Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Text: Luke 1:26-27
God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a young woman promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. Her name was Mary.

Small, tender and vulnerable

A dad was telling the story about the Christmas he and his wife agreed to let their baby son be the baby Jesus in the retelling of Christmas story on Christmas Eve.  He felt very honoured to be asked not only because he knew that his little son was a placid and quiet child but that the retelling of the Christmas story was a big deal in the church they attended and drew lots of people from far and wide.  It was one way his family could be involved in this event that told all who came that Jesus is their Saviour.  The service and the story telling were going along fine and then it came to the time for the birth of Jesus and it suddenly hit this dad as he watched on.  His son was brought out and placed in the arms of the young 15 or 16 year old teenage girl who was playing the part of Mary.  He admitted that he wept because that’s precisely what God did. God placed his small, tender and vulnerable son in the arms of a young girl who herself was small, tender and vulnerable.

What was God thinking?  Surely there must have been someone better qualified to take care of someone so small, vulnerable and fragile if that’s the way God wanted to enter the world.  Think about it. Not only was God placing his son in the care of a teenage mother with no child rearing experience and no family nearby to help her; he was born in amongst the animals and straw and manure of a stable with no-one to help if things went wrong.  And to add to this the fact that God, the almighty, all powerful, creator God was placing himself in the arms of a human, a teenage human, to be cared for.  He was taking a great risk.  We know how close King Herod came to ending the Christmas story soon after its beginning.  Jesus was safe but this was a temporary escape because we know how Jesus suffered at the hands of other rulers later on. 

Like any mother, Mary knew her life would never be the same ever again when she held this little boy in her arms.  Her life would now revolve around breast-feeding, putting him to bed and singing lullabies, telling him stories, attending to his bruises and sores, encouraging and comforting him but this is what all mothers do.  There was one major difference – her boy as small, tender and vulnerable as he was, was also the son of the Most High God. 

The angel Gabriel had told her that the God of the universe had chosen to become part of a human family.  That meant having brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents and all that goes with being part of a family.
God had chosen to be subject to human rulers and authorities and to live in uncertain political and economic times. 
God had chosen to become a child, to grow up in Nazareth, a town that was considered a rural backwater, and live the humble, ordinary, down to earth life of a carpenter’s family. 
God had chosen Mary, a very ordinary girl to do something extraordinary for all humanity. Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will have a baby and that her son is the Son of the Most High God, was more than a birth announcement, it was the announcement of something that would change Mary’s life forever, in fact, it would change the world forever and bring in a new era for all humanity. 

Gabriel hinted at what this new thing would be when he told Mary what to name her baby.  “Jesus” was a fairly common name of that time and closely connected to names like Yeshua and Joshua – a name that means rescuer, deliverer, and saviour.  Joseph had been told the same message about the name of Mary’s child.  “You will name him Jesus—because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

It could well be asked:
How much of Gabriel’s message did Mary really understand when he told her that her child was the son of the Most High God or how she will become pregnant? 
Did Mary have any idea of the pain that would pierce her heart when her son would grow and become the
rescuer, deliverer, and saviour and the suffering this would bring to him and to those who loved him? 
Put yourself in Mary’s shoes and ask, “How well would I have understood what Gabriel was talking about?  Firstly he says I’m greatly blessed and then tells me I am about to become a parent even though I’m not married.  What is more – my son is God’s son?” 

Understanding everything that was implied in Gabriel’s message was way too deep for any human, let alone a teenager, but Mary is intelligent enough to know that her premarital pregnancy will cause all sorts of problems.  There will be gossip, suspicion, and shame, and the very real possibility that Joseph would react very badly to the news and who could blame him. 

But since she is confident that what she’s doing is God’s will, she places her future into God’s hands.  Regardless of the complexities of everything that Gabriel’s message brought into her simple life, she gave an amazing response.  It went something like this, “Gabriel, I don’t really fully understand what you’re talking about or how God can pull this off, but if that’s what God wants me to do, I’m happy to go along with his plan.” 

This is the response of faith.  I reckon all of heaven breathed a sigh of relief as Mary said, “Let it happen according to your Word”.  God’s plan to change the world was now in motion and it had already changed the first person, Mary, the mother of the Son of God.  Every person who came to the manger left a changed person.  From the lowliest shepherds and to the high ranking and intelligent men from East – they saw the small, tender and vulnerable God in the manger and went away different people. 

It has been the temptation in every age to only see God in the big and powerful, the spectacular and amazing, the crowds and charismatic preachers, the solemn cathedrals and halls filled with vibrant hand clapping, in fact, all of these can be very distracting.  Far more often God comes in the quiet, small and barely noticeable ways.  When God touches our lives something happens – a  smile, a word, a gesture, a handshake, the generosity of a humble person, a quiet kindness and this week, a baby in a manger.

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch catholic priest, wrote: 
“Our salvation comes from something small, tender, and vulnerable, something hardly noticeable. God, who is the Creator of the Universe, comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness” (Henri J. Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal).

Small, tender, and vulnerable, something hardly noticeable – that’s how you describe the birth of the baby in Bethlehem so long ago.  His mother, a teenager, far away from home, nowhere to stay except in a stable.  No-one to help this young girl to deliver her baby except a carpenter from Nazareth who has stood by her – how ordinary can you get and yet at the same time how extraordinary this event is.

As we begin this Christmas celebration and we join in singing the favourite Christmas carols again it’s easy to get carried away with the magic of the moment or the sentimentality and the memories that these carols evoke within us.  But listen to the words as they remind you again that this very small, tender and vulnerable mother and child was God’s way of bringing about a new beginning for all of us.  As one of the carols says, (Hark the herald angels sing)

Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings:
mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth
born to give us second birth.

This is the small, tender and vulnerable way that God has brought change into our world and into our lives.

Let’s listen to Mary tell her story. (Mary – The Skitguys) (This video can be viewed here but you will also find it on YouTube).


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
21st December 2014

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