St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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Sermon

December 2oth Advent 7, 2020                           John Marsh


2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27;Luke 1:26-38


Here we are at the last Sunday of Advent; Christmas, The Feast of the Nativity, is right around the corner…


Yet this may not arouse the usual seasonal hopes as we are shadowed, perhaps haunted by Covid realities – we do not worship as we usually do, we probably will not gather as we usually do, celebrate as we usually do…


And with this, some of us are sad, grieving, angered, perhaps others treading the edges of emotional wellbeing…


Some of us, truth to tell, are in denial, perhaps in a delusory way mishearing the old line, ‘if wishes were horses, beggars would ride’ – screaming saddle up everyone…


Yet, sadness, anger, despair, denial notwithstanding, readings are read, the seasonal liturgical themes and symbols sounded…


However, truth to tell, this is not the first time, certainly not the only time, in which our liturgical seasons are marked in times of uncertainty, times of trial, where hope is tested by time…


This season of light coming is haunted by darkness, is it not?


Yet, if it is not too poetically promising, is it not within darkness that we are haunted by hopes for light; perhaps, if it is not too much to dream, it is when darkness threatens that perhaps, we are pursued by love, graced by goodness astir…


So I ask, is this not precisely the time in which readings should be read, songs remembered, rituals performed albeit differently?


Is this not precisely a time of hope, hope in a promise, a hope for grace, perhaps the emergence of a way out of no way…


So, let us dare the readings, readings which call us, or least haunt us, to turn the world on its head…


Is our time not a time of hope in reversals?


Is this not, if I may echo last week, a time to dream…


~


Given our fascination – and here I will date myself – with lifestyles of the rich and famous, Luke 1 theopoetically turns ‘the world on its head’. When Luke and 2 Samuel are put in juxtaposition, the scriptural love of reversals is more than evident. The texts of 2 Samuel are ‘all men, kings, structures and power’ ¹ and that which is named as god is imagined entirely within these assumptions. In contrast, the Lucan story of Mary, with its mythic nuance and challenge, its theopoetic stirrings, tells a tale in which the powerful are pulled down from their thrones – religiously and politically.


Within the wonderfully imaginative narratives of Mary and Elizabeth and births foretold, a preferential option for the ordinary is exercised. Within story told, the messianic pretentions of Davidic lineage are not so much ignored as subverted – imperial presumptions of the birth of one extraordinary are converted into an ordinary birth in which an unwed peasant births hope, promise, that something may be stirring within this birth, within the world.


That the descendant of David is but peasant born and, in a barn no less, speaks volumes of how far the mighty have fallen, how far expectations have been subverted, the extent to which imperial pretentions are not the point of grace. Luke’s narrative drips with ironic deliciousness; its flavour is the favour shown to the ordinary.


Within the subversive presumptuousness of a narrative told, spirit hovers over Mary and grace ‘comes’ into the world. These theopoetic narratives proclaim, perhaps, a profound and timeless truth about grace – grace is not an ’invasion’ of the extraordinary into the ordinary which would be otherwise bereft of hope. Grace stirs within the ordinary, suffusing all life, all of creation. Grace perhaps haunts life, inspiring, inviting response, risking making grace real, felt, shared…


Grace is a spectral stirring; grace is perhaps a creative energy astir within existence (creation), inviting risk, calling for transformation within persons, structures, and societies (salvation); a creative energy possibly haunting, inviting life and form within flux and flow (spirit perhaps)…


Truth to tell, while we may have hope, we know not outcomes yet grace calls, asking, if I may distantly echo

JFK, ‘What kind of life does grace expect of us?’²


In our faith traditions, grace is connected to wisdom and is expressive of the ‘shekinah’, traditionally understood as the glory of the indwelling presence of divinity, to which I would say this presence is nothing substantial – there is no there, there – no substance, no stuff yet there is something, something elusive. The shekinah is more a spectral haunting troubling complacency, interrupting best laid plans…


In our texts, grace is a young peasant woman perhaps surprising named as ‘highly favoured’ in the face of expected societal censure; in our prayer and spiritual traditions, grace poetically hails Mary as ‘full of grace’.


Grace is connected to a blessing encouraged, an energy called for, a movement of spirit blowing in the wind...


Yet, truth to tell, what is usually missed or hidden – so think about it – is that grace is not scarce, it is we who make ourselves scarce.


Grace is not uncommon but is, I believe – if my beliefs are of interest – the commonality of creation fully alive! Our task, mission, and responsibility is to become ‘humanity fully alive’! This is the point behind the perceptive comment of Meister Eckhart with reference to Mary:


“What good is it to me if Mary’s full of grace and I’m not full of grace?”


This is a crucial point if we are to understand not only this season of Advent but the essence of life itself. In opening to the profoundly ordinary, we find grace. All life emerges, all hope is grounded within this region of activity, dare I say this field where perhaps divinity blinks into existence. Today’s texts speak of messianic fulfilment yet curiously not within the expected structures of the extraordinary.


Within the mindset of 2 Samuel 7, such ‘structures of the extraordinary’ were expressive of the usual institutional trappings of monarchical mission: thrones, temples and the usual pretentions of dynastic power and lineage. The annunciation, however, theopoetically turns the table; it’s a kind of ‘divine head fake’ in which the mighty are indeed pulled from their thrones while lifting up the lowly.


Advent with its proclamation of ‘Wake up’ is quite simply an invitation to come to our senses, to notice what God may be up to and what grace invites us to.


As I reflect on my life, I have come to realize that it has been a continual process of coming to my senses involving the focusing and refocusing of my sensibilities. In so doing, I have noticed much and occasionally, I have learned a little. As I have endeavoured to become ever more sensible in my living, I have realized that, despite a seemingly endless supply of examples (my own included), insensitivity and senselessness are not normative. While ‘states of disgrace’ are indeed present, at times profoundly so, they are not – so I hope and pray – the defining fields of our existence; they are ‘disruptions’ within those ’fields of grace’ which form the matrix of life.


Truth to tell, my faith, my hope and I pray my work proclaim that we are pursued by love…




¹ Debbie Blue in a commentary on the readings for Advent IV, Year B.

² Echoing JFK’S statement at his inauguration, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’