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Advent 4 Sermon - Mary

The Reverend Charles Royden

I was reading the Beds on Sunday this morning and there was a letter from a resident of Bedford. Let me read it to you.

Sir,

I don't know about you but I'm just not feeling Christmassy at all this year. It may be because I have had to cut down significantly on my spending (as probably a lot of people have) or just because I'm tired of all the commercialism of the festive season. I've been walking around the shops over the last few weeks gatheing presents for my loved onesand I've even begu listening to all the classic seasonal songs the other night, but neither of these have got me in the mood for Christmas. So if anyone has any suggestions of how to spread the festive cheer I would be most grateful.


Well let me tell you Rita Moore of London Road Bedford, you are not alone.

I was singing that song this week’ it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, Then as I was singing I actually I thought, it isn’t feelin a a lot like Christmas. When I went to Tesco’s the staff were dressed up as Disney Characters and that was nice, but it still didn’t feel like Christmas.
There are the houses with Christmas lights on in Swindale and Dove Road, but that really hasn’t made me feel like Christmas either. In fact when I asked the question to a group of adults they agreed that this year it doesn’t feel very much like Christmas yet. Perhaps it is because everything is so depressing at the moment. the financial implosion which we all know is coming. Michael Portillo was speaking on television the other night and was makign the point that we seem to have moved from 'when the maelstrom comes' rather than 'if'. So this makes us feel miserable and unchrismassy. How dreadful. The baby Jesus is being about to be born and we feel fearful and lacking in joy.

Then I thought, well that was probably a lot like Mary felt. I suspect that there would have been many times when Mary and Joseph would have felt pretty bad before that first Christmas. They would have faced so much public disgrace. They would have wondered how on earth they were going to survive. Remember that Mary was probably 14 at the oldest. A young child and she faced such huge upheaval.

This morning we remember when she first heard the words of the angel to her. The angel says three things to Mary, apart from the fact that she is having a baby of course

  1. Greetings, you who are highly favoured ! The Lord is with you.
  2. Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favour with God.
  3. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, for nothing is impossible with God.

These words are transforming words which Mary believes God is speaking to her. They allow Mary to accept the change which is taking place in her life. I wonder how would you feel if some divine messenger said these words to you? What would you do if God told you

  1. That the Lord was with you
  2. That you had found favour in God’s eyes
  3. That through the Holy Spirit the power of the Most High overshadowed you and you need not be afraid

Well the point of the Gospel reading today is that this is our Gospel, this is our Good News. We are not going to have to endure the challenge which God gave to Mary, this was a burden more more than any one of us can expect to have to endure. However Christians are promised by Jesus that through his Holy Spirit he will give us strength to meet the challenges of life.

This greeting given to Mary is addressed to us as well and we can rejoice with Mary because

  1. Like Mary we too have God with us
  2. Like Mary we are favoured in God’s eyes, or as Richard Ledge put it, God likes us
  3. Like Mary we have the Holy Spirit of God and so we need never be afraid of what lies ahead.

The message of Christmas is sent out loud and clear by God to very ordinary people like us.
In case we are in any doubt, the gospel writers record how the message is sent to Shepherds working in the fields, the poor and lowly. It is sent to star gazers Magi, not the traditional religious observers. All of this is to reassure us that the message really is for us

Somebody sent me a card this year, saying have a magical Christmas. At first I thought magical was an odd word to use, it reminds me of Harry Potter. Yet of course the stories of angels and dreams these are magical things, out of our reality. You and I have to suspend our normal realities to understand such things at Christmas and simply take the stories at face value to see the deeper truths which lie within. These stories have a much deeper and more important message and they encourage us to think that at Christmas, because of what God has done with Jesus, - things have changed.

The point that the Gospel writers are trying to make is that God is with us. Even in the bad times, even when we do not feel the joy of Christmas God is still there with us and as Gabriel said to Mary - with God nothing is impossible.

God is with us in moments when we do not expect and he encourages us not to be afraid of the future. There is a beautiful line in the hymn It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, it says
‘O hush the noise ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing’

Do not go home and wait for a winged creature to visit you with any message from on high. God has already done that and he has given us this bread and wine this morning to reassure us of his love and kindness towards us. Most of us come to this communion out of breath from the rush and planning of all that surrounds Christmas. So hush the noise, hear the message of the angels.

Let the Holy Spirit come upon us to bring new life in areas where we are faltering or feeling empty or where we feel afraid. No matter what you face, do not be afraid for God will walk with you as he walked with Mary. Nothing is impossible for God. We are guided today by Mary who responds to what she has heard,

"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your Word."

We too say our "Yes" to God and put faith in what Gabriel tells us today, for nothing will be impossible with God.