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The Lord is With You

Reverend Philip Stringer

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Luke 1:26-38

LET US PRAY: Come, Lord Jesus-- and fill us with expectant waiting. Give us ears that hear your coming and receiving hearts. Come and lead us into the world to serve you, as we watch and pray for your coming in Glory. AMEN


David was born the youngest son of Jesse in Bethlehem. David became the shepherd of his father’s sheep, while his older brothers served in the army of Saul. But the Lord was with David, and over the course of years, made David the great King of Israel, bringing him through many perils and snares.


David was a good king. And so, when he considered how things had gone for him, that he was powerful and had great riches -- and then he looked to the ark of the covenant and saw it in a tent -- he resolved that he would change it. He decided that he would build God a house in which to reside.


Nathan was a prophet and saw the hand of the Lord upon David. He recognized how God had blessed everything that David had done. So when David said that he was going to do something great for God, he readily supported him.


Both Nathan and David got lost in the confusing work of discerning the will of God from the will of people. It was the Lord who showed them their error and pointed them also toward how to avoid such a mistake again. What they learned about God is vital and centrally important to us even today. What they learned is that God is not stagnant but moving among God’s people. They learned that God is not in need of us to provide for God, but that it is God who provides for us. They learned that God does not seek glory -- rather, glory radiates FROM God by virtue of the acts that God does.


Mary, a young woman -- actually a girl by our standards today – went down to the stream to draw water. She went there every day, probably. But on this day a most unusual thing happened to her -- the angel Gabriel appeared to her proclaiming an incredible message.


An unbelievable message.


She was astonished by what she heard. First, that she should produce a king -- her, a poor peasant girl, the mother of the king whose Kingdom would never end? That is the sort of thing we read about in fairy tails, but not in real life.


Second, she was astonished with the notion that she could become pregnant, since she was -- and would remain -- a virgin until marriage.


The message of the angel was overwhelming to her at first. But Gabriel stayed with her -- answering her questions and revealing signs to her until she believed.


Yes -- she COULD be the mother of a King -- for David, too, was a peasant -- nothing is impossible to the Lord. As the Lord chose David, so the Lord will do the same with you.


As for becoming pregnant -- neither is God restricted by the laws of nature which God established. Elizabeth -- who was barren to begin with, was now well past menopause -- but never-the-less, she was pregnant because nothing is impossible for the Lord.


Mary had been astonished -- knowing that these things can’t happen in real life.


But the angel remained with Mary, teaching her the scope of God’s power until she was firmly rooted in faith. A faith which came about when she saw the evidence that God is, indeed, in this life. David was real.


Elizabeth was real. The presence of God in this world is REAL.


Mary had come to realize what David had been shown -- that God is not somewhere else. God is among God’s people; moving, creating, active in this world. IN A VERY REAL WAY. For David in his Kingship. For Elizabeth in her pregnancy. For Mary in her pregnancy. And for us in our. . . um. . . with. . . hmm.


In our first reading, we hear that the Lord was with David. In our Gospel text we read that Mary is favored because the Lord is with her. But what about us?


We find ourselves in much the same way as Mary -- Confessing a belief in God, but struggling with the notion of how God fits into this life of ours.


We go to church, we say our prayers -- and people still die, and we don’t get what we want, and our lives are still dotted with failure and vulnerability.


How does it matter that God is here? The answer is found in the very words spoken to Mary -- “greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.”


We are here -- at the fourth Sunday in Advent. Christmas is only hours away. We will actually be celebrating it here in about 4 hours!


We look forward to Christmas -- we observe and celebrate its coming because it is the story of our good news -- God has come to be with us. The joy which centers around Christmas Day is the same joy Mary experienced at the annunciation -- we are the favored ones. The story of Jesus’ birth is the message that God loves us. God cares for us. God will always be with us.


It is the message that we have been blessed by God. For us today, the sacraments continue to bless us with tangible, visible ways in which God becomes present in our world, forgiving us and drawing us to Godself.


In your baptism God enters into a personal covenant relationship with you -- one based upon the strength of God’s love for you. A covenant in which God promises to bring you to salvation, and makes you God’s servant on earth. God’s chosen one; God’s favored one.


Our celebration of Holy Communion is God’s continuing reiteration of that promise to you; to lift you out of the burden of your sin and refresh you with God’s presence to serve as God’s holy priests in the world.


As those who live as the Body of Christ through our baptism, our First Reading for today has a special meaning. In that text, the Lord refused to be shelved in a house of cedar but affirmed that it was God’s will to be out among God’s people -- moving among them. We, too, are to be moving; the living presence of God in this world -- not just a symbol of -- but the REAL presence of God.


It will not suffice for us to relegate God to the peripheral regions of our lives, pulling him out and dusting him off for emergency purposes or special occasions. We cannot consider God to be irrelevant or a passive watcher of the affairs of this world. God is here -- and God is working God’s will among us, just as God did with Mary, and David, and Elizabeth.


The Word of the Lord has come to us, as it did to Nathan, and to Mary -- and it calls us to respond as Mary did -- respond with a confession of faith, and to acknowledge what is true: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your will.”


The Lord is with us -- Emmanuel.


David, as God’s favored King, thought that he should be a temple-builder. He was wrong.


Nathan, too, thought that David should build a temple. He was wrong.


Elizabeth, a married woman -- assumed that she should have children. She was wrong.


Then, when she was an old woman, she assumed that she should NOT have children. She was wrong again.


Mary -- who was NOT married, assumed that she should not be pregnant. She was wrong, also.


And us? What can we learn from this list of assumers? We can learn that the expectations of this world ought not to get in the way of our faith in God.


God’s ways often don’t make sense in our world. And if you aren’t open to hearing God’s answer or open to living without an answer -- if you insist on knowing it all or presuming it all -- you probably won’t be open to receiving God’s answer when it arrives as a tiny baby --born to peasant parents and laid in a manger.


It makes no sense at all, except when, with eyes of faith, we are open to seeing the almighty at work, doing the extraordinary in and through our ordinary world.


We quickly approach Christmas -- not a story, but an event which is directly tied to your life. We are part of the unbroken chain of witnesses who proclaim the mysterious, life-changing work of a God moving among God’s people.


May the joy of Mary fill your hearts as well. You are favored ones, indeed. For the Lord is with you.

AMEN.

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