NOTE FROM PAST J R FOR ADVENT 4, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2014
Last Saturday evening, Covenant hosted the annual Christmas Program for the four United Church of Christ (UCC) Churches in Birmingham. Each church participated based on their assigned theme from the four Sundays of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Our assignment was love. More than once, I have heard people say that what they loved about the program was that while it was very thoughtful and presented well, it was by no means ‘canned.” That’s sort of what I think about “love”, the theme for this coming “Fourth Sunday of Advent.” Love should be thoughtful but by no means “canned,” in our words or actions.
The gospel text assigned for this Sunday is called in liturgical circles, “The Annunciation.” The Annunciation is the Christian celebration of the announcement, by the angel Gabriel, to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a child and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
It is interesting that, while the theme this Sunday is “Love,” the word love does not appear in any part of the text from Luke 1. Let’s be clear! The birth of Jesus IS the greatest act of the love there ever was! After all, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son…” But that was the story of Love born on Christmas Day in Luke 2. It is not the act of love celebrated in Luke 1 for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. That act of love is Mary “Saying Yes to Love!”
In the great Christmas hymn of recent years, “Mary Did You Know,” Mark Lowry raised several questions that ask Mary “did you know what you were signing for when you said yes to God’s love being born in and through you?” While some of those questions were answered initially in Gabriel “Annunciation,” I seriously doubt they were comprehended by Mary. She probably didn’t take in a lot after hearing “you will be with child and give birth to a son and you will give Him the name Jesus.” So the answer to most of Mark Lowry’s question is maybe she knew, but I doubt she knew what it meant. As bad as it is today for a teenage girl to own up to a pregnancy, think what it must have been for Mary. Think of what it had to be like for a teenage girl in Palestine 2000 years ago, not only to have to own up to a pregnancy, but also to have to admit that your fiancé isn’t the baby’s Daddy. How do you think that went over with her parents, the neighbors, Joseph’s family and especially the strict religious folks always eager to engage in “The Great Stoning” Ministry? Yet, that is precisely why her “Saying Yes to Love!” is important to us today.
In most Christmas programs, “The Annunciation” has become a very canned portion of the program, just mentioned on the way to the birth of the Christ Child on Christmas Day, the greatest gift of Love there ever was! Nonetheless, Mary’s action of “Saying Yes to Love!” is a very important part of the story. On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that we have an important part in God’s love becoming real in our lives. God will not force anything on us, including God’s love. Like Mary, we have to say yes to that love. “Saying Yes to Love!” with our words is easy; doing it with our lives is not. Not knowing what it means or where it will take us, we must trust God and God’s Love by “Saying Yes to Love!” Or perhaps better yet, saying like Mary, “May it be to me as you have said.”
Join us in worship at Covenant this week. It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 4 days before Christmas and the theme of course is Love. I will be preaching a sermon called “Saying Yes To Love!” based on Psalms 89:1-4 and Luke 1:26-38.