Rev. Richard Chrisman
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. Luke 1:26-27
I have a gospel for you this morning, a more startling one than appears on the Christmas cards.
It is in two parts--I. Gabriel, bringer of surprises. And II. Gabriel, bringer of surprises.
Let us pray. . .
I. Gabriel, bringer of surprises.
What is man and woman amidst all the stars? Who is woman and man given all the galaxies? Where is man and woman among the natural scheme of all beings?
The stars do not wheel above us, we travel next to them, unable to see them. The galaxies of stars, which contain billions, number in the billions. The God of the cosmos once exploded into a billion billion parts, giving birth to us. As God’s body telegraphically expands, freshly born we too rush somewhere, nowhere.
Except for some billion points of light here and there, it’s mostly darkness. But always and everywhere, all is Newness. Amidst darkness, the Creator God makes all things new, all that God makes is newly made, and so are woman and man.
Upon Earth, upon our Earth amidst the stars, the angel Gabriel makes their Newness known to a woman and a man. Speaking for God who made the heavens, and Earth, Gabriel announces to this woman Mary, and to us through Mary, that she, and we through her, are invited to bring something new into being, we are all born from them.
It will be her time, and ours through her, to participate in the making new called creating.
Like a Super Nova bursting, Mary will give birth, and Newness will have a new name. The birth takes time, as cells multiply and differentiate into sinews and nerves and vessels, but how much time is it, in star time? Any time at all means waiting, waiting and more waiting till birth comes, till that baby comes.
For us, two-thousand and nineteen years later, the surprise of Christ’s birth, which we call Christmas, still begins with the waiting we call Advent, of which this is the first Sunday.
While Mary waits, her time permits us to find and identify the many threads that went into the making of a storied tapestry where Jesus’ face emerges from among the many biblical characters, and epic themes, and human emotions.
Eve becomes Mary, Adam becomes Jesus, Abraham and Sarah become Elizabeth and Zechariah, Amos becomes the Baptist John, the suffering servant becomes the baby in the manger, Israel becomes the New Israel.
A pattern in the tapestry where Gabriel speaks to Mary emerges to reveal what is hidden in plain sight, and this is the gospel: that we burn with creative desire. The story reveals that we, and the created world, burn with creative desire.
We learn, from what Gabriel says to Mary, that God’s desire brought about all being, that desire inhabits our sinews and our nerves, that a divine desire pulses under every breastbone. Only, what we desire is the creativeness of being itself—not only the kind of creativeness involved in problem-solving, of project-concocting, idea-hatching creativity, but we desire a creative flowering from within our very being, our deepest selves.
Mary’s desire meets God’s desire halfway—not as a passive recipient of news, but as a new actor. She takes the surprise by surprise, and she joins the ongoing history of creating—she comes to the net, you would say in tennis—not by merely accepting a fate but by embracing an invitation.
We are wise to how the Church played this surprise—it made dependence and passivity into a female virtue. Mary is no saintly role model—Mary plus Gabriel equals the divine-human surprise to which we are all heir.
Turns out, hidden beneath Gabriel’s message (which got everyone ever afterward embroiled in disputes about the timing of the pregnancy (virgin or not? married or not? –irrelevant!), the fact of birth, the fact of nativity, the fact of natality, the fact of procreation with its primal fascination doubles for the more basic fact of creative desire—procreation, that most intense of desires, only spells creation of being, in your very own person.
Desire is just love in motion, creating surprises.
II. Gabriel, bringer of surprises.
So, we know about Gabriel’s surprise visit to Mary—pregnancy at a socially awkward time, poverty, arranged marriage, poverty, foreign occupation, poverty--
But what about you? Have there been surprises in your life? Of course! And nobody likes surprises, or their fluidity, their indetermination, their ambiguity, their threat to peace of mind, the anxiety surprises bring.
I don’t mean the self-induced surprises—bungee jumping, extreme sports, drunk driving—I mean the surprises that arise from our innermost depths.
Did Gabriel visit you in your poverty, as he did when Mary was in a pickle—poverty of resources, poverty of friends, poverty of imagination, poverty of skill in the marketplace, poverty of relationship-building?
How did you handle Gabriel’s visit, or did you recognize him? Maybe you missed your rendezvous with God and lost your bid for a co-creating contract. Maybe you buried your single talent; or turned away as the disappointed young prince did; or built your house on sand; or outright betrayed the master.
If so, you were not as prepared as Mary was when she sang the praise of her God who scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, who has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted those of low degree; she praised God who has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away.
But perhaps you have been driven in life—driven seeking the competitive advantage, driven to get the hard won reward of hard work--driven and not drawn into that dance which God invites you into, the God who is the catalyst of your life, your true life?
Now, these same questions apply to any church, but especially to us at this juncture in life. The same opportunity awaits any congregation wishing to extend its creative history. Like Mary, you must take stock of your poverty, know your worth, take stock of your poverty, clear your head of the cobwebs, take stock of your poverty, clear your calendar of vanities.
Speak, congregation! Act, congregation! Participate in your church life, congregation!
If you have missed Gabriel’s first call, you will certainly not miss his second and final call, when the trumpet he blasts announces not the beginning but the end--!
So, awake, awake! A voice is calling. Gabriel arrives.
Awake! Mary speaks; Mary acts; Mary participates; Mary makes history (not headlines). What about Eliot Church?
Awake, awake! It is the watchman on the walls, you citizen of the United States of Entertainment. Arise, the Bridegroom comes! Arise and take your lamps! Awake, his kingdom is at hand! Go forth like Mary, go forth to meet your Lord!