II Sam. 7:1-11, 16; Ps. 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The readings as we rapidly approach Christmas seem to dovetail together just that bit tighter and I don’t know whether it’s those who choose the reading have actually made the readings fit so much neater or whether it is our attention that heightens as we move through Advent, and come with expectation to an understanding of what it’s all about. And the Christmas message comes in many ways, particularly in the modern age. It’s not one that is read over and over again through scriptures and it’s quite delightful to reflect with the kids on what Christmas is about - to actually realise in the different sizes and shapes of presents that it is not all equal, it is not all fair, Christmas is not about a levelling of the world where everybody is given the same and becomes the same, it’s not about that at all. It was interesting in the pulling of the crackers to see the weighing up about what is the role that force play in creating the winner and quite often it is where we are in the world that will enable or will feed our interpretation about what’s going on.

The thirteen year old girl coming home from school, desperately upset, distraught, crying, lost; a worried mother seeking to comfort her child, eventually finding out that this thirteen year old is pregnant. The mother becomes shocked and upset - ‘what happened, who was it?’ Depending on where that incident occurs, we will have quite different responses. Reading the newspaper in India, the response is often, ‘We need to find the perpetrator, because if we can and he will marry her, then it’s all right’ - that’s one response. In England you might find the response is, ‘Let’s keep it quiet, keep it within the family, make sure no one knows, because just imagine the shame’. If it was in Perth the chances are that we would be seeking convictions, prison and of course, a decent amount of compensation, unless of course it was in an Aboriginal community, and then we’d say, ‘Well, par for the course’. You see what I mean - different places will elicit a different response and what is the response that occurred for that girl in Nazareth? Because one of the things that we tend to think when we get to this time of the year is we’ve got this wonderful picture of Mary dressed in blue in the fullness of motherhood. The likelihood is that Mary was a thirteen year old girl. Suddenly it changes – there was a little bit, certainly for me – there was a little bit that got uncomfortable with that. It felt much better when Mary looked stunning and was the right age.

Depends from where we see the story, what we might take from the story. And it’s so important that we do in fact connect it to ourselves because if it’s someone else’s story, (a) we’re not going to believe it - and remember we’ve all had that Christmas spin-job done on us. Do you remember years and years ago, the Santa Claus bit, the going into bed at night with your torch, and making sure - you might actually catch Santa in the act? How many will be going to bed on Christmas Eve with a torch? OK, so we moved, we moved, we allowed the story to work its magic and we moved on. And what most of us, what some do, is they move from Santa to God, because they look so similar - they both come from the heavens, they deliver gifts and the churches tells you - you know those deep and meaningful churches where [in American accent] ‘I want you sisters to be in touch with the gift that God has given you; we’re each gifted in the Lord’. That sort of church - it’s the Santa story again - God popped out of the sky, gave me these gifts and now I’ve got to unwrap them and use them.

Today we look at Mary and the shock that she got from what God asked of her. Was she chosen by God and if so what’s so special about her, why didn’t he pick me? Well, what if the story of Mary is the story for each of us? That if we can move from centre to begin to connect then with a theology of God and the Spirit, surely we can move on a bit further. And that’s what the readings are about today.

We start off with Samuel, because it’s really important to those who have put the story together through the readings to just let us know that the child that is born is of the house of David. The child who is born is of the house of David - why is this important? Would it have made a difference if it was from the house of John? Well it does make a difference, because what we’re getting from the readings from the New Testament is a retelling of the story that before was held in the Hebrew tradition as the Old Testament. Now if you come up with a new story it needs a little bit of credibility, that’s what we’re getting today. This is not something - this is not a flash in the pan, this story of Mary and Jesus, it is linked right the way back. It is actually being - the story is taking shape, the seeds and the genes are being sowed back in the reading that we get from Samuel. The house of David gives a lineage, it gives some generations to the whole story that tell us that this is a story in every age in every time. What we need to do is exactly the same as the writers of the gospel and later on as those who developed the lectionary and said this reading and that reading go together, they make sense. We need to be doing the same, to make sense of it - to take these stories from of old, to bring them into the present, to bring them into ourselves.

And the reading that we had - Paul’s letter to the Romans - ‘the proclamation was according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and made known to all’. The readings of the Old Testament revealed in the New Testament, made known to all, no longer the secret mystery of the chosen sect. Somewhere the story of Mary and my story and your story are one. What is the link? I don’t think Mary was chosen at all; I think what Mary did was that she responded to the Divine that chooses all. We are all seeded with the Divine. The question is, will we like Mary say ‘Yes’ to that, and therefore give birth to the Divine through us? Or will we leave it as a story back then, or are we stuck between Santa and God, not yet ready to believe one or the other.

Wherever we are, we will experience something this Christmas. We’ve got a week to get in touch with where it is we are, so that we can then be open to the mystery of Christmas which somehow, just by being there, is the one retelling of a story that stops wars, even if just for a cigarette, they stop momentarily, they pause.

May the week ahead give you the opportunity to pause in all that busyness. The way I do it is between shops, I find somewhere quiet to just have a cup of coffee and look at the sky and look at the street - you don’t have to rush off to monasteries. But let’s pause this week, so that when we come to the story of Christmas we might find it revealed in us.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Advent 4