SERMON: ADVENT 4 YEAR B: (Christmas Eve)
Readings: Ps. 89: 1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27; Lk. 1: 26-38
May I speak to you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN
The Mystery of the Incarnation
“How can this be”? This is the question posed by Mary in today’s gospel, Luke’s narrative of the Annunciation. And as this year’s feast of the incarnation dawns upon us once more, do we not also wonder similarly, ‘how’? How can it be that so much needless suffering continues for the people of the Holy Land and Ukraine, not to speak of North Korea, East Africa, the Sudan and the many neglected parts of our world? How is it that social divides are becoming polarised to an extent not seen since Victorian times? How can it be that we seem still so stuck on deliverable climate-change solutions in a period where artificial intelligence purports to offer all the answers? How have I completed a term of ordination training notwithstanding the attendant work? How have I survived another year in CR?
We continue to sail upon a sea of imponderables as 2023 fades out, seeking reason where reason seems impossible; yet today on the Fourth Sunday of Advent – Christmas Eve – the Archangel Gabriel reminds us that that brightest, recurring imponderable – the Almighty Son and incarnate Word of the Father – is to enter humanity as Immanuel born of Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. How can this be?
“A great mystery is revealed to us today, angels are singing, exulting for joy and praising the Lord,” proclaims the Christmastide antiphon. And as Edmund Sears’s great carol will attest at the first Mass of Christmas, theirs is a love-song straining defiantly above the rolling swathes of wrong that have blighted two millennia of our history, transposing it into a key of hopefulness and a ceaseless proclamation of their master’s joy fulfilled in a single happy morning that is the dawn exalting all people.
“How can this be”? That our Lord should make his song in us? Like Mary, we cannot understand Gabriel’s message, let alone discern its ramifications, any more than we can grasp how it can be in Ukraine or Gaza, how the lived experience between London Park and Battyeford can be so polarized, or how AI will eventually write our sermons and apparently eliminate the world of work if you believe Elon Musk.
However, we can in our human sentience, hear and see the pattern of behaviour and receptivity that is awakened in Mary through the annunciation, we can attend to the vocation of she and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi to get up, to go forth, to keep watch, to observe and seek out and to come together to kneel and adore in our self-offering, the gift who gives themselves so humbly yet so powerfully to us as we await this most holy night: the gift who stirs up in us and in all creation the mystery of love which is present to it from before its beginning; the gift who surrenders their selfhood to enter into time and beget the promise of resurrection and empower a new order of being and belonging whose life will breathe out all hope and whose speech in the cries of a baby will articulate everlasting promise.
We do not know how any of these things can be. But as we remain in the suspense of Advent and anticipate the meekness and majesty of the one who is and is to come, we may surrender ourselves with Mary in remembrance of the conviction that first prompted our own ‘yes’ to the message of God, however we may have received it, and know ourselves held in the simplicity and completeness of the grace that silently and unreservedly furnishes all the fullness of deity within us. Grace proceeding from the Father and raising us up in the Spirit that we may more fully adore him whose light flickers on in the midst of all our wondering and wandering, enabling us to say with Charles Wesley, no longer “how”, but instead, “…can it be?”
Can it be that grace so infinite and free chooses again to supersede reason, surpass knowledge and reveal the glory of Almighty God in a human face, the face of a refugee; the piercing, inchoate articulacy of a baby like all of us were? And if it can be, dare we look into that face and see ourselves looking back from the totality of our own self-revelation, characterized in him?
Surely it is only this depth of adoration, this staring into the imponderability of the mystery of love that can frame our ongoing responding to the unknowability we experience all around us as we resolve to offer before those we meet some chink of the hope they continue so desperately to need to feel and see and know: that revelation of mercy that finds itself at home in the assent of the Mother of God, whom Luke presents today in relation to our own vocations as both their gift and pattern.
It is this mercy alone that enables us to gift our own unique annunciation before a feeding-trough or perhaps this year to Bethlehem’s Jesus in the rubble, where celebrations may be cancelled but joying may never be annihilated.
Today, incredible as it may seem, we are invited again to participate in bearing the imponderability of love before the face of all people – a waiting advent people. May the truth of that mystery recreate us as we do so and renew the hope of many in their search to feel and see and know in its unconquerable resurrection-light. The light incarnate of Spirit and Virgin at the Father’s Word and wisdom, reflected in the glory of a Saviour’s face. One like a Son of Man who is with us, ever walking on that imponderable sea and inviting us to imitate his extraordinary response: to be incarnational in the reality of our ordinariness, as we wait for the last Advent when there will be, as Bonhoeffer remembered from his prison cell, “a new heaven and a new earth.”
God grant us all to see that face coming again today, that in the morning we may rise to adore him – whose meaning is love unknown but not unknowable – the glory of all peoples born to be fully alive – one like a Son of Man, full of grace and truth. God grant that I have spoken to you in his name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.