Sermon Preached by the Rev. Fulton Porter, III at St Thomas Church, Chicago December 18, 2011, Advent IV
What’s Your Availability?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
As we continue the journey toward Bethlehem on this last Sunday of advent, we drop in this morning on the marvelous gospel scene of a young bride-to-be. We drop in and find a young girl from a poor and simple family who had, perhaps, some dreams and ambitions for the way she wanted her life to be. Mary was to be the wife of Joseph, a skilled craftsman. She was to be his wife and perhaps ascend to the middle class of Palestine. Perhaps she dreamed of a quiet life, a good life, a peaceful life. Perhaps she dreamed of children and good health and economic security. I would venture to say that Mary dreamed of a life of comfort and not the hurt of pain.
Like any of us, Mary had ambitions. We all have ambitions and hopes and dreams, don’t we? We all want to do and accomplish certain things in our lives and move our life in a certain direction. We would like to have the perfect job and the perfect home and the perfect husband or wife the perfect children. Yes, we all have ambitions of a life which meets our highest expectations. Mary had ambitions in her life, but with one astounding announcement, her life was turned upside down. Her best made plans were turned inside out. For God sent to her the angel, whom we have referred to as the archangel, the highest ranking and perhaps most important in God’s angel battalion. God sent Gabriel, his right hand angel, so to speak, to bring a message to Mary. The name Gabriel means champion of God. And the Holy Scriptures tell us that God usually sent Gabriel to give important information to God’s people. Whenever God needed something done, he sent Gabriel. He sent Gabriel to Daniel to explain his vision. God sent Gabriel to announce the birth of John the Baptist. And now Gabriel has some news for Mary.
Gabriel, this angel who describes himself as one who stands in the presence of God, was now about to give this young girl Mary some news that would rock her world and change forever the course of human history. For God was about to ambush all of Mary’s ambitions and turn her plans upside down. Luke records the following:
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
And so this young woman had to now consider the prospect of pregnancy prior to her marriage to Joseph. And what’s more, the child was not fathered by the one to whom she was engaged.
Perhaps there is a message here for all our young women to consider. Before you give your body to any man in intimacy, before you give up that sacred part of yourself to anyone, think of the consequences. Perhaps if we thought of the consequences, we would have fewer children having children. Perhaps if we thought of the consequences, we would have a lower incidence of HIV and AIDS. Perhaps if we but consider the consequences, we would have fewer children living in poverty and more young women reaching their full potential.
But Mary had to consider her pregnancy. We so easily buy into the romantic notion of the virgin birth like everything went smoothly and easily for Mary, when it had to be very difficult. I can only imagine the conversation between Mary and her espoused husband, Joseph.
“Joseph, baby, I have something I need to tell you.”
“What is it sweetheart?”
“Well, I am pregnant and the father is the Holy Spirit.”
Now let’s get real. Let this situation come and live on your street and see how you would react. Let this drama play out in your life, and I bet you all hell will break loose. So we must understand that while we romanticize the notion of the virgin birth, Mary paid a price. It was not easy.
And so I think we must give credit where credit is due. I think sometimes in our fear of making Mary some sort of co-redeemer with Jesus, as some suggest that Roman Catholicism does, we often ignore Mary altogether. Yet Mary, while she was not the savior, bore the savior. While she was not the redeemer, it was through the fruit of her wound that she was redeemed. While Mary could not bear on herself the burden of our sin, she bore a savior who became sin for us.
It is interesting that we hear a lot of talk about other saints. We hear a lot of talk about the Apostle Paul and we love to talk about great figures of the Old Testament such as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It is interesting that we talk about famous men of the New Testament such as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is interesting that we like to talk about famous women of the Old Testament such as Rachael, Ruth and Rahab and women of the New Testament like Mary Magdalene and the sisters Mary and Martha. But we all but ignore Mary because of our anti Roman Catholic fear that if we recognize her, we might deify her. Yet the bible says that Mary is the most blessed among all women. Neither Paul nor Abraham can claim such a title. So we must, today, shine the spotlight on Mary and give honor where honor is due.
