Sunday Sermon 19th December, Advent 4: Mary



A transcript of our sermon and chosen prayers for the week can be found below.


Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 19th of December and the fourth week of Advent.

In this week the candle represents Mary and the theme of Love.


But what does that really mean? How does love act? What does love look like?

As we try to work that out, let us first hear our messages from the Bible and prayers to guide us

from John.


Reading: Luke 1: 39-45


Reading: Luke 1:46-56


Sermon


I have been recently doing a lot of research on what is called the great resignation.

Since the pandemic has hit a lot of people have been quitting their jobs, it’s called the great resignation.

People used to be grateful to have a job, and they would put up with a lot because it paid the bills. That put the employers at an advantage, because if you weren’t willing to do the job then there were plenty of other people out there that would.


But the pandemic changed that.

People were made redundant; they saw that employers really didn’t care about the welfare of their employees. And if you were young, didn’t have a mortgage, then instead of being expendable, they saw themselves as completely flexible. So if you weren’t willing to give them what they wanted out of a job, then they would quit. If you were going to be poor anyway, then you might as well be poor doing something you wanted to do.


The reason I have been doing research on it is because there are trends in the ministry that reflect this and I just don’t understand how that can be.

We knew that a third of congregations weren’t coming back after the pandemic; they just were too frightened, or they got out the habit of going to church, or they just thought that faith wasn’t that

important any more, or they could watch it on line without any commitments.

But what we didn’t see was that about a third of Ministers would be leaving their posts as well, so to other churches, but many to just leave.

The latest Barna research is saying that in the last year about 40% of ministers have thought of leaving or have left.

In our own wee area of Clackmannan we have had three ministers leave within two years of being inducted, we have heard of one minister being inducted into his second charge within a year.


This is new behaviour to me.

It raises questions of Calling, of Commitment.

And that makes me think of love.

You see I remember a story I heard years ago of a candidate that was applying for a church in Hawaii and he had gone to a wise old leader there to ask what he needed if he was to be the pastor there.

And the wise old leader said just two things; a great love of God, and a great love for the people of Hawaii. Why would you have that love, and then leave after such a short period of time?


But then how do you define love.

It is a difficult thing to define.

Especially as the word covers descriptions that are totally different.

I can love my wife, I can love playing squash, I can love swizzle lollipops...but they are not the same thing.

It may be the same word used, but the meaning and the commitment are totally different.

So we come to Mary...

‘My heart praises the Lord: my soul is glad because of God my Saviour, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant! From now on all people will call me happy, because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me.’


Really?

I think if we really look at Mary we redefine what love is.

And we redefine what we think God’s love is.

I think that most of the time we feel God loves us when God makes our life easier.

‘My heart praises the Lord: my soul is glad because of God my Saviour, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant!

For I thought I was going to be late for my hospital appointment and he made all the traffic lights green so that I got there in time.

For I was struggling with the mortgage payments and then that tax refund came in just in time.

For I thought I had cancer and then results said that the tumour was benign and they can operate and take it out.’


We judge God’s love for us by how blessed we think our lives are.

And if we are honest when anything goes wrong with our blessedness we rant and rave about it. ‘How could God allow this to happen to me when he is supposed to love me?’

That is very different from Mary’s idea of what love means.


Let me explain why.

The book of Luke was written as a legal document.

Paul was under sentence of death from the emperor of Rome and Luke was writing this explanation for the Emperor as to how Paul got to be facing him.

To do that he writes the book of Luke and the book of Acts which explain for a completely ignorant emperor how Christianity started and how Paul got involved and then how he got arrested and was brought before the emperor.

To write this defence he researched his sources and talked to witnesses of the events; the disciples, those connected with Jesus, including Mary.


So when Mary is telling her part of the story she is looking back on what happened.

And when she is narrating to Luke how the birth of Christ came about she already knows what comes next, because she has lived it.


She has lived the fear of being a refugee when they have to escape to Egypt.

She has lived the dread when Jesus goes missing in the Temple as a child and the fear that something terrible has happened to him.

