Year B Advent 4 Luke 1 2011
Surprise, It's Christmas!
The greatest thing about Christmas morning is the surprises. When else in life do you get to pile 10, 20, 30, 40 sometimes 50 surprises all together and sit for an hour enjoying each of them? One after another, surprise after surprise. Christmas Morning is wonderful in that way. I can remember still today the way I felt as a child, the amazement, the astonishment of Christmas morning.
Chuck Swindoll writes, "surprises come in many forms and guises: some good, some borderline amazing, some awful, some tragic, some hilarious. But there's one thing we can usually say -- surprises aren't boring." Surprises are woven through the very fabric of all our lives. They await each one of us at unexpected and unpredictable junctures.
I like the story about a professor who sat at his desk one evening working on the next day's lectures. His housekeeper had laid that days mail and papers at his desk and he began to shuffle through them discarding most to the wastebasket. He then noticed a magazine, which was not even addressed to him but delivered to his office by mistake. It fell open to an article titled "The Needs of the Congo Mission".
Casually he began to read when he was suddenly consumed by these words: "The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay His hand on one - one on whom, already, the Master's eyes have been cast - that he or she shall be called to this place to help us." Professor Albert Schweitzer closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: "My search is over." He gave himself to the Congo.
That little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, was placed by accident in Schweitzer's mailbox. By chance he noticed the title. It leaped out at him. Chance? Nope. It was one of God's surprises.
This morning we focus on one of the greatest surprises that ever there was, the surprise that took place when an angel by the name of Gabriel appeared to a young teenager by the name of Mary. Gabriel piled one surprise upon another. Mary and Joseph's Christmas tree had more astonishing surprises than any couple on earth had ever experienced. Gabriel surprised Mary with the following...
- "The Lord is with you, do not be afraid."
- "You will conceive in your womb, and bear a son."
- "He will be called the Son of God."
The Unwanted Christmas Gift: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
"Survivor" is a reality tv game show that has proven to be one of the most successful franchises in television history. Starting in 1992 as the brainchild of a British tv producer, Survivor has spread throughout the world to play in over 50 countries as diverse as Chile and China.
If you've watched CBS' "Survivor" with its $1,000,000 prize, you notice how quickly the sixteen to twenty strangers separate out into two groups, no matter how many "tribes" there are. In one group are those who, in the face of the unexpected, meltdown, freeze, or fold. In the other group are those who cope, manage, and overcome when the unforeseen rears its head.
This difference in ability and mobility is less dependent on the facts, and far more dependent upon faith. All "Survivor" stories combine components of grace and good luck, grit and gumption. But at the very base of those who "survive" in the face of surprising challenges, are those who have faith. When it is just too hard to hang on, we need another we can hang on to.
First century Palestine was not a particularly progressive society. Jews and Gentiles, Jewish and pagan, iron-fisted Roman rulers and oppressed subjects lived in an uneasy, unequal social equilibrium. In the first century there were definite "haves" and "have-nots" — the "who's who" and "who's not" lists that circulated locally. Getting on one of these "who's not" lists had far more social, political, and even "Survivor" repercussions than any Christmas "naughty and nice" list.
In the 21st century it is hard for us to hear how the angel Gabriel's "good news" sounded to Mary. In the 21st century it is not a death sentence to receive a birth notice.
It was then. That is exactly what Mary heard at that moment of angelic visitation...