December 21, 2014

Advent 4-B

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38


I believe most of us were taught forms of obedience as children. We were most likely taught to obey our parents, grandparents and perhaps other adults in our families. Probably we were taught then to obey rules at school, in the classroom, on the playground and when crossing the street. As we grew older, there were many more rules and more people trying to enforce obedience; and there were laws with grave consequences for disobedience. As adolescents perhaps we tested the strength of many rules and the consequences of disobedience. We learned to like the idea of making our own rules for our personal lives and having a feeling, however imaginary, of being in control of ourselves, our lives. Some of us no doubt have been more successful than others at making that premise work.

Obedience is a theme running through today’s readings. King David had a strong desire to build a house for God. The Israelites believed  that God lived in the Ark of the Covenant. David had recently fought battles to rescue the ark and he brought it with great ceremony and celebration to Bethlehem. He then created a very special tent in which God could dwell. David envisioned building a grand temple in which God would live, and he discussed this with the prophet, Nathan. Nathan gave him the “Go ahead.” But then God had other plans.  God popped into Nathan’s dream sleep and directed him to remind David of all God had done for him. Tell David that God will place your offspring on the throne and that person will build a temple for God. Meanwhile, God said he would make a house for David, establishing his line, his throne forever. 

How do you think David felt when he got this news? “No, God doesn’t want you to build a house for him. You have done what he asked and that’s it about the Ark.” David, the great warrior and David, the King of the Israelites, thinking of how God had been faithful to him, fell to his knees in prayer. The next verses of 2 Samuel contain David’s beautiful prayer, his Magnificat, if you will. David surrendered in obedience – obedience of faith. God then, was faithful in fulfilling what he promised David. His descendant, King Solomon, built the first Temple and David's line was established, which generations later resulted in the earthly family of our Lord, Jesus.

Now let us think of Mary, and this astonishing account of the visit paid to her by the angel Gabriel. This young, engaged virgin is told she is about to be pregnant.  Further, she will bear a child who will become someone regarded by God and man as great and important. It seems Mary herself was astonished, for she asked, “How can this be?” She had not been with a man. To be young, unmarried, and with child would be to break all the mores of her culture and in all likelihood end in her being stoned by the men of the village. Did she experience fear? 

Did she want to run and hide? Did Mary want to plead with God? Well, perhaps she did. What would your reaction be? But what we are told is that Mary, like David, praised God and expressed her humility in being chosen by God for this “mission”, this portion of God’s grand plan. She surrendered in obedience – obedience of faith. 

Again, God fulfilled his promise. He removed all the barriers and overcame all the objections Mary might have raised. He protected Mary from the village gossips and those who would stone her, according to Matthew's gospel account, by sending an angel to Joseph to tell him to take Mary as his wife. Joseph, too, obeyed, through faith. Now we, like Joseph and Mary, await this Advent Season for the fulfilling of God's promises to them, and to us, that the Son of God is about to appear and live among us.

Think for a moment where we might be or if we might be had these people ignored God's calling for them and been disobedient. God is faithful. Are we obedient in faith?

I have shared this next story with some of you, and I shall tell it – not in any way to compare with David, Joseph or Mary – but to give a personal example of God interfering in our plans and how obedience can produce an unimaginable ending.

When I became aware that God was calling me to ordained ministry, I was, admittedly, frightened as a first reaction. I went to my knees and literally went limp. Very unlike Mary, my next step was to place all my objections before God; all the reasons why this would not work. I wore myself out in this rant. Next came a nap – 2 hours of very deep sleep. When I awoke, I experienced a strange calm, a strong inner peace, and I remember saying, “God, this is about obedience, isn’t it?” I had no idea how this would happen; where the money for school would come from; how I, who had not studied in a long time could possibly get through the requirements of Ministry School; how on earth could I, at my stage in life, be helpful to God in his church? But this independent, stubborn woman surrendered in praise and humility once that peace filled me. I had no answers as to how it would happen, but God had all the answers. All he asked of me was to follow, obey, have faith and believe. Somehow God let me know Jesus would lead me and the Holy Spirit would guide and protect me through the rough spots.

God has fulfilled his promise to me. I have stumbled over faith stones along the way, but God has not. And I tell you I have never been more fulfilled. The journey from that moment to this one has been totally one of faith. I could not imagine it. I think neither Joseph nor Mary could imagine it. I think David could not imagine what God was talking about.

David Oyelow is a classically trained English actor of Nigerian parents who plays the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the movie, Selma, scheduled to open Christmas Day. In a recent interview, Mr. Oyelow was asked how he felt about portraying Dr. King. He answered that it was an awesome thing to do but he truly felt this was a calling. He said, "When God tells you, you start preparing."

What is God telling you? How might you be ignoring him, resisting, making excuses? Know this: God is relentless. God is persistent. God is faithful. God longs for a temple of flesh, a heart filled with love. God knows what path we are intended to walk down, and Jesus will be there to lead and the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us through the rough spots from the moment we say “YES, Lord”. Obedience of faith opens us to receiving God’s grace, which he is so ready to pour upon us. When we say, “Yes” to God, the unimaginable can occur. Incarnation can be realized within us. With Christ’s spirit working within us we become his hands, his feet, his voice, and like Mary his mother, bring Christ into the world for others. Start preparing. Just say, “Yes”, and then watch out. Amen