December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.
I originally meant to preach this sermon last year on the 4th Sunday of Advent. But I woke up that morning with a magnificent migraine, and was unable to leave the house. My colleagues covered for me. But this sermon still was eager to be born, so with a mystical twist of liturgical calendars, we moved things around to let it come today. After all, once it’s time for a baby to be born, there’s really no way to hold back the birth.
For two of my human deliveries, labor started on its own. For a few hours in both cases, I noticed strange spasms across my back and abdomen. Nothing too shocking. Nothing too painful. But surprisingly persistent, like clockwork, and ever so slowly, increasingly strong, clear signs that my body was preparing to bring new life into the world.
The third time was different. Labor didn’t come on its own. Instead, it was a little conversation that went something like this: The midwife said, “Lois, you’re going to have a baby today.”
I was much perplexed by her words, and wondered what sort of greeting this might be. “No,” I laughed, “Not today. I feel fine. The baby’s not even due for another week. And I have much too much work to do before a baby can come.”
The midwife was not dismayed. “Today’s the day. The numbers on that test we just took don’t lie. It’s time to have a baby, and we aren’t going to risk waiting. Go home; get someone to watch the other kids, pack your bag for the hospital; I’ll meet you and John there in a few hours.”
“How can this be?” I asked the messenger, “as I am not prepared for a baby today. I haven’t felt a thing. Just one more day,” I pleaded. “I’m sure everything is okay. Let me go home, get a few more things done, and we’ll try that silly non-stress test again tomorrow, Okay?”
Guess who won that debate?
I didn’t like accepting the news, but eventually I sighed and said, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Well, I don’t think I really said that, but you get the idea. When a baby is ready to come, it’s going to be born.
Let it be according to God’s word.
I wonder how often we’re ready to go with that. It’s good when God’s word is consistent with my wishes. When God say, “I’m going to give you comfort and encouragement. I’m going to make you successful and happy, wise and prosperous. Things are going to go easily for you, and you’ll never have any troubles.” Great, I respond! Let it be with me according to your Word!
But, generally, God’s Word doesn’t tell us that.
King David thought he knew God’s word pretty well. After all, he loved God! He had been successful in so many ways. His military was the strongest in the world; his power was undisputed. He had built a huge empire and a lovely palace to show off his wealth. He even praised God for his triumphs, and decided God should have a beautiful home, too.
The prophet Nathan originally seemed to go along with David’s plan, but when he listened more carefully to God’s word, he realized he had misunderstood its message.
God spoke through Nathan to the king saying, “Who are you to build a house for me? I was God for you long before you were a mighty nation. I was God for you before you had power or wealth. I have been with you when you struggled and wandered. It is I who will make your name great. I will make you secure, not because of your greatness, but because of my faithfulness for you.”
If we want things to happen according to God’s word, we have to admit that we’re not the ones in control. Like a migraine stopping us in our tracks, or a midwife telling us that a baby is ready to be born, the word of God reminds us God’s will which comes regardless of how we feel about it. Sometimes God’s will comes about through painful and unlikely ways.
Mary wasn’t sure the plan made a lot of sense. How can this be? Wouldn’t it make more sense for God to be born to a married, successful mother? Shouldn’t God have chosen someone who had a few more credentials or expertise? Maybe a mother with a bit more experience? Someone with more connections in high places?
But the angel was not dismayed. If the Lord is with you, nothing will be impossible.
The angel knew how God works, how God shows up not so often in palaces or with the loud confidence of the dominant, but in less likely places. God comes to the home of an unmarried peasant fearing her future, and the chambers of her older relative who had given up on ever conceiving. God’s message of hope comes not only in capital cities, but way off in tiny Bethlehem. Angels sing not only with congregations of the faithful, but also out in rural shepherds’ fields. Gold and jewels won’t glisten as well in tyrants’ safes or bank vaults, as the gifts that will be offered to a child in a cattle shed. And starlight shines through a vast nighttime sky, guiding the way for alien scholars, and for refugees fleeing governmental oppression alike.
When Mary lets things be according to God’s word, she remembers that God brings about God’s will in new and unexpected ways. God scatters the proud in their conceit, and shows mercy to the brokenhearted. God casts down those who seize power for themselves, and shares it with the lowly. God sends the rich away empty, but fills the hungry with good things.
Like Mary, we may still be much perplexed about our lives. This year through our Advent season, we have been asking you to help us with our prayers. You’ve been asking for prayers for our earth and our political process. You’re requested prayers for healing and understanding. You’ve prayed for immigrants, and for children separated from their parents.
It’s been a strange process, that in the prayer requests, we have found hope. We’ve named pain and loss, but found community. We’ve lifted up places of struggle and conflict, and grown in our commitment to work for peace. We’ve requested prayers for the homeless communities on Hiawatha Avenue and those in camps along the border, and signed up to serve a second month at Project Home. Isn’t this the way prayer works? Let it be to us according to God’s word.
Lifting up the people and places that need hope, joy, and love has opened us up to God’s grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Your prayers echo Mary’s song, repeating her plea for God to fill the hungry with good things, and to show us that we’re richer for having shared what we held dear. You’ve sung for God to scatter stubborn resistance to new imaginings, and to teach us to actively labor for justice. You’ve prayed for God’s peace to shatter the meanness and rancor we hear so much of in the public discourse, and to open you to proclaiming the greatness of the Lord, which remembers to show mercy from generation to generation.
Maybe it wasn’t in your plans to be the Bearer of God this season, but in your prayers, you have shown how God’s hope was being born in you. Maybe you’ve discovered that without knowing how, others would see reason to call you blessed for the great things God is doing through you.
On a cold day in February nearly 22 years ago, John and I scrambled to find day care for our older two. We rejoiced that there was film in the camera and the diaper bag was already packed with newborn clothes. The labor wasn’t lovely, but the birth, raw and painful, was the proudest moment of my life.
I won’t share the gruesome details with you, but I can remember screaming, “I did it! I did it!” to my husband and the nurses as she was born. Moments later, a healthy, full-term child was in my arms, and my family felt complete. It had been with me according to the midwife’s word.
In a mystical twist of liturgical calendars, Mary’s pregnancy is going to last this year for only a single day. By tomorrow afternoon, we’ll be back in this space, transformed from Advent hope into Christmas revelations. And since that baby will be ready to come, there really will be no way to hold back the gift. Christ will be born. Angels will be crying out to the shepherds, She did it! She did it!!
And once again, God’s mercy will be upon us, as another generation is filled with good news. Love and hope, reconciliation and kindness will be born into our world.
Once again it will be with us, according to God’s word. Thanks be to God. Amen