She has lived the feelings of distancing and uncertainty when Jesus starts his ministry and people are beginning to question who he is.

She has lived through that moment when she is terrified that people are going to kill him and when she tries to take him away and protect him from himself Jesus rejects her.

She has lived through all the rumours that her son is going to cause a civil war in Israel and thousands could die in that war.

She has lived through the sudden and unexpected betrayal by one of his closest friends.

And she was there in person to watch the long painful death that she could do nothing about, except watch and be there.


And looking back on all of that, she can still say;

‘My heart praises the Lord: my soul is glad because of God my Saviour, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant! From now on all people will call me happy, because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me.’

And she could say that because of love.

Because Mary saw the truth that we often forget.

God’s love was not there to make her life easier.

God’s love was there to give her the strength to keep going and make a difference.


I’m speculating here, so forgive me if I end up being a bit heretical.

But I was wondering if Jesus needed one person to see him differently.


I think God loves us,

he loves us enough to accept us as we are,

he loves us enough to want the best from us,

if we reject him, if we go against his guidance, he still loves us,

he loves us enough to watch the pain we cause ourselves when we make those bad choices,

he loves us enough to be there when we realise our mistake and seek to come back to him.

The power that God needs to be able to do that is love.


Now I believe that Jesus came to this earth to show us that, that no matter what the cost, he was there for us as God is there for us.

We could beat him up and he would still love us the way God does.

We could torture him and he would still love us the way God does.

We could lie about him, ignore him, even kill him, and he would still love us the way God does.

No matter what we do, we are always the beloved child of God.


But Jesus was also human, and I think he needed to know that love too.

And I think Mary gave that to him.

There were plenty of people who saw him as a saviour, a healer.

There were those who saw him as leader if men, a revolutionary

There were plenty of people who saw him as a spiritual radical, a reformer.

There were so many that felt threatened by him.

There were so many that wanted to use him or manipulate him or fear him or destroy him.


But there was only one who loved him as a beloved child, that no matter what he did or where that led him, she would be there.

She was there when he was put in a cradle for the first time.

She was there when he was removed from the cross.


She was there not because she had to be there.

She was there because she wanted to be there, no matter how hard or how difficult it was.

And the strength for her to go through that and be there was love;

the same love that God has for us.


I think deep down that is what discipleship is.

I think deep down that is all that God wants from us;

to accept his love for us, and to reflect it.

To be there for others the same way he is there for us.

To take that journey of life with them no matter how hard it may be to watch them do what they do, but to be there willingly.

Not to be there out of duty, because we have to, but out of love, because we want to.


And I know that may be a hard thing to ask of you, but the strength for us is there to do it, for the strength freely given, is God’s love.


Let us pray

Heavenly Father,

With your strength, with your love, it is amazing how many people can fit into our heart.

All those family and friends that we have known for decades;

sometimes their lives seem like a burden to us, a great responsibility, but with your love maybe we can see hope for them.

Those that we work with or they work with us as social workers, or doctors or nurses. People that we have gotten to know because of how they interact with us or those we care for.

We pray that we see the blessings that they give to us, and that we might be a blessing to them, seeing the humanity that they have and helping them to enjoy their work for others.

Those that are at the periphery of our lives, but you want to be closer to the centre. Those we should befriend and show your love too. Give us a love for them, not to see them as a threat or a burden or an obligation or a duty, but just to be people we want closer to our heart.

And be with those we might never meet but whom you call us to support; the adverts we see on the television that encourage us to give to others far away; the charities that inspire us to think outside ourselves and care for wider humanity.

We give thanks for those times they stretch our hearts and expand our horizons.

We give thanks for the community of faith that works hard to keep us together, that give of their time so that we can meet,

so that we can remember the cost of love, and rejoice in the opportunities to show love to others,

that keep our hearts from shrinking and becoming smaller and smaller and more and more insulated from others.

You are a God of love, keep us in that love, and inspire us to live that love.

This we ask in Jesus name.

Amen.

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