in a new and

life-giving way.  That encounter led me through a door which allowed me to see

and experience the life-giving transfusion of God and of those who make up

God’s people.

While I did not encounter God, or God’s angel Gabriel as Mary did, I can point

to a moment, and a place, and a time, when God encountered me in a surprising way.

Mary, of course encountered Gabriel in her home, in her own personal space,

and this encounter was brilliant and life-changing not only for her, but for the

world itself.  We look back and call this the “annunciation” for it was an

“announcement” of Mary as the Christ-bearer. 

We can also call this the holy encounter.  

Gabriel, you may remember, also appeared in the apocalyptic prophecy book of

Daniel in Babylon.  In the midst of exile and struggle and suffering Daniel

encountered Gabriel, and Gabriel painted a landscape of hope and joy. 

Gabriel also appeared to Zechariah, and announced the birth of Zechariah and

Elizabeth’s son, John.

Here, Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus.  Mary is “favored” with God’s love,

and as such as been a part of God’s plan.  Mary, of course, is perplexed.  She

does not doubt Gabriel’s message, but she does wonder “how can this be” - since

she has no husband.  Gabriel tells her that she will conceive through the power

of the Holy Spirit:  a gift from God, and the child will be filled with the Holy Spirit,

and dedicated to the service of God...AND, will be called Son of God!  God is

announcing the birth of Jesus, AND is also placing Jesus in the context of the

Old Testament Prophecies.

Gabriel appears to Mary in a place far away from the structure of the temple,

in her own space, and there, the encounter promises not merely a personal

announcement, but an announcement for all humankind.  Mary is blessed, and is

given the vision that Jesus will be king, especially for those who are suffering,

those who are alone, those who are poor, those who are in prison, those who

are oppressed, those who are in need.

God appears to Mary and paints a vision of a new world, of God at work in the

world both for us personally, and also for God’s people.  God appears to Mary

and she meets God “again for the first time.”  For God is full of surprises, and

even for us today, God is continually surprising us with blessing, love, and encounter. 

May we sit and be open to the encounter with God, as Mary was, and may we

ponder these things, so that even in our own troubled time, we might recognize and

embrace the blessings and surprising gifts from God.