The Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 1:26-38

As far as mega announcements in our day and age go, this one is a non-starter. First of all, it happens in Nazareth. Not Rome. Not Jerusalem. Not Caesarea. Not Athens. Not Corinth. But in an insignificant, tiny little area called Galilee, a place that is never mentioned in the entire Hebrew Scripture, nor by Josephus, nor in the Talmud. It happens in a town with the kind of reputation that led Nathaniel to say to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Second, this announcement happens with no human witnesses to corroborate the story, let alone any historians of note, or members of the media to authenticate what transpired. It happens not according to calendar time, or documentable time, but according to personal time—at a time remembered by the beginning of the third trimester of a heretofore barren aging woman named Elizabeth, the wife of an aging priest named Zechariah.

It happens when an angel by the name of Gabriel appears to a peasant, Jewish virgin named Mary, and tells her that she will have, not just a child, but one to be named Jesus who will be called “the Son of the Most High.”

Then, just as anonymously as he came to Mary, Gabriel leaves. The annunciation of annunciations is announced to an audience of one. What Paul calls “the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed” (Rom. 16:25) happens to a teenager betrothed to a carpenter whose only claim to fame is having some Davidic blood in his ancestry.

That’s why Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, juxtaposed to other “annunciations” in our day, bespeaks the “foolishness of God” alongside human wisdom. How can Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary—what many would call, “idealized history”—even hold a candle to some of the latest annunciations that impinge on our world?

For instance, there’s the announcement, disclosed by AT&T of its 48.5 billion dollar acquisition of DirecTV, the largest media merger in history—raising staggering implications, not only for its 50 million customers, but also for the rest of the communications industry in general.

Ted Turner announces he’s giving away a billion dollars to help underprivileged kids, and buys up a million acres of land to hold, in perpetuity by a fully funded endowment, as a natural preserve. It’s a big deal. Not to be outdone by Warren Buffet’s gift to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—virtually his entire net worth—to be used for philanthropic purposes, mainly aimed at kids and education. And we’re duly impressed.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, feeling a little slighted by all this, figures he ought to do something to make the news, so he announces a new season of the Apprentice and that he’ll have a grand, new building opening soon.

Beyonce and Jay-Z announce their multi-million dollar wedding ceremony.

Paul McCartney makes a million bucks, plus a per-game-sold royalty, for writing a theme song to a Play Station video game.

Apple announces the new iPhone 6, purported to be the best thing since, well, iPhone 5. Plans are already underway for an iPhone 7.

MGM announces the long awaited Part 3 of the Hobbit. I’ll watch it, as will millions of others, but, I swear, three years to watch a movie when it took three days to read the book?

White smoke signals the election of a new pope and all the world listens for the next announcement from this refreshing but challenging, humble yet dynamic, radical but obedient servant of God.

And, maybe, I should at least mention less than two dollars a gallon for gas!

With these kinds of documented, headline-making, sensational things happening around us all the time, it isn’t hard to see how we can forget the Ultimate Announcement.

Do we remember where we were and what we doing when we first heard about Gabriel’s announcement to Mary? Do we recall the impact the annunciation has had on our lives the way we recall the day that President Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated, the day South Viet Nam fell, The day of the Cathedral fire, the day of the Sandy Hook shootings, or the day the Iron Curtain fell, just to name a few.

Whereas these announcements from our world are held up and awarded a tremendous amount of time and exposure, the greatest announcement in human history happens almost unnoticed, and certainly unheralded.

The Gospel happens in obscurity. The angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”

God acts decisively for the world, not in the places of greatness, but in the hiddenness of the ordinary. God acts decisively for the cosmos by coming to a late adolescent, who, by her simple obedience to the revelation she receives, becomes theotokos, the God-bearer, the Mother of the New Creation.

Mary wasn’t blessed because of any special understanding that she had for the mission of her son; she and the rest of her family understood him about as much—& about as little—as the rest of the world did. Instead, Mary’s blessedness consisted simply in this: That, having been chosen for special service, and having received an amazing promise, she believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. That’s all. That’s it. Simple but true Faith-full-ness. She believed and trusted in God’s word.

“The greatest revelation is stillness,” says the old Chinese proverb. And it is in this engraced stillness of late Advent that we, after the example of Mary, yield to being God-bearers in the world. It is in this blessed stillness that we commit to being Christ’s ongoing presence in the world, the flesh of faith, the unfolding of the Incarnation.

“Let it be with me according to your word,” was Mary’s response to God’s request to let Jesus be born through her into the world. May each of us give the same response to God as we prepare for Christ’s coming this Christmas.

“Come, O come Emanuel,” and “let it be with me—let it be with us—according to your word.”

And in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.