Advent 4B, 2011
Luke 1:26-38

A Liturgy is also available


Today is the fourth and final Sunday in the church season we call Advent.
The season that needs all the encouragement and attention it can get,
        because of the many counter claims for attention
        operative in our community at this time.

Through out the whole of this season,
and in the spirit of the storyteller we call Mark,
            I have been inviting all of us to ‘stay alert’
            to the presentness of the sacred or God, in the ordinary.

In the ordinary... like the click-clack of two branches knocking together in the wind...
In the ordinary... like the realisation that rain is not a singular thing
but made up of billions of individual drops of water,
each with its own destination and timing...
In the ordinary... like the flares of a friend’s passion to shape justice,
and move the world toward peace.

And in the ordinary... like the ‘southern hemisphere’ landscape, in all its diversity...
In the ordinary... like the lovemaking songs of the Green Grocer cicadas...
In the ordinary... like the red orange glaze of a low-sunk sun...
In the ordinary... like a rough diamond called John the ‘dipper’.

Through out the whole of this season,
and in the spirit of the storyteller we call Mark,
I have continually suggested that the ‘good news’ of Advent
is to become more aware of, more sensitive to,
the God-given moments of grace in us
and in our ordinary daily events.

Why?  Otherwise we may miss what actually is.

And so once again the hands of those who shaped
our Advent lectionary, can be seen in yet another clue:
a young woman whom we call Mary.


Bishop Jack Spong in his Weekly Letter some time back, says of Mary:
“As the Christmas season arrives, the icon of the Virgin Mary enters the consciousness of the Christian world in a significant way.  She is universally recognized with her eyes lowered, the infant Jesus in her arms, and located in a stable... (This) Madonna and child have provided the content for many artists over the centuries” 
(Spong 15/12,/2005).

Those of you who have been nurtured in Roman Catholicism
and remember the Madonna statues in Catholic churches,
        will recognise this no doubt.

While another famous statue may also come to mind:
        Mary in the great Pieta,
        holding the broken body of her son.

Generally speaking, those of us who are traditional Protestants
seem to have a bit of a hang up about Mary.
Or if not about Mary, then about what is often seen
as the exaggerations of the Church of Rome, about Mary.

But Mary is important for both Protestant and Catholic.
And we shouldn’t just bring her out at the end of Advent
        and pack her up again with the
        Christmas tinsel and wrapping paper on the 26th!

From all we do and do not know (which sometimes is not much),
a young girl, maybe as young as 12 or 13 or 14 years of age,
- maybe the daughter of a peasant farmer who would have arranged the marriage -
          is betrothed (probably married) to a much older man, probably a widower,
          and suddenly finds herself pregnant.

And that would have been one heck of a shock!

From all we do and do not know, Mary lived in occupied territory
and during a world-wide demonstration of Roman imperial might,
        under the oppressive authority of the ‘divine saviour’ Augustus.

This is a long way from the nativity-scene peasanthood
we find many wanting to erect in shopping centres
        and church foyers, at this time of the year.

She knew what the Palestinians know today.
A minority place.
What it was to be a woman.

And despite the modern fundamentalist debate and carry on
about the so-called historical factualness of a ‘virgin birth’, for instance,
         such debate ends up demeaning rather than honouring Mary.
                Because it ends up being about submission and surrender.
                Such a modern romanticised paragon of compliance must be resisted!

Whatever we may choose to believe or not believe
about a supernatural virgin birth or virgin conception,
- I don’t happen to believe either despite the ‘phantom’ world
of the traditional 19th century carols, but I do reckon Luke believed it -
it should never be used as a disqualification
of Mary’s humanity or womanhood,
or for that matter, Jesus’ humanity or manhood.

So using the imagination of a storyteller,
as did Mark before him when he spoke of John the ‘dipper’,
Luke tells this story to give more status and honour 
to this ordinary woman, which in turn,
gives even more honour and status and significance to Jesus.

Jesus... a child born of ‘middle-eastern appearance’,
and from the moment of his conception
        his life is at risk because of cultural and religious issues.


So at the end of this season called Advent, we ask again the question
we implied on the first Sunday of this season:
        where is the ‘good news’?

In the spectacular, the dramatic, the supernatural?  No.
The answer still is exactly where it has always been: in us.
In ‘ordinary’ us.
In those like us.  And not like us.

In the ordinary ways ordinary people can be someone through whom
something creative, sustaining, transformational,
        enters anxious and stressful times.

This is the provocative challenge and the promise of Advent.
        Engage meaningfully in life.
        Love wastefully.
        Be all that we can be. 
(John S Spong)

And that is an Advent word.  That is a word of hope!
Because Advent is rooted in our everyday experiences.
With an incognito God.

May we then, continue to be blessed, and be a blessing to others.
And fall in love with life, again.

Borg, M. J. & J. D. Crossan. The First Christmas. What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’ Birth. New York. HarperOne, 2007.
Crossan, J. D.
God and Empire. Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. New York. HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.
Ludemann, G.
Virgin Birth? The Real Story of Mary and her Son Jesus. Harrisburg. Trinity Press International, 1998.
Miller, R. J.
Born Divine. The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2003.
Hunt, R. A. E.
Cards, Carols, and Claus: Christmas in Popular Culture and Progressive Christianity. Preston. Mosaic Press 2013; Morning Star Publishing, 2014