theolog cabin

Hosted by semfem, this is a warm, cozy place to curl up and ponder theological matters.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

March 25, 2003 (Annunciation B)

[preached at Lutheran/Anglican morning worship at the Vancouver School of Theology]
I don't recall all the texts we used that day, but I believe they included:
Isaiah 7:10-14
Luke 1:26-38 (primary text)

Follow the time link below for the full sermon.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

[at this point I unbuttoned the pleats on the side of my alb (white robe).]

I want to show you something. When my aunt made this alb for me, I asked her to include some sort of hidden pleats on the side. Not in case I gained weight--let’s not even go there--but since this was a garment I’d be wearing for long into the foreseeable future, I wanted the pleats there to give extra room in case I happened to be pregnant in the future.

That being said, I am fully aware that if I were to suddenly be pregnant now, and never married, my chances at being ordained and called to serve a congregation would be completely zapped. While pregnancy and motherhood and fatherhood and new life and families are so often wonderful blessings, sometimes they are the end of dreams, the slamming of doors, the disappearance of opportunities. Sometimes they are the advent of fear, of shame, of despair.

Sometimes I wonder along with Mary--troubled, disturbed, perplexed, pondering Mary--just what sort of greeting the angel brought her. Greetings, favored one? What kind of favor is this? I’m engaged but not married, physically but not emotionally mature, and now this? Gee, thanks. Thanks for giving me a bad reputation and a child everyone will whisper about, and I’m just supposed to believe that he’ll overthrow the Romans and restore the golden age of David? Whoa! Look, Gabriel, I don’t know what you mean by this, but no thanks, I’ll take my chances with Joseph. He’s a nice enough man, and I know he’ll take care of me and our children. Sure, some virgin out there has to bear the Son of God, but it doesn’t really have to be me, does it?

Mary’s story bears a strong resemblance to the joyful stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, where childless women pray and pray to God and are blessed with a special child. Just as in creation, the Holy Spirit broods over Mary, leaving new life in its wake. Just as in Sarah’s story, an angel asks, “Is anything impossible with God?” Just as in Hannah’s story, Mary identifies herself as a “servant of the Lord”, and sing a song of praise after annunciation. Unlikely births to unlikely mothers are the threads stitching together the Hebrew Bible. There is one vital difference. Mary did not ask for any such thing to happen. God’s action has gone above and beyond any dream of man or woman. Unlike her relative Elizabeth, whose story we hear intertwined with Mary’s before and after this passage, Mary’s annunciation comes suddenly, unrequested, unanticipated, and without warning. One might even say that before Mary hears the rest of Gabriel’s story, her annunciation is even unwelcome.

Note how the details from Gabriel don’t cause Mary to leap for joy. But they do bring her to a crucial point in the story; her agreement with God’s plan. Her response is to help participate in that plan and bear and raise the Word of God, so that he will do the things Gabriel has foretold. It is an answer born of compulsion but not of force, and not of degradation but of acceptance. Acceptance of her role in God’s plan, acceptance that she is the person being called into covenant with God, acceptance of her rights and responsibilities in that covenant. She responds with a word that echoes throughout the centuries, through Israel’s history, and through to our time.

Hinneni. Here am I. The words of Samuel, the words of Isaiah, the words of Abraham. The words of those who know they cannot fulfill God’s expectations, yet they can do nothing else but try. For this we have come into the world.

Hinneni. Here am I. The words of those whose mouths are touched with fire, whose lives are living sacrifices, whose bodies are temples for God. The words of those who anoint kings and raise up messiahs. The words of those of unclean lips, the words of virgins, the words of childless mothers, the words of wondering prophets. Who will go for us?

Hinneni. Here am I. The words of those who hear a faint call. The words of those who give up former lives to live lives for other people. The words of those who have felt the rush of the Holy Spirit, the breath of life. Words I will bear with me every time I wear this sign of baptism [here I displayed the words of Isaiah printed on the inner hem of my alb] since Isaiah’s response to the call is inscribed here. The words of the church as it seeks to discern Christ’s voice among the tumultuous din of sound bytes, advertisements, bombs, factories, technology--the voices of the world. Speak, for your servant is listening.

One may question the irony of why such a joyous occasion as Annunciation is always located in Lent. Perhaps it is so we may return to our vows as Christians, seeking to hear the voice of God and answer it with “Here I am.” Or perhaps it foreshadows the cross, the broken body, the wounds, the Pieta--the grieving mother with her fallen son. We rejoice in the incarnation of our Lord, only to know that his state execution is looming on the horizon.

But we give thanks to God that there is more beyond the horizon, beyond that curve of earth that encompasses all we can see, there is a new life, there is resurrection, there is a table where all are fed, there is a basileia where the voice of God rings loud and true in our ears. Until then, may God give us strength to continue seeking the voice and following it, and when we are face to face with annunciation, may we follow the “roads of light and storm”, as Denise Levertov puts it. Let us not turn away from them “in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief.” Let us, in spite of what the world will think, say with a mixture of apprehension and surrender, Hinneni. Here I am. Here we are. Let it be with us according to your Word. Amen.