- December 14, 2014
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for December 14, 2014 (Advent 3, Year B)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; Canticle 15; John 1:6-8,19-28
Know what: God is in command, we are not
So what: strength comes when we surrender with trust
Now what: accept the gift that is, follow Mary’s example
Title: Share in the Royal Priesthood of Jesus Christ
“From now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”
How are you at surrender? How do you do with the task of surrendering?
It’s not something that comes easy to most human beings. Certainly not to me!
But we in the Church have an example, a model, an icon of surrender who is also radiant in strength!
This is Mary, of course. Mary the God-bearer. Mother Mary.
Next week, we will listen once again to the story of Gabriel’s visit to announce the good news of her pregnancy. (OR Next week, we will watch the children re-enact the story of her delivery.) TODAY we re-embody the words of her song, the Magnificat.
Think for a moment about that surprise visit from the angel Gabriel to the young girl in Nazareth. She didn’t ask for this. And there is nothing in the text to indicate that she wanted it! BUT she accepted it. Finally, she surrendered.
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”
In one sense, this Incarnation is like a sudden alien invasion. No one asked for this. And we can even look at the human baby Jesus as a divine Trojan horse.
On the outside, it looks like a simple and ordinary child, like so many others. But hidden on the inside, he brings the full light of divinity! John is the one who said it clearly: “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
Like an alien invasion, like the spread of a powerful new virus against which we have no natural immunity, all those who touch – or ARE touched – by this harmless looking child become infected with the life of God! Following this metaphor, the Church then is like the Fifth Column of God, secretly at work within humanity to change every single human community from within!
But, truth be told, the world is not asking for transformation! Mary did not ask to be the Theotokos, the God-bearer. These things always come through the agency of another.
Unfortunately, it seems that every week brings to me a new conversation with someone about cancer attacking their body or the body of a loved one.
No one ever asks for that. And so you know what most people do in the face of such an announcement, right? They fight. They fight the cancer with all of their strength. And they vow to never give up the fight.
Without question, resiliency is a key factor for all of those who have survived things such as cancer. But resiliency and fighting are not necessarily the same thing.
And I have also had survivors tell me that having cancer was the best thing that ever happened to them.
Over the last few days, I was at a conference in New Hampshire for Christian Educators in the Episcopal Province of New England. Folks were there from all 6 states, and we learned a lot about theories of faith formation and learning patterns within congregations.
One of the participants was a woman from Beverly, Massachusetts. Over breakfast, Tonya explained to the folks at our table that she once was engaged to be married but that it was suddenly called off.
Mark was her high school sweetheart. They were together since the age of 18. They eventually moved in together and became engaged with a wedding date planned for 18 months in the future. By this time, she was 26 years old.
About nine months before the wedding date, on Christmas Eve itself, after returning home from a family holiday gathering, Mark informed Tonya that he could not marry her after all. And can you believe it? That very night, on Christmas Eve he walked out of their apartment and never came back.
Of course, Tonya tried so very hard to bring Mark back. And of course, it came out eventually that another woman was in the picture, another woman who made him more “happy” – whatever THAT might mean.
But as we all sat at that breakfast table listening to her painful story, Tonya said in conclusion: “Truth be told, he gave me the greatest gift I could have imagined.”
It took Tonya quite some time to figure that out, but eventually she did – through prayer and reflection and discernment.
Eventually, she learned to surrender, and to accept the gift of what is.
Mary Oliver, that prolific poet from Cape Cod, once wrote these in a poem (Thirst, Beacon Press, 2006: p. 52):
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
Have you ever thought of those words which we speak when the offering of the gathered community is brought to the Altar? (Do you know which words we speak in our 8 o’clock liturgy when the the offering of the gathered community is brought to the Altar?)
“All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”
ALL THINGS. Not some things. Not only the pleasant and beautiful things. ALL THINGS come of thee, O Lord.
It was the late Alexander Schmemann, that great Russian Orthodox scholar, who expressed with profound insight that the first true definition of a human being is homo adorans: the human who worships. (Sacraments and Orthodoxy, Herder and Herder, 1965).
As he explained it, to be human is to be priest. Every human tribe and culture has understood this intuitively across the ages.
To be human is to occupy this unique niche within the realm of biology: to stand in our center of the biosphere and unify all things by the act of eucharist – receiving all things FROM God as a gift of grace and offering all things TO God as a gift of love.
Would you please pick up The Book of Common Prayer found at your seats and turn with me to Page 307 in the section titled “Holy Baptism”?
Right in the center you will find a prayer called “Consecration of the Chrism”.
We never use this in our Baptisms here, because our Bishop Steve consecrates all of the chrism once each year at a special Chrism Mass during Holy Week. At the end of this, each parish is given a bottle of chrism to take home and use throughout the year.
On Page 307, you will see the rubrics, the directions, which state:
The Bishop may then consecrate oil of Chrism, placing a hand on the vessel of oil, and saying
And now, will you say the words of this prayer together with me?
Eternal Father, whose blessed Son was anointed by the
Holy Spirit to be the Savior and servant of all, we pray you to
consecrate this oil, that those who are sealed with it may
share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ; who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
“Share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ.”
That is YOUR calling, YOUR task, as a human being brought into this world to be a priest to God.
Truthfully, MY title is not that of “priest”. I AM a priest by virtue of my baptism – but only in the same way as you. In fact, EXACTLY like you!
To be human is to be a priest, standing with hands open and out, receiving ALL THINGS as gift, and offering ALL THINGS back as love and praise.
This, my friends, is the task of surrendering.
Most of you know that we clergy have our own particular struggles with surrender during the season of Advent.
Do we sing Christmas carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve? Do we put up Christmas decorations before December 24? Do we fight the invasion of consumer marketing that compels us to skip right over the hard work of Advent and jump immediately into the festivities and feasting?
We DO need to stand firm at times and maintain our own integrity, but I also know this: any time that I ever find myself saying, “IT HAS TO BE THIS WAY”, then I know that I have missed the mark and strayed from the good path.
So this, my friends, is the challenge and the gift of the Gospel.
We are called to surrender, like a priest who receives everything as a gift and offers all of it – all of life – back to God in love and praise.
We are called to surrender, but we do not have to create the way.
It is right here before us. Mary has paved the way: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” And she must have been a great teacher, for it was her son who, in the hour of bitter struggle, turned to the Creator and said: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
And here is the best news of all: there is a strength arising from the act of surrender to God which FAR surpasses the illusory strength of our obstinate compulsions.
Accept the gift of what is, O royal priesthood, and offer it all back to God in love and praise! For this is the path of life. Amen.