Text Luke 1:26-38 (The Annunciation); Preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario
Middle of the night phone calls or knocks on the door are always unsettling. First there is that sudden ascent into consciousness. Then there is the noise. Loud and shrill: the ring of a phone. Strong thuds: the pounding on the door in the wee hours of the morning. Noises that are destined to set the heart racing.
Blood pounds through the veins, each beat of the heart a prayer on behalf of the one who has no words.
An unfamiliar voice, a uniformed person, “I am just calling with a message…”
She knows it’s a tough place to raise a kid. Especially one who can be opinionated and outspoken like this one. It just isn’t safe to stick your neck out like that here, and she has told him that more times than she can count. Last week, the priest’s dog disappeared … and everyone knows it is because the priest was too outspoken against the government, but no one has any hard evidence.
That is always the way it is. Things happen but there is never any way to assign blame.
It is just a matter of time.
She lifts her eyes up, sighing out her frequent prayer, “How long, O Lord, must your people wait in suffering and in silence.”
As if to prove her fears true, she sees a familiar figure limping down the long dirt road that runs through the village. Soon, his swollen and bloodied face comes into focus through her tears: “They said they were sending a message, mom.”
That time lag between the doctor’s call and the doctor appointment is always nerve-wracking. Every single scenario known to humankind – or the Internet – has flashed before the eyes and given that sinking feeling inside, all before a foot is even set inside the doctor’s door. And then you wait – wait with little to cling onto save that reassurance of “I will never leave you or forsake you” that is both comforting and hollow at a time like this.
Finally the impassive doctor comes into the room wearing a sterile white coat, clipboard in hand. You’ve never seen this doctor before and it is a little intimidating. The doctor clears his throat, pauses, and then opens his mouth to deliver the message.
She is probably minding her own business, going about her day as usual. She lives in a small, out of the way, unimportant village in a small, out of the way province, in a big empire. In this village over 2000 miles away from the centre of the empire, there aren’t many strangers that wander through town save maybe the odd soldier stationed at the garrison 30 miles down the road.
And it is probably a good thing that there aren’t many strangers. Those that run the empire aren’t always friendly to the locals. If a solider tells you to pick up and carry his gear for a mile, there really isn’t any safe way of refusing. The political government and the religious leadership don’t always get along. When they do, it is often to unite against young, vocal activists – anarchists you might call them – or martyrs – or zealots – activists who are disrupting the uneasy peace that the community has settled into.
Mind your own business, keep your head down; don’t look for trouble and trouble likely won’t look for you. That is the best way to live when it seems like God has forgotten you and your country.
Imagine if you will – or maybe you don’t have to imagine because it is all too real – the idea of God being silent. God hasn’t spoken to you or noticeably acted around you for years.
You don’t hear from God. You as a people thought you were “the chosen ones” – the ones upon whom God’s favour rested, and you had God’s king whose kingdom was going to last forever. You had God’s temple, where God lived and where you could worship God freely.
And then it all fell apart – literally. The kings were killed or deported and that line ended, the temple was destroyed and it seemed that God left the land, the people were exiled and you did not know if or where God is anymore.
Life goes on, but it is certainly not the same life that you knew before, when you had tangible evidence that you were God’s chosen people.
Songs of Lament are a regular prayer, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!” (Ps. 13)
And so we return to the young woman in the small, unimportant village, in the out of the way province, in the big empire. She is going about her day as a normal day. Yes, the Temple has been rebuilt in Jerusalem, but God still seems absent. There haven’t been prophets speaking God’s message the way her ancestors would have heard it. Foreigners occupy and rule the land. The wealthy landowners have gotten their wealth off of the backs of the regular person who is often forced into working as a tenant farmer while the owners head off to live the good life in the city.
Then the stranger appears in town – a stranger that the woman has never seen the like of before – not even in her dreams. Or nightmares.
“Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”
The Lord is with you.
With five simple words everything changes.
The Lord is with you.
What sort of greeting is this?
The Lord is with you:
“You, Mary, 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.”
Mary pauses: I’m from a small town – I know how babies are made. I’ve got to tell you – that’s not happening here!
The Lord is with you, the messenger said.
The Lord is with you:
With five simple words the Word that once hovered over the waters when darkness covered the face of the deep broke its silence and announced its intention to become flesh and dwell among us.
The Lord is with you: nothing will be impossible with God.
The Lord is with me: Here I am, the servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.
The Lord is with you.
These five simple words we say each week as we gather together around the table: The Lord be with you.
Maybe they are not so simple words, after all.
What does it mean, what does it look like to say that the Lord is with us?
The Lord who was born in a manger in Bethlehem, who walked on dusty roads, who healed the sick, and fed the hungry, The Lord who walked on water and died on a cross. The Lord who, on the third day, rose from the dead: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who holds your beating heart in love when your phone rings in the middle of the night or when you awake to pounding on the door: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who is there when you wipe away tears and wash bruised and bloodied faces of those persecuted for standing up for justice – or when you simply stand in solidarity with them: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who is there, laughing when you laugh and crying when you cry: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who, as Mary sang in her joy, brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts the lowly; who fills the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who sits with you in those times of uncertainty, who accompanies you when there is news from the doctor: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who welcomes children, who calls rough-around-the-edges working class folks, and who breaks bread with outcasts and sinners: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who walks beside you as you feed the hungry, give clothing to the naked, sit with the hurting: The Lord is with you.
The Lord who journeys beside you in the joys or in the mundane of daily life: The Lord is with you.
The Lord is with you: Not only is this our anticipation in Advent, this is our Reality every day.
The Lord is with us.
Photo from Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria. Taken from their Facebook page.