Advent 4 (20th December 2015)
May the words spoken be to the greater glory of God and advance of the Gospel. In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I know that the popular time for reflecting on the past year is New Year’s Eve but I’ve decided to do a little bit of that this morning. Not a complete recap of the year but a couple of personal recaps from this past year as they relate to this time when we approach the end of Advent and prepare in four days’ time to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord.
In his final sermon to us last week, Peter Jin left us a wonderful message of hope. He spoke about Guadete Sunday and what that word means for our faith and our life with Christ. As Peter mentioned, the translation of the Latin word Guadete to English means REJOICE! He talked of the joy that is God for our lives and extolled us to rejoice in it always…quoting Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.
A word that sounds a bit like Gaudete is Laudete. This word is best known as associated with the opening words of Psalm 117…Laudete Dominum, which translates to Praise ye the Lord. Mozart and others have written beautiful settings to this Psalm and there is a lovely Taize chant for it too.
Both words evoke a great deal about our sense of anticipation during Advent don’t they? Especially now as we are near the end of our preparation time, anticipating our commemoration of the birth of Jesus. Gaudete and Laudete…Rejoice and Praise…two words…two responses in thanksgiving we can make for the gift from God, of Himself to the world.
So what about my recap? Well, as I look back this past year, there is much for me to be grateful for and within the context of my faith, to say Gaudete and Laudete about. I’m sure it’s the same for you too.
There have been some sad moments of course, especially with illness and death among those I know and love…and some sadness in the world…deep sadness at atrocities committed in God’s name. Sadness at the devastation caused by natural disasters. Sadness at the plight of refugees and others in distress and of the poverty and life conditions of so many in the world and around us here, where too little food and too much violence prevails. For me personally though, the good has out-weighed the bad and I am sincerely grateful for the joy that I have from having lived well through this past year.
I turned 65 years this year and although I joke about the Super Gold Card being the best part of that event, it is my life that I’m really grateful for and the fact, that I have lived to reach this milestone time. Finishing up my rather stressful far-too-many years in senior university management, is also something I have celebrated…both ending that part of my life’s work and being grateful for the privilege of having done it.
Beginning my long-overdue sabbatical leave is another reason for personal rejoicing and with Kathy, preparing our home for life in Coromandel is another.
Kathy surviving a near-death experience in a motor accident is a HUGE cause for gratitude this past year and the all the things associated with being here at Saint Alban’s adds to my reasons for joy at this time.
Of particular joy to us is the arrival this year of our two grandchildren, Hunter in February and Jasmin just a few weeks ago. We are most blessed and gratefully, Kathy and I do indeed rejoice. In the world of God where not all is good, this is something for us to say Gaudete and Laudete about.
We all have our personal stories and part of the fun looking back is that we can also look forward to anticipate more of the same or even better. We know this to be true, even when we also know that some unhappiness and sadness will no doubt accompany that joy as we move on through life. As the saying goes, “That’s life!”
The theme of rejoicing and praise with thanksgiving is fully obvious in the Gospel reading for today. We get an abundance of this and the sense of anticipation of good things to come as we hear the tale of two women. Elizabeth, the wife of a country priest who late in life became pregnant and was to be the mother of John the Baptist…and Mary, the much younger teenage girl who was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and told she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. When hearing this news, she was also made aware of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. We hear that when visited by Mary, Elizabeth felt a strong movement in the womb, as if to acknowledge the presence of the Theotikos…the God Bearer…the Mother of Jesus the Messiah. Anticipation was everywhere.
Both women shared an out-of-the-ordinary experience. The impossible seemed to have happened for Elizabeth with her pregnancy and this eventuality was shown to Mary as being proof that nothing is impossible with God. Mary was overwhelmed with a sense of joy at her own seemingly impossible pregnancy and against the backdrop of societal and religious rejection, she felt compelled to believe in its truth.
The early Christians used this story from Saint Luke to teach the truth about the Incarnation. This visitation event was included by Luke in the Nativity Narrative because he realised it was part of the big picture...and the church wanted to dispel any suggestion that Mary’s was just another virgin-birth story. Rulers and wealthy men had used such stories in the past to cover up their transgressions, so Luke wanted to record the actual events and relate them loyally as he did with all he wrote. Here he drew together the experiences of Elizabeth and Mary as they were realised to be interwoven in God’s plan for humanity.
The prophet Micah centuries before, had predicted that God would provide leadership to a nation that had lost its bearings and from that time on the Jewish people hoped for a Messiah to come among them to show the way to peace. And the Messiah did come! He came in human form for God to be among us as one of us!
The Magnificat, Mary’s song of joy…of acceptance of her role and her being…declared a fulfilment of Micah’s prophecy. It was truly both Gaudete and Laudete…rejoicing and praising God in Mary’s declaration of faith. She shared this joy with Elizabeth. Both were entirely convinced and committed to their beliefs.
There are many ways that we might relate the drama of this visitation by Mary to Elizabeth in our own lives. Mothers can, but I can’t imagine the deep maternal bliss felt by each woman of course…being a bloke…but I can appreciate the wonder of it all and the amazing sense of anticipation each would be feeling…a mix of joy and fulfilment…no doubt with some anxiety and even fear about what it would all mean and where it would take them and their lives. It would of course, become the greatest story ever written and Luke with the other early church writers knew that it must be told as well as possible for generations to come to know and appreciate.
As you and I look back on our lives, not only this past year but in all we recall, how much we give thanks to God for will no doubt vary from episode-to-episode. We will probably think we could have done without one thing or another happening but when all is said-and-done, how much do we really think what happened was because of what we made happen?
How much did we really achieve on our own? In our relationships with others, our lovers, family and friends…our work colleagues and those we encounter in daily life…how much did they help us in the small things and the large? How much did they help shape what we are and how we are in the world…let alone in our thinking and in our deepest being of self? And how much of that was of God? Not from God in the same manner as Mary but of God in the image of his nature and being presented to us through the teaching of Jesus. As with these two women, we do not walk alone in this life. Additional to our family and friends, if we choose to, we walk with Christ in the image of God.
I submit that if we follow Christ, the virtues of Christ, the intention of Christ that we live peacefully by giving due respect and dignity to one another…and by loving one another we thereby, love God…that this is how we are fashioned by God. This is where and how we do not walk alone. We do not make our own way totally in isolation of the reality that as with Elisabeth and Mary, anything is possible with God. The influence on our lives by accepting God through Christ as the way to follow and the way to be, means that we can rejoice and give due praise for all we have and all we encounter in our lives. We can indeed, be joyful.
In this joy and in anticipation of the hope he brings, let us now watch and wait as this Adventide concludes, for the arrival of he who will change the world and be as Micah prophesised, a leader for all nations, for all people equally for all time, out of turmoil into calm…into the knowledge and love of God.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.