Sunday 20th December – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading: Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.


Well folks we have just about made it. We are but a few days away from celebrating Christmas Day.

Who would have thought that four weeks ago we would have made it here in one piece with all our patience intact and not a cross word been spoken to or by us. Who would have thought we would have turned into our children as we sighed, ‘Are we there yet?’ The right word at the right time can be so important any time of year but in and around Christmastime I think it becomes even more significant what we say to each other and how we respond to what is said. We have heard the word of the Prophet. We have heard the word of preparation. I wonder how the journey of Advent has been for you. Have you had time to sit back and relax? Have you been running about mad for weeks on end? How has it all been for You? We hear words this morning that are about to propel the world into a new era. Words used to describe to Mary what is about to happen to her that will change everything forever. We are told that Mary was ‘greatly troubled by the words of the angel’. God is about to become incarnate. What does the word incarnate mean? I have a book in my study entitled, ‘Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms’. I bought it when I was a student at New College. Incarnation comes from Latin caro or carnis both meaning flesh. Placing in before this gives us our understanding God in the flesh. The eternal second part of the trinity God became a human being. Took on flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Christ therefore becomes as John’s gospels puts it, the word made flesh. That tells us what the root of the word. It gives a very basic and simple theology of the word. But how are we to make sense of all of that for now, for our time? During a zoom meeting with colleagues we were discussing how we are going to approach Christmas in this most difficult of years. One question we discussed at length was. What has been the main learning experience of this year? We spoke about how so much of the Church’s life centres around that coming together as a community of faith. And the impact the partial reopening of our churches with very limited numbers and restrictions, limiting the experience for those who come to worship. How so much of the work we do as ministers involves being with people. And how visiting people in hospital or in their home has been restricted. In effect I suppose we were discussing. What does it mean this year for God to be incarnate? In Jesus, God was all about going to people meeting and speaking with them; sharing in fellowship and encouraging them; challenging them on how they may change their lives. A couple of my colleagues lamented over how they are missing this social interaction. From the cup of tea following a service to the one to one pastoral privileges that go with the job. In a year when speaking with people who were trying to arrange the funeral of a loved one how difficult it has been to convey the presence of God when we are apart when the most compassionate and caring thing we can do is to be distanced from each other. In a year when weddings have been cancelled and family gatherings curtailed. But the story goes on. The journey it continues. How will these changes affect the future? Now there’s a question that just may require us to revisit the words of Mary from the end of our reading. Mary answered, ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ The visitor comes to Mary with good news. Mary questions how all of this can be. The angel reassures her that God is with her. Mary questions how this will be. An explanation is given and Mary accepts the will of God for her life. Mary has journeyed from a position of asking, ‘What kind of greeting is this?’ to an acceptance that asks ‘How will this be?’ A subtle change in the wording but an enormous shift in the outlook now for Mary. How we experience the incarnate God in our lives may differ for each of us. For many of our church family it is all about the coming together; and the stories of faith which we share together. For many it is in their prayer life as they turn to God to guard and to guide, in each and every circumstance. For others it is joining together in church; seeing one another and being in God’s presence.

The incarnate Christ is there in our midst.

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