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The Christmas Dare

December 24, 2017

THE CHRISTMAS DARE

December 24, 2017 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Luke 1:26-38


26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’*29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* 35The 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. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Like Mary and her relative Elizabeth, we are often treated as if we are insignificant, as if we don’t matter.  In the world of their time, women who had children were the women who mattered.  Elizabeth and her husband had been married for many years and were childless.  Elizabeth had reached the age where she was considered too old to bare children.  So in the culture of her time, Elizabeth’s greatest value – her fertility – was considered lost.  Her infertility was regarded as a sign of divine disfavor, and a disgrace.

 

Meanwhile, Mary was unmarried, although promised to Joseph and a virgin.  In the culture of her time, Mary’s fertility was unproven.  Beyond those factors, Mary and Elizabeth were Jewish women living in a patriarchal culture where maleness and masculinity were considered the highest and best representation of humanity.  

 

Then, as now, people in Palestine lived under military occupation.  Then, as now, there was a semblance of autonomy.  The Temple remained in Jerusalem.  The customary religious and cultural festivities and holidays were observed.  People went about their lives as if they were free.  

 

The reality, however, was a different matter.  Palestine was a colony of the Roman Empire.  King Herod was a figurehead, at most, and a corrupt and maniacal one at that.  Roman law defined how Mary and Elizabeth lived, or so it seemed.

 

In these and other ways, Mary and Elizabeth represent and resemble what seems to be true for many people, and what seems to be true about the human situation in general.  They represent and resemble the situation and outlook held by people everywhere, regardless to our age, domestic status, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, nationality, religious affinity, and other things.  

 

Like Mary and Elizabeth, people today and across time have been considered insignificant.  We are too much of this (old, poor, tired, sick, unwelcomed, LGBTQ, etc.) or not enough of something else (not cis-gender enough, not male enough, not rich enough, not white enough, not religious enough, not educated enough, etc.) to really matter.  

 

Yet, Mary and Elizabeth are at the heart of the Biblical record about the birth of Jesus.  Mary and Elizabeth were the people trusted by the Holy Spirit to shepherd Jesus and John into the world.  They represent what God wants us to be, and what God wants to do with us.  Mary and Elizabeth are examples of what the Holy Spirit can do with us, and with humanity in general!  

 

God dares to join with us to change the world. God dares to invest God’s power with us.  God dares to partner with us in a divine adventure to turn the world upside down, overthrow conventional notions of power, privilege, and prestige, and bring the entire creation and all humanity into oneness with God.  

 

Mary and Elizabeth show us what God dares to do, and dares us to believe God will do with us!  Christmas is, if anything, God’s dare to all humanity and the rest of creation.  As Gabriel told “nothing will be impossible with God.”   

 

Nothing will be impossible with God.”  Those words not only sum up what we should remember about Mary and Elizabeth.  Mary, Elizabeth, and the “nothing will be impossible with God” message is the dare of Christmas that God calls us to accept every day and in the face of whatever situations we confront.

  

Remember “nothing will be impossible with God” when people view us as old, used up, or useless.

 

Remember “nothing will be impossible with God” when the forces and faces of imperial power and privilege seem to run roughshod over people who are vulnerable.  

 

Remember “nothing will be impossible with God” when pride, prejudice, and conventional wisdom appear to shut people out.

 

Remember “nothing will be impossible with God” when religion seems to have become stale, mired in trivialities, and corrupted by lust for power.

 

Finally, remember that Christmas shows how God dares to invite us to join God in changing the world through subversive – even weird – ways.  

 

God dared to change the world through Jesus, a man born to a poor Jewish maiden in a colonized outpost of the Roman Empire far from everything the Romans considered important.  

 

God dared to trust a poor young Jewish woman with the life of Jesus, the person who would change all we think about God, about humanity, and about how humans interact with God, each other, and the rest of creation.  

 

Mary and Elizabeth accepted God’s dare.  As Mary put it so well, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary dared to believe that God’s subversive and amazing plan to involve her in world-changing and world-saving purposes wasn’t a joke, a hoax, or a fool’s errand.  

 

Across her remaining lifetime, Mary would struggle with the implications of accepting God’s dare.  She would be challenged by the unconventional son she would deliver and raise.  During his manhood, she and other members of her family would be unsettled by what he did.  And when the Roman imperialists and Jewish nationalists conspired to eventually seize, falsely accuse, and ultimately kill her son in a state-sanctioned scheme, Mary’s heart would ache.  

 

Like Mary, none of us can know what the results will be from acting God’s Christmas dare.  But like Mary, each of us can choose to accept God’s dare.  We, like Mary, can choose to trust God to invite us into a holy partnership and quest.  We, like Mary, can choose to be God’s servants, not God’s opponents or God’s critics.  We can choose to be part of God’s ongoing Christmas story and Christmas dare.

 

Mary shows that God dares to believe we matter!  God dares to believe we are worth the investment of God’s highest hopes and greatest expectations.  God dares us, as God dared Mary, Elizabeth, and ultimately Jesus, to be audacious enough, bold enough, courageous enough, and daring enough to put ourselves into God’s service to save the world, redeem the world, restore the world, and be re-united with the world.  

At Christmas, and always, let us, like Mary, accept the Christmas dare!

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2017