And so Gabriel announced to a perplexed and fearful Mary that she would give birth to a son and call him Jesus. Mary then responds, “How can this be? How can I have a child when I am still a virgin? I have never known a man. How can this happen?” The angel meets Mary’s astonishment with these words, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over shadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” Suddenly Mary’s amazement changes to faith. Mary speaks one of the most beautiful lines ever uttered in the history of humanity: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
And the key to Mary's greatness, the central reason why "from henceforth all generations will call her blessed," is her ability to say, "let it be to me according to your word." The key to Mary's greatness is her choice to be available to God and to walk away from the future she had outlined, and into the unknown future God offered her. And that is hard. It’s hard to quit your job when you hear God calling you to start your own business. It’s hard to go back to school when you hear God calling you to do so. It’s hard to leave the comfortable outline we have made of our lives to reach for something greater.
We no doubt have plans for our families and for our lives. But we must also realize also that God has plans for us. We need to remember that, very often, it has been those times in our lives when things did not go as we had planned; times when our dreams are deferred and our ambitions failed that God was the most present, and the most real. We must be available to God. We must make our dream apparatus available to God to implant God’s dream for us. I am reminded that the great poet, Langston Hughes once asked:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Perhaps a better question for us today is how do we live into God’s dream for us? I simply submit to you, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that we must make ourselves available.
We must make ourselves available to God’s direction in our lives. Do not misunderstand, beloved. Plans for the future, for our lives and for the direction of our lives, are very important. Part of being free responsible people is to make plans. There is nothing wrong with plans.
At the same time, Christmas is here to tell us that God's business quite often is different from "business as usual." So we must be available to God.
So Mary offered herself to the Lord. Would we do the same? If God broke into our closed worlds with saving intent and startling new possibilities, would we give ourselves to His purpose?
Would we be available to God? Can we proclaim with Mary:
Have thine own way, Lord!
Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter,
I am the clay!
Make me and mold me after thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Do we dare say to God:
Lord, I’m available to you.
My will I give to you.
Use me Lord and enable me to say,
My soul has been emptied, and I am available to you.
Are you available to God this morning? Are you available when someone asks you to be a Sunday school teacher? Are you available God asks you to give your tithes and talents to build God’s church? Are you available when asked to bring a friend to church to know the saving grace of God? Are you available to attend Sunday school and midweek bible study? Are you available to spend some time in prayer with God? Are you available support the needs of the safe haven home? Are you available to let God lead you? Are you available?
I know we’ve all got busy lives. We’ve all got things to do and places to go. But I am haunted by the splendid confession of Mary and convinced by her daunting decree, here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
If you word is go, then I will go. If your word is stay, then I will stay. If your word is quit, then I will quit. If your word is continue, then I will continue. If your word is run on, then I will continue to run this race. If your word is to fight on, I will continue to fight the good fight. If your word is pray on, then let me pray. If your word is just do it, the I will step out on faith and do it.
Mary did. Mary was available to God! I wonder if Mary truly realized the mind blowing consequences of her decision to be available to God. I wonder if Mary knew that her baby would walk on water. I wonder if Mary knew that the baby that she delivered would deliver her into salvation. I wonder if Mary knew that her baby would give sight to the blind and calm the raging sea with his hand? I wonder if Mary knew that her child would cause the deaf to hear, the dead to live again, the lame to leap and the dumb to speak. I wonder if Mary knew that because she made herself available to God, when she would kiss her baby boy, that she would kiss the face of God.
I recall a couple of years or so ago saving a voicemail from my daughter Haleigh. She was out with her mother and was calling to ask me a question. There was something compelling about her voice that day. Perhaps it was so cute and innocent. Perhaps I wanted to freeze time so that she would forever be my little Haleigh. Perhaps it was what she said and how she said it. I’m not sure, but I saved it for quite a while and would listen to it periodically, especially when it seemed that the years were racing by. Well, the substance of Haleigh’s call to me was to let me know what she wanted to eat when she got home. She wanted to make sure that the food she had a taste for was ready for her when she got home. So, of course when she called I was not home, and the voice mail service picked up. Our outgoing message says, “I’m sorry, we are not available to take your call right now. Please leave your name and number and a brief message and we will get back to you as soon as possible.” And I heard Haleigh say to her mother in the background, “dad’s not available.” And from that day to this, there is something in me that is sad that I was not available for her when she called.
Beloved in Christ, God is calling you to something. Are you available? Will you then answer in that magnificent proclamation of Mary: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.