Sermon preached by
If there is one virtue which is definitely not fashionable in our time, it is humility.
In fact many people these days think that humility, putting yourself modestly behind other people, offering yourself up for others, is a bit creepy, a bit unnatural. After all no-one goes on the stage to be the understudy, or into films with the idea of being the cop that gets shot in the first five minutes of the movie, or to put this in terms that Charlie and Sam will appreciate, no-one becomes a footballer with the idea of sitting on the subs bench. In our time we are only interested in winners, in stars.
In the readings over the last few weeks we have been introduced to three important characters who were filled with humility. Joseph, Mary and John the Baptist were wonderful, inspiring wise people, who chose to give themselves in the service of a greater figure than themselves. To find their destiny through giving themselves to serve God thru Jesus.
In the reading we have just heard, what strikes one about Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel is her willingness.
We are told that she is very young, but her words ring out with simplicity and certainty. On being told that the daunting task of bearing the Messiah has fallen to her, she replies, "I am the Lord's servant". In other words she commits herself entirely to the service of the Lord.
The news that God demands something very important from you is not easy to receive!
Mary, not unnaturally, at first questions the angel. "How can this extraordinary thing happen?" On being told that nothing is impossible to God, she accepts and gives herself entirely and humbly to God.
In Mary's self-giving, humble though she is there is a certain confidence. I think many of us feel, in our secret hearts, that God can't possibly want anyone as flawed as us. And so we hold back.
Yet like Mary, God calls to us. No matter how old we are, or how young, no matter how busy we are or if we feel we haven't much to offer, God is calling to us, asking us to work in his service.
Each of us has a vocation, a particular way in which God wants us to serve Him. We may not have an angel appear to tell us what we are to do, but as Sam said last week, God speaks to us in many ways.
We may feel called to give ourselves to serve in the church or for a charity. Giving in any way is a brave act. Christmas present giving is a useful way of understanding what I mean.
Giving presents can be a mine-field. If you decide not to get someone a present and they get one for you, you feel mean. If you give a small, token gift, you might get caught out when your friend/relative is much more generous. What sort of present would they like? What can I give? How should I give?
At its best, giving can be a joyful experience. In giving to someone you know and love it is easy because you are certain that they will want what you have to give. This is a useful way of thinking about our relationship to God, and the way we offer ourselves to his service.
I am going to call upon my assistant to unwrap a present for me. (it will be good practice for them).
The things we use for wrapping a parcel relate to our giving of our self to God. The label on the parcel, is addressing our self to God, through adult baptism, choosing confirmation or private dedication. It is a directing of our lives to God.
The string or selotape on the parcel is our church. It is what holds us together, binds us to one another when we feel frail or uncertain.
The paper on the parcel represents the reading and understanding of God's word in the Bible, which clothes our minds in an understanding of God and what he wants from us.
The package in the centre is our very selves, which we can choose to give to God or choose to withhold.
True happiness, comes not from having but from giving. Studies conducted by psychologists bear this out. People who are involved in community especially Church activities, on average live longer, recover quicker from illness and are generally happier than those who live for themselves.
I expect the scientists have their own theories as to why this is true, but I believe that people are happier when they are doing what God wants from them. That by obeying the commandment. "Love your neighbour as yourself" and through self-giving, is the only way for humans to find peace.
Mary's self-giving, so brave and complete can inspire us to offer ourselves to God anew. Perhaps like her, we can find the courage to offer ourselves to him in humility, to be used in his service not as we will but as He wills.
The only thing God wants for Christmas is you.
Bible Readings and Notes for 22nd December 2002