|Pentecost 15, Year B||September 6, 2015||Proper 18, Year B||Isaiah 35:4-7a, Ps 146, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37|
|Pentecost 12, Year B, Jonathan Myrick Daniels Commemoration||August 16, 2015||Pentecost 12, Proper 15||Proverbs 4:20-27, Psalm 85:7-13, Galatians 3:22-28, Luke 1:46-55|
|Pentecost 11, Year B||August 9, 2015||Proper 14, Year B||Ephesians 4:25-5:2|
|Pentecost 10, Year B||August 2, 2015||Proper 13, Year B||Ephesians 4:-16, John 6:24-35|
|Pentecost 8, Year B||July 19, 2015||Proper 11, Year B||Psalm 23, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56|
|Pentecost 7, Year B||July 12, 2015||Pentecost 7, Year B||Ephesians 1:3-14|
|Pentecost 6, Year B||July 5, 2015||Proper 9, Year B||Ezekiel 2:1-5, 2 Corinthians 13:3-10, Mark 6:1-13|
|Pentecost 5, Year B||June 28, 2015||Proper 8, Year B||Mark 5:21-43, Psalm 30|
|Pentecost 4, Year B||June 21, 2015||Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year B||2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41|
|Pentecost 3, Year B||June 14, 2015||The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6||2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34|
|Pentecost 2, Year B||June 7, 2015||The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5||Genesis 3:8-15, Ps 130, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35|
|Pentecost 1, Year B -Trinity Sunday||May 31, 2015||Pentecost 1, Year B, Trinity Sunday||Isaiah 6:1-8,Psalm 29,Romans 8:12-17,John 3:1-17|
|Easter 7, Year B||May 17, 2015||Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B||John 17:6-19|
|Easter 6, Rogation Sunday, Year B||May 10, 2015||Sixth Sunday of Easter, Rogation Sunday||Deuteronomy 11:10-15, Mark 4:26-32|
|Easter 4, Year B||April 26, 2015||Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B||I John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18|
Sermon Date:March 25, 2015
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
Liturgy Calendar: The Annunciation
"The Annunciation", Fra Angelico (1426)
We’ve gathered here tonight to observe the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she will bring the Son of the Most High to birth.
We also have this passage every year on the fourth Sunday of Advent, the day here at St Peter’s when we have our Christmas pageant, so I’m glad that tonight we can give this passage our full attention.
The earliest gospel, the gospel according to Mark, has no story of Jesus’ birth. John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, starts what Mark calls the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The first reaction of the people in Mark is to go out to the Jordan River to confess their sins and to receive the baptism of repentance.
John has no story of Jesus’ birth either. His gospel begins with the mystical prologue that I referred to on Sunday—“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. ..and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory….full of grace and truth.”
Then we get back down to earth in John’s gospel and find that one of the first reactions to Jesus is curiosity on the part of John’s disciples.
Unlike Mark and John, Matthew and Luke open their gospels with stories about the birth of Jesus. They want us to know not just that God came to dwell with us, but how this happened.
And at the beginning of both these gospels, fear and doubt play major roles.
Fear and doubt shape all our lives in some form or fashion. When we’re afraid, our senses are heightened and we’re on high alert. On one level, fear can help us protect ourselves and stay alive in life threatening situations.
Fear also presents new, immediate possibilities and can widen or narrow our vision.
The words of a doctor—“There’s nothing else we can do.” These words fill us with fear because of our immediate awareness that death is closer than we had ever imagined. Suddenly, we’re seeing our lives differently—perhaps more broadly, as in thinking boldly about what can be done in the time remaining, or more narrowly as the specter of death seems to close in around us.
Now I’ve never done this, but I imagine that anyone who sky dives must experience at least a twinge of fear right before leaping out of a plane because that person is entrusting his or her life to a thin piece of fabric. I’ve got enough fear of sky diving and doubt about its safety not to ever want to do it. And this fear and doubt hold me back. But just think of the exhilaration that a sky diver must feel as the parachute rips open, and the rapid descent becomes a floating through space, with the whole earth laid out below in one huge mosaic of beauty—a widening of physical vision—and maybe mental vision as well.
Fear can also keep us from ever becoming who God would have us be, because we’re too full of fear to even imagine what that might be. Or maybe we can see what God wants us to be, but we’re too full of doubt to act on God’s plan for us.
So I think that Matthew and Luke address the issue of fear right at the beginning of their gospels because fear can be such a powerful force in our lives.
Before we get to tonight’s gospel, let’s just take a quick look at Matthew’s gospel.
In Chapter One we meet Joseph. And he has a dilemma. Mary is pregnant, and Joseph is not the father. Naturally, Joseph is worried by this, and so he plans to dismiss Mary quietly.
