Sermon–Sunday Morning–December 24, 2017


Advent 4—C

December 24, 2017

William Bradbury

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

The gospel story today is called the Annunciation: the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the young teenage girl, 13-14 years old is read by the Church every March 25th—9 months before December 25. It is the announcement of what God is doing to save the world—not save the world by taking people to heaven, but save the world by bringing God’s Self into the world to transform it from the inside out. God’s work is always an inside job.

It begins with the creation of the cosmos by the Voice of God. God said there be light and there was light. Now God says, let there be Jesus and there was Jesus—but slowly and in the normal way of nine months of pregnancy. From the inside out.

But today we read this passage in the morning and 6 hours later Mary is giving birth!.

We also recognize that the Church has used Gabriel’s words and created the first verses of what is known today as the Hail Mary: Our reading translates it as : “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” BUt if you grew up in the RC Church or in certain Anglican Churches you know it as “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

I learned the Hail, Mary when I bought my first rosary beads in 1978 at the bookstore at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a Trappist monastery in Conyers, 20 miles east of Atlanta. I’ve since learned that religions around the world use beads and mantras to help focus the body and the mind.

The beginning of the Hail, Mary is Scripture, which always makes the best prayers: like the 23rd psalm: The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” and the Lord’s Prayer. The Hail Mary can be a powerful meditation tool to quiet the mind and bring us into the silence where we may be still and know God, to quote Psalm 46:10.

This is a great need of our hyper-connected culture, when we’re always just a moment away from looking at our phones to send a message or receive one. There is research being done now of the damage we do to ourselves when we never give the mind time to relax and settle. Instead of waiting patiently in line for our morning coffee, or waiting for the elevator to take us to our office, letting our thoughts settle and our brain relax, we pull out the phone to look at something or read something. We are constantly being jerked into a hyper-awareness which keeps us from experiencing the deep awareness that comes from inner silence and stillness. In other words, we lose the ability to be present and therefore to experience presence—God’s presence or another person’s presence or our own presence.

I heard recently that the techies living in Portland, Oregon are ditching their iPhones and taking up the old flip phone so when they are out in the world they are really in the world where their body happens to be at that moment.

It now so hard for us to be, and to be still, and know anything in depth, but because we feel so juiced by our connectivity we don’t notice. If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution it may the practice of presence would be a good place to start.

“Hail, Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you.” As we practice being still, in meditation or centering prayer or in staring off into nature, or in other quiet ways, we will grow in our experience and knowledge of the God revealed in Jesus the Christ. As we practice silence and stillness we’ll learn that these words of Gabriel, meant first for Mary, are also meant for us who are in Jesus.

So imagine the angel’s words using your name: “Hail, Bill, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

I am a sinner from my mother’s womb, the greatest of all sinners, to quote Saint Paul, therefore I and you are precisely the type of People who live only by grace. Jesus’ comes for the sick not the well; for the sinner and not the righteous.

Yes, through Christ we are all full of grace, and Yes, grace is a person, not a substance, like a special oil that we apply to our souls but always a person.

Hail….put your name—full of grace, the Lord is with you!

Gabriel says this to Mary so that after Jesus life death and resurrection we too might know through him that we too are full of God’s grace and that our Lord is with us. Sometimes we might wish Gabriel to tell us this to our face, though not while we’re driving, so there would be nothing for us to do—we’d become mindless puppets.

But Mary wasn’t a puppet, because after digesting Gabriel’s announcement and asking her questions about how God was going to work in her life she says:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me, according to your word.”

So this holy season or at least for the rest of this day let’s soak ourselves in this story, and be willing to be still and silent, no matter what’s going on around us, so we too can  hear this truth of being filled with the grace of Christ and know it, though it is beyond knowledge.

Know it not just in our heads but in our hearts or even in our wombs, so we can, like Mary, will give birth to Jesus into our world.