2008-12-15 by Susan Eastman

In the midst of the usual busy preparations for Christmas, the story of the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary strikes a distinctively counter-cultural chord. This first "advent" is not a matter of preparation at all, but of interruption. We know nothing about Mary prior to this unimaginable interruption in her life. Almost all depictions of her show her as beautiful, young, submissive, devout, welcoming Gabriel's news, perhaps with bowed head, perhaps kneeling. Yet for all we know she was headstrong and free spirited; for all we know she was fat and pimply. Mary's "estate" prior to the advent of Christ in her is irrelevant, because God simply chooses her and announts her for God's purposes. What matters is that the angel comes to her, and in doing so fundamentally disrupts her live, opening her to a world of joy and a world of pain.

 Rembrandt painted and drew many images of the annunciation. My favorite is a very rough sketch in pen and ink. The angel leans over Mary, taking her hand in a comforting gesture. But Mary's face is turned away, and she has fallen out of her chair onto her knees. She looks anguished. And well she might be anglished. The angel's news can only mean ostracism for her, perhaps rejection by her family and her betrothed, almost inevitably a life of poverty on the margins of society.

Yet listen to the words the angelic messenger whispers insistently in her ear, even as she turns away" "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" Our English translations don't get the meaning of "favored" - it is a verb, not a noun, and it should be translated: "you who have received grace." Anne Lamont gets this perfectly when she writes that it means, "you have been loved for a very long time."

That's the good news of Christmas. We have been loved for a very long time. This has nothing to do with our appearance, or piety, or even faith. It has to do solely and simply with the fact that God loves. And because God loves, God interrupts our lives and takes hold of them, so that each of us may bear Christ in the world.

 

The House that God Builds - 2 Sam 7

Like Mary, David also was interrupted in the midst of his young life, and granted participation in God's work in history. We know a great deal more about David, including his egregious sins. Yet David is beloved by God, and models for us a searingly honest relationship with God. In today's passage, David gets the bright idea of building a house for God. The prophet Nathan initially thinks this is a good idea, but subsequently hears otherwise from the Lord. There are two aspects of Nathan's subsequent words to David that bear emphasis. The first is that the Lord who chose and anointed David, and traveled with David through all his trials, is a God who cannot be enclosed in a human house. God is on the move. And secondly, in an ironic reversal, Nathan tells David that God will build him a house!" What a lesson in humility! We think we do things for God, but all the time we are in the position of receivers. David's humble response names the reality: "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? ... Because of your promise, and according to your own hear, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it" (2 Sam 7:18, 21).

The house that God builds for David is, of course, the fact that the Messiah is descended from him. It is built in Mary's womb, in the Christ child who also lives in us, and in and through whom we also are built into a holy temple, a house in which God dwells (Eph 2:19-22).





Our guest preaching blogger this week is
2008-12-15 by CJ Teets

Susan Eastman, who teaches Bible and Christian Formation at Duke Divinity School. As an Episcopal priest, she pastored from New York to Alaska to Oregon for over 20 years.



GoodPreacher Awards
2008-12-12 by David Howell

For Pastors

 

For Seminarians



Sally, Dee Dee, and Sermon at the Cafe
2008-12-11 by David von Schlichten

The Spirit has been stirring up the waters of the hot tub in especially exciting ways through the blogging this week. Thank you to guest blogger Sally Brown for full, thoughtful posts. Also, it is pleasant to see Dee Dee Haines blogging this week. She always provides useful and well-worded insights.

I find especially valuable Sally Brown's talk of the relationship between counter-culturalism and the Holy Spirit. Please scroll down to read more.

I want to preach on "rejoicing" this Sunday. Paul tells us to rejoice always. What does that mean? Does John the Baptist rejoice always?

Please go to the Sermon Feedback Cafe to read Pastor J. Wallace's sermon on Mark 1:1-8.

Thanks again to everyone for this bubbling tub of contributions. Grateful, I am

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





On Knowing Who You Aren't
2008-12-11 by Sally Brown

I'm thinking today more specifically about the John text.  First, the insistent language about the identity and role of John can seem overwrought unless we keep in mind that this is in all likelihood discourse prompted by the continuing presence of a robust John-the-Baptist centered community at the time of the gospel's writing.

At a first level of interpretation, the concerns of the text are theological. The issue is the identity of the Word-made-flesh. Evidently, there were a good number in this gospel's audience who still regard John as a candidate.  But John himself sets the record straight:  "I am not the Messiah. . . I am not Elijah . . . I am not the prophet . ."

Knowing who we are not is essential to knowing who we are. Knowing who we are not is freeing.  I tell my students when they're writing a paper that figuring out what their paper is not about is crucial to addressing the work at hand.

I pointed out in yesterday's entry that it is the descent of the Spirit (verses 32-33) that will clue John in to the presence of the Coming One among the crowd.

What is it that we, the church, are called to be and to do amid troubled, and troubling, social and economic currents?  Certainly prayerful attention to the Spirit is crucial.  We cannot be witnesses to the work of God unless we are poised to recognize the divine Spirit. 

A sermon on what it means to be a community that works for the reign of God and at the same time prays to discern it may well be the kind of basic and timely return in preaching to core practices of faith that is especially apt in Advent.





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