Sunday 24th December

Luke 1: 26 – 38

Those of us who’ve grown up in the age of cinema and television are used to spectacular and special effects.  The Bible contains examples of God revealed in dramatic moments, and we’ve probably longed for God to reveal more spectacular displays of his love in a broken world.  But the scene we call ‘The Annunciation’ takes place in a very different sort of mode, reminding us that God’s drama can unfold in quiet ways that subvert our desire for the over-the-top and the sensational.  Mary meets the Angel Gabriel while she is doing the ordinary things of life.

The angel announces that Mary is to bear the Son of God. The scene has been so lauded and celebrated in art and music over the centuries that we often overlook that the setting for this earth-shattering and world-changing news is a quiet, domestic scene. The greatest drama in the history of the world, the drama that will invite the whole world home from the estrangement that put a barrier between us and God, was a quiet moment between a young girl and a messenger from God. The remedy for the estrangement of sin, loss and brokenness begins in a girl’s home.

The angel, who in Jewish tradition would be understood as ‘the presence of God’, not just a deliverer of messages, speaks, not to one of the great and the good, but to the lowest of the low. He says, ‘Greetings, favoured one!’ to someone very close to the bottom of the social order of the time. She’s just a girl, a nobody.  As a ‘virgin’ (a word used to describe her youth) she lacks even the status of a married woman, let alone of a mother. Yet she is favoured – the Lord is with her.

Luke seems to underline the low-key, underplayed nature of the scene by saying that the young Mary ‘ponders’ the words of the angel. I’d be more inclined to panic than ponder!

There’s something disruptive and scandalous about the Lord God bringing salvation through the faithfulness of a person such as Mary, a nobody.  When she says ‘Yes’ to God, she doesn’t do so from a position of power, so she strikes us as all the more remarkable.

Her response says that faithfulness to God is more important than avoiding scandal. A young, unmarried woman saying ‘Yes’ to becoming pregnant out of wedlock broke all propriety and every convention her culture would have expected. All Mary could realistically expect for her faithfulness to God was to become an outcast.

Wow!  What courage there was in that one word – ‘Yes’

What is God calling us to find our courage to say ‘Yes’ to.

We talk about ‘honouring’ God, and yet God set aside the honour he was due to become a tiny, living human in Mary’s womb, conceived in ‘unusual’ circumstances, breaking religious and cultural norms, a baby, born out of wedlock, in a strange town – new to Bethlehem from Nazareth, without the usual family support, reliant on the kindness of strangers in unacceptable housing conditions, and into a family, soon to become a refugee family in Egypt a strange and foreign land fleeing a cruel regime in Bethlehem in Judah.– all to protect their child.

I wonder what’s your attitude to those in similar circumstances today? How often do we worship Christ through our care for such people?  How often do we reject, or ignore Christ because we reject, or ignore people around us?

Jesus’ birth is ‘peopled’ by those we too often fear, or fail to understand, or pay attention to.

The ‘incarnation’ – God coming amongst us, as one of us – begins in the mess and murk of life.

Mary and Joseph receive visitors, the sorts of people we see as different – the wise men – educated foreigners from another country and culture with different ways and worship. The shepherds, poorly educated, poorly mannered people, dirty from a life outdoors with sheep, too dirty to participate in the rituals of Jewish life, ‘different’ people who make us fearful.  The sorts of people we want to avoid to prevent them changing our own way of life.

Perhaps Jesus’ ability to reach out to those who were outcasts in his own time, came from his own family experience, and the story of his birth, which Mary pondered and would have recounted to him. A life beginning in unconventional and difficult circumstances. Jesus applied what he learned to his ministry and mission.

What, then, can we learn from this, and how can we apply those lessons in our communities, our Church and our daily lives?

In the story of Jesus’ birth, God moves through ordinary people, in great and small ways, and in everyday normal life. So often history is written from the perspective of the rich and powerful, through dramatic moments. And yet, in this moment of annunciation, everything changes. And God subverts history in the nativity, in the most earthy and humble ways.

So, what is God asking you to say ‘Yes’ to as an individual, or us as a church community? What subverting, transforming changes can our ‘Yes’ to God’s surprising leading bring about as we listen faithfully for God’s Word to us, even if it sounds surprising, shocking – scandalous even. Remember, faithfulness is more important than convention as God breaks through in surprising ways – perhaps even now.

Rev Janine