Fourth Sunday in Advent – Luke 1:26-38. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
This Advent our theme has been- Journey Home for Christmas. I’ve been your tour guide as we have journeyed together. We’ve been to some amazing places, the Mount of Olives in Israel, the ruins of Pompeii in Italy. We have been to the Jordan River. We’ve traveled some amazing highways from the Autobahn in Germany to the Trolls Highway in Norway. Today I want to end our advent journey by taking you back to Israel and the home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We don’t talk about Mary much in the Lutheran Church. We dust her off with the rest of the Christmas characters, and then pack her safely away for the rest of the year. But her story is a good one and it deserves to be heard more than once a year. After all, she was the one who said, “Yes” to God and gave birth to Jesus, even at great risk to herself.
Catholics talk about Mary all the time. To me as a Lutheran, the value in talking about Mary is in her example. She is really a role model of faithful response to God. I’m sure Mary had her questions and doubts. I imagine she had quite a bit of fear and anxiety at how Joseph and her family would receive the news of her pregnancy. And yet in the end, she said yes to God. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Six years ago, I led a tour to the Holy Land. One of the places we visited was the city of Nazareth. Nazareth is the capital and the largest city in the Northern District of Israel. It is known as “the Arab capital of Israel”. In 2016 its population was just over 75,000. The people who live there are predominantly Arab citizens of Israel, of whom 70% are Muslim and 30% Christian. One of the places tourists often visit is the Church of the Annunciation, claimed to be the place where the angel Gabriel visited Mary. Since the 4th century there have been four churches built on this site. The current church on this site was built in 1969. Inside, the lower level contains a grotto or cave, believed by Roman Catholic Christians to be the remains of the original childhood home of Mary.
I learned something interesting the day we visited Nazareth. We were driving through a little village near Mount Carmel. Our guide told us that we might see some of the Druze, followers of a unique religion combining elements of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The interesting thing to watch for, he told us, was the clothing they wore. In particular, the men wear baggy pants with a large pouch between their legs. He explained that it has to do with their religion. They believe that when the Messiah comes the next time, he will be born to a man. Now they aren’t sure who that man will be, so all the men wear these pants with a pouch that can safely catch the Messiah when he is born. (Pass Pictures Around.)
I remember the first time I heard this. I smiled and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding. A man giving birth- that’s something that happens only in the movies.” But then it hit me. These pants are the perfect symbol for Advent. Think about it. Ready, watching, waiting, preparing, hoping- these are the words that describe a couple getting ready for the birth of a child? These are also the words we use to describe our Advent experience. Can you imagine putting these pants on every morning and thinking, am I going to bear the Messiah today? Will God choose me? Do I even want God to choose me? When you put your pants on in the morning, would the words of Mary echo in your mind, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
What I imagine the Druze pants do for those who wear them is to create a mindset, a whole way of looking at the world and God’s presence in it. Isn’t that the lesson that Mary teaches us this fourth Sunday in Advent? Each of us in our own way are to give birth to the Messiah, to give birth to what God is doing in this world. Every day we open ourselves to God’s Spirit and say, “let it be with me according to your word.” What do you have in mind for me today, God? How can I give birth to the new world you are bringing? In the ELCA we talk about God’s Work, Our Hands. On this fourth Sunday of Advent we might say, God’s Work, Our Womb.
What is God seeking to birth in you? Perhaps you are wrestling with old hurt and resentment, and God is yearning to birth forgiveness in your life. Maybe you are struggle with an addiction and God is longing to birth you into recovery. What might God be trying to birth in and through you?
I am amazed at what has happened in our culture in the last few months with the #MeToo movement. The mighty have fallen from their thrones and the poor have been lifted up. Women have courageously come forward to tell their story, sometimes at great cost. But there is something new being born in our culture, and it is a movement toward greater justice for both women and men.
In a few weeks, we will welcome a visitor to our church. Michael Himlie is the son of Todd and Kay Himlie. Michael has been involved with an organization called Christian Peacemakers working for peace in Israel and Palestine. At some point, Michael too, like Mary, said yes to God and to giving birth to what God wants to bring to our world. Peace on earth, goodwill to all.
As a church, we could ask the question, what does God want to bring to birth in our community through us? How can we respond like Mary and say, Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
The point is this: God is still sending the angel Gabriel to each and every one of us with an invitation to participate in what God is doing today to bring God’s justice and peace to the world. Are you willing, like Mary, to say yes to God?
I don’t think the Druze pants are going to catch on in our culture. There won’t be a rush to find them on Ebay. You won’t find them wrapped up in a present under your Christmas tree. But like Mary, those pants are a symbol of being open to God’s will for us. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Say it with me: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”