Sermon Advent IV – Year B
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Children’s Christmas Program
Do you believe God is still active in the world?
Do you remember that Bette Midler song, “From a Distance”? God is watching us, God is watching us, from a distance, God is watching us.
I suspect many people have a view of God like that. They believe God is hanging out in the background, waiting in the wings, being supportive and encouraging, but basically passive. They treat their God like their fire insurance policy. They are glad to have one, but hope they never need to use it.
Or perhaps they worry about God watching them. They would be happier if God would look the other way sometimes. They fear God’s judgment. God for them is a gigantic Santa Claus with a check list, marking whether you are naughty or nice, ready to punish you or reward you.
The God of the Bible is neither of these kinds of gods.
Our God is not a god who has been watching from a distance. We have been singing a different song during Advent. Our song is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. Our God is with us. The God of the Bible is Emmanuel, God with us. Our God is very active in the world and in our lives.
Of course, God watches over us. But God is constantly active in the world. God uses people and stories to point out and tell us what God is doing.
Look at the story of Mary, for example. In the story that comes before the one the children shared today, the angel Gabriel interrupts the life of an ordinary peasant girl, a girl about the age of our confirmation student who is playing Mary today.
Mary lived in a time and place where men were valued more than women and rich were regarded more highly than the poor. She knew her place in that world. She knew she was not particularly special. She knew she was not highly regarded in her society.
She accepted things for what they were. Her marriage was arranged by her father and would take place after Joseph managed to save enough to build a small home for them. That’s just the way things were done.
Then God intervened. God sent an angel to her. The first thing Gabriel said was, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you”. Of course, Mary was perplexed and frightened and tried to figure out what he was talking about. She isn’t the kind of person who is supposed to be the mother of a king. This unsuspecting teenage girl has just found out she is to be the mother of the son of God.
Mary naturally expresses her concerns about how this is all supposed to happen. But the angel reassures her. The angel reminds her of her cousin Elizabeth who was supposed to be barren who is now expecting a child in her old age.
That’s what God does for us sometimes to when we have trouble believing. God reminds us of what God has already done to transform the lives of other people. God helps us remember what God has already done for us too.
Mary hears the reassurances and especially the message that nothing is impossible for God. Only then does she say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
God is still interrupting people’s lives to bring healing and hope into the world.
Look at the people around you. See how they are looking at you. God has favored you, all of you. God has chosen you to do wonderful things in the world.
Like Mary, you may be perplexed and ponder this message. You may ask yourself, “how can this be so?”
You can give God all the excuses you can come up with. God will remind you of all that God has already done. God will remind you that nothing is impossible.
You know the rest of Mary’s story. The children have told us the story of the birth. Mary’s son Jesus did indeed become great. He lived among us and healed the sick. He shared the good news of the reign of God. And he died on the cross for the salvation of the world. He rose from the dead and now lives and reigns forever.
This Son of Mary is the Son of God. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He send his Holy Spirit who has promised to never leave us.
God is not distant. God is with us. Not just watching over us, but actively intervening in our lives.
God is with everyone else too. God is with the people you love – active in their lives even when they are far away. God is with everyone in your family even if you are not together this Christmas. God is taking care of your children whether they are home with you or living in Grand Island or New York or California or Florida or some foreign land. God is taking care of your parents whether they are with you, living far away, or at home with the Lord.
You are favored by God. God wants to do great things through you. I know you are just ordinary people. Mary was an ordinary person. I know you can probably think of good reasons why God shouldn’t use you to do great things. Mary had a pretty good reason why God’s plan wouldn’t work too. But nothing is impossible for God.
Mary said “let it be with me according to your word.”. The Beatles put it very well in the song they sang on behalf of the lowly and downcast in the world:
When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
God is not distant. God is with us. That is what the story today and the season of advent teach us. Jesus is born to be with us. Because the God of Mary is still active, we believe God is still at work in the world, even through us.
We have found favor with God, and the Holy Spirit will come upon us, guide us, and work through us to care for this world and people God loves so much. For nothing is impossible with God.
Therefore, though we do not always understand how and why God is at work, we can still answer, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Amen.