But then an angel of the Lord shows up in a dream and says, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” And when Joseph wakes up, the angel’s advice wins out over Joseph’s doubts and fears, and he does as the angel says and takes Mary as his wife.
Immediately following this story about Joseph, we find ourselves in Jerusalem, a seat of power. The wise men have shown up and they’re asking about where they can find the King of the Jews who has just been born.
Matthew tells us that “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Now these people have an opposite reaction to Joseph’s—Joseph has not let doubt and fear keep him from having a wider vision—but Herod and the people in Jerusalem do not want to imagine a world in which they don’t hold total power.
The sad end to this story of Herod’s fear is that he resorts to violence to ensure his position as king by sending his soldiers to kill every child in or around Bethlehem who is two years old or under.
Two opposite reactions to fear, with two quite different results–
Joseph’s decision to trust God and put away his fear results in the nurturing of a new life; while Herod’s fear of losing power leads to the loss of life.
Now we come to Luke. Almost immediately an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, shows up in the sanctuary of the Lord where Zechariah is on duty and scares him half to death. Luke says that Zechariah is terrified, and fear overwhelms him. And Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is going to have a son.”
Zechariah has his doubts about this news and questions Gabriel, and as a result, is unable to speak until John is born, but then he gets his voice back and praises God.
Then we hear that fear comes over all the neighbors and everyone is talking about this birth. How will this fear eventually play out?
Meanwhile, God sends Gabriel to Nazareth to the young girl Mary.
“Greetings, favored one!”Gabriel says. “The Lord is with you.”
Mary is perplexed. And so then Gabriel says “Do not be afraid, Mary.”
And breaks the news to her that she will be the mother of the Son of the Most High.
Mary also has her doubts and questions Gabriel. “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
After hearing Gabriel’s explanation, Mary has a decision to make. Will she let her fears and doubts take over? Or will she willingly agree to this plan?
We know that she ends up saying, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary overcame her fear and doubts and in doing so, she changed the history of the world.
So what about us?
Fear and doubt are very much part of our lives—in fact, they are natural parts of our lives.
So these stories about fear in the Bible are instructive in helping us deal with the fears that we will inevitably face—fears about growing older, dying, fears for those we love, fear over things that happen in our lives—this list could go on forever.
Matthew and Luke, with their stories of Joseph and Mary and others who fear, help us see that it’s what we do with our fears that matters.
When we’re afraid, we have to decide on what to do. And unfortunately, we live in an age where Gabriel and other heavenly messengers have not shown up in person for a very long time to explain or to give us directions about what to do in the various fearful situations in which we can find ourselves.
So I think that what we have to do in fear filled situations is to ask ourselves this question.
“What is the life giving choice that God has in mind for me in this situation?” Life giving…..what will bring the most life and healing into the particular scary situation we’re caught in?
For Joseph it was taking Mary as his wife. For Mary, it was deciding to bring a new life into the world.
And here’s an example from today’s paper in an article by Cathy Dyson. Peg Johnson, who some of you may know, was coming home recently on the Amtrak train that hit the truck stuck on the tracks near Halifax, NC.
She had just gone into the train’s bathroom when there was a huge noise—the paper quotes her as saying that “the noise, the shaking, the scenes that followed—all of it was awful.”
Now here is this 82 year old woman in the train bathroom as all of this goes on, and so no wonder that “she hesitated to open the bathroom door.” Wouldn’t you also be afraid to come out?
And when she opens the door, she sees devastation. Peg is quoted as saying that “it was terrible.”
What did she do next?
She went “up and down the car to see if there was anyone she could help, or talk with, or console.” She listened as others talked about their fears, and got ice packs for a passenger whose knees were injured.
In other words, she made a life giving choice in the face of her fear and the fears of those around her.
And not only that, she stepped into the role of the angels by being the presence in this fearful situation that said through her actions, “Do not be afraid.”
Sometimes we get to be the messengers that bring these four heavenly words to those around us. “Do not be afraid.”
Sometimes we are the ones who desperately need to hear this message. “Do not be afraid.” And generally, God will send an angelic messenger to remind us—but that messenger may be in disguise—the disguise of an 82 year old woman, or maybe a member of your family, or someone from church, maybe someone at your work, perhaps a complete stranger.
Sometimes there’s no one around to help us through our fear, and then we have this beautiful story of the annunciation to help us through and to lead us to the life giving choice that awaits us.
“Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you.”
Please turn now to Hymn 636 in the 1982 hymnal and let’s sing verses 2 and 3 together.
“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!”
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
The Free Lance -Star , Wednesday, March 27 2015, Region, Page 1, “Former PE coach springs into action” by Cathy Dyson.
Hymnal 1982 , “How firm a foundation” H 636, words: K. in John Rippon’s Selection, 1787, alt.