Today we reach the final Sunday of Advent, with the theme of LOVE.
Although we celebrate Jesus’ birth tomorrow, today we hear from Luke’s gospel about the Annunciation – that is, the visit to Mary of the angel Gabriel, to announce that she will become pregnant.
Like last week, today we use Mary’s song – the Magnificat – as our psalm. However, this week, it is a slightly different version… I wonder did you notice? Last week, we used the version found on page 9 of the Prayer Book. This song refers to God in the “third person” – i.e.: “The Almighty has done great things for me…”
Today, we read from page 425. This translation is much more personal – using the “second person”, i.e.: “You, the Almighty, have done great things for me…” It’s only a subtle difference, but it is more indicative of a personal relationship between Mary and God, whereas the other version speaks more about what God has done for the nation; Israel.
Luke’s gospel is the one from which we hear most about Jesus’ birth. In her recent book, “The Gospels Speak”, Dorothy Lee explores the purposes behind each of the Gospel writers.
“As a theologian and storyteller, Luke is deeply concerned about the way God is present in human history, a presence that for him goes back to the origins of Creation.”
So, as Luke sets out to establish what God was up to within the history of humanity, he is at pains to re-iterate that Jesus Christ was always a part of the plan. Throughout Jewish literature, and even the ancient literature of other races and religions, important figures had very significant birth narratives. In Luke’s eyes, Jesus must be seen as even more important. Whereas other mothers of the past, such as Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and Sarah, the mother of Abraham – and even Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist – were considered to be barren, before God wrought the great miracles of the birth of their sons; Mary was young, not yet married, and had had no relationship with a man.
We don’t know, of course, where the stories Luke tells came from. He may have befriended Mary herself, in later life, or he may have spoken with other family or friends about those times – but for Luke, it was essential that the story of Jesus be told in a way which could be understood by all to be highly mysterious and miraculous. It was God’s plan from the very beginning, that his son would become human.
For me, the most important things about the story is the Love. God’s love for Mary. Mary’s love for God. Joseph’s love for God, and for Mary. The love which Jesus the baby brought with him into the world of darkness and fear, and his parents loving devotion to him.
This lovely poem of Leunig sums it up for me!
“ Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born:
Love is always born.”
Ramblings from the Vicar – Christmas Day 2017
The time of preparation has ended, and the real celebration begins. Christmas day is the first day of Christmas! It is such an important feast in the Christian calendar, that we are commanded by the Church to celebrate for twelve days – until the Feast of Epiphany on the 6th of January!
Here at St. John’s and St. Mark’s, we are trying to share this season of celebration meaningfully with the wider community, by continuing our “Advent Calendar in reverse” until the end of January. Why not join in? Donate a grocery item for each day. The agencies we support: “Food for All” in Rosebud, and “Westernport Community Support, Inc.” will be very grateful, as demand is exceptionally heavy at this time of year.
Gift giving is still a very large part of the celebration of Christmas, for most of us. It is meant to symbolize the great gift, given to the world by God – Jesus Christ. Why is Jesus a great gift? The question is a good one – and very important as we try to understand the Christian message. This is my brief answer. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that all those who believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” But, as you would expect – such a question leads only to more questions…. And that is ok. So, why and how does belief in Jesus offer eternal life, you might ask?
Jesus’ whole teaching can be summed up in one clear command. ”Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and mind, and soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself.” This is what Jesus came to communicate to us. It wasn’t as though people hadn’t heard it before – but they had not really understood it. The command is challenging. God is to take first place. The implication is that we cannot obey the second commandment properly until we have learned how to do the first. That is a real challenge in our society. How do we put God first?
We need to give a higher priority to God.
There are three ways to do this. Study – read the Bible, and other books written by thoughtful Christian writers. Prayer and Worship – spend quality time with God, both in worship with your Christian Community, and privately in prayer and reflection. Action – take on board what you have learned about the Christian way of life, and try to put it into reality.
I would argue that the second half of the commandment – “Love your neighbour as yourself” – cannot be properly understood until the first half has been tried. Like much of Jesus’ teachings, it all appears to be back to front. You need to care for your own spiritual needs lovingly, before you can understand how to love your neighbour in this way.
It is not simple. It is a huge challenge. But the true gift of God to us at Christmas hinges on this understanding. In Jesus the tiny baby, we are offered an opportunity. We get to see a way out of the constant stresses and strains of human life. Instead of seeing only the failures we humans have made – environmentally, wars, refugee crises, famines, poverty, violence… we see the blessing of love. God’s gift is love. Love has the power to transform all these failures. There is hard work involved, but it is possible. By turning our lives towards the symbolic innocence of the holy child of Bethlehem, we can turn it all around.
A Holy and Happy Christmas to all, from all at the Vicarage!