a sermon preached on 23 December 2018 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. +In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is our fourth and final sermon in our Advent sermon series titled “Chaperones Through Advent.” I stated in the first sermon that we need chaperones, especially in the most important things, like the Church calendar, to ensure we are not swept away with the spirit of the times or the spirit of our own desires. We need chaperones to help us stay the course and see all sorts of things aright. In our first two sermons we considered two Old Testament figures who are important and helpful for having and maintaining a Spirit of Advent before we enter Christmas. Those two figures were the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Last week we considered the first of our New Testament figures: John the Baptist. And this week, we will be looking to our fourth figure, our second New Testament figure: Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Please turn in your Bible with me to Luke 1:26-38. I would like to read for us today’s passage.
Proclamation and Principles.
There are a few themes in our first three sermons on Advent which will also be seen more clearly in Mary. And we should expect this, for Mary—like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist—did not live her life in a vacuum. She was eternally expected to be in God’s narrative, and that narrative carries with it, like every Advent every year, important and repetitive themes to which we all ought to attend. There are five ways Mary is an important chaperone through Advent.
First, like Mary, Advent is about obedience. There are many ways Christians throughout history have differed in our understanding of Mary, but there is one important characteristic upon which we all must agree. Mary is a beautiful portrait of obedience, and not just any obedience, but an obedience which can only be divinely given. Scripture is clear, throughout every account we have of this blessed virgin, that Mary is obedient to God’s call upon her life, and that includes following her son’s ministry and eventually following him to the foot of his cross. If we considered for a moment Mary’s full humanity and all she endured in order to be faithful to God, we would see that her obedience is only possible if it is, like all mothers must ask for, obedience given from Heaven above. It is the same with Advent. In Advent we say with Mary, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38)
Second, like Mary, Advent is about life. This is firmly understood throughout Church history and especially throughout art history. Mary is a symbol of providence, of life, of birth, of promise, of light, of redemption, of a restored Eve, a restored Eden, of a life which will give life in order to crush the serpent’s head. It is the same with Advent. Advent, while a season of penitence and fasting, is a season of life, expecting life, anticipating life, considering and contemplating the importance of a life well-lived, a life lived in accordance with Mary’s obedience and faithfulness.
Third, like Mary, Advent is about expecting a miracle. In as much as Mary is a symbol for life, Mary is indeed a symbol of a miraculous life, a life which is divine, made possible only through our Triune God. How is it a young woman, a virgin, is found having conceived a child? Even she asked that. It is recorded in Luke’s Gospel that this is her first question. And the angel answer was “the Holy Spirit.” It is indeed only by God. How is it that Colin and Ivy will be faithful to their baptisms? Only by the Holy Spirit, a divine gift. How is it that the Son of God would come down to us to live among us, die for us, and ascend and be seated at the right hand of his Father, interceding for us? It is indeed only by the miraculous grace of our Triune God. This life we see in Mary, and the life which we anticipate and hope for in Advent, is a life of divine miracles, made possible only by the faithful work of the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, like Mary, Advent is a womb. I stated last week concerning John the Baptist, and it is just as true about Mary, that Advent is indeed a pregnant season, a season that places us in a womb. Advent is a season where we, before the birth of Christmas, before the birth of our Lord, like John the Baptist, sit within the womb of Advent and leap at the faithful voices which God has ordained to prepare the world for his incarnation. Like Mary, we carry within us the hope of the world, the greatest cause for joy and jubilation. And we go about our work until our Triune God would deliver into our lives those things which ultimately belong to him.
Fifth and finally, like Mary, Advent as a declaration of war. While much of the art and literature concerning Mary is docile and sometimes even tepid, there is one brief poem which declares to us perhaps one of the most profound and forgotten truths about our Lord’s Mother:
“Ana –[Mary,Army] – gram” by George Herbert
How well her name in Army doth present,
In whom the Lord of Hosts did pitch his tent!
With the expected coming of our incarnate God, there is not just an expectation of salvation and redemption, but also of putting to death, of trampling, those things which put us in bondage. With the advent of Christ, and therefore by Mary’s faithfulness, there is a war on sin, a war on God’s enemies, a war on disobedience, a war on those things which since Eve have turned the nations to turmoil. I said last week, concerning John the Baptist, that Advent, like John the Baptist, is only worthwhile if our heads end up on a platter, when the world sees there is indeed something very different about the way we go about our lives and it perhaps even costs us our lives or our jobs or our families. It is the same with Mary. Our Advent is only worthwhile if we end up, not just with a baby in our arms, but at the foot of a bloody cross, being told “Woman, behold your son,” and “Behold, your mother.” Indeed Advent is where we fall more fully into God’s holy family, and that means we make for ourselves greater enemies than before.
To summarize all we have said of Advent so far in this series:
Advent emphasizes self-examination, penitence, and repentance.
Advent is about Christ’s coming in glory to judge the world.
Advent is about fasting and self-restraint
Advent is about expectation and preparation.
Advent is about vivid imagery and good words concerning Christ.
Advent is about the cost of faithfulness to God.
Advent is about weeping for sin and unfaithfulness.
Advent is about being uprooted.
Advent is about an eager expectation of the Messiah.
Like John the Baptist…
Advent is a forerunner for Christ.
Advent brings a message of repentance.
Advent is all about water, most especially the waters of baptism.
Advent expects of us a child-like faith, even a fetus-like faith.
Our Advent season will run its full course only when our heads are presented on a platter to the world.
Advent is about obedience.
Advent is about life.
Advent is about expecting a miracle.
Advent is a womb.
Advent as a declaration of war.
With these points in our hearts and minds, today we will participate in two very important rites, both Sacraments which our Lord has given to us: Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. These two Sacraments have within them, as I’ve said the past three weeks, all the signs of Advent, all the themes and hopes of Advent. These two Sacraments are in accordance with the Spirit of Advent. The font and the table are places where we anticipate our Lord’s presence and His coming. The font and the table are places of self-examination, repentance, and joyful obedience to our Lord. The font and the table require us to consider the cost of faithfulness to God. The font and the table are about being uprooted. They are forerunners to Christ’s second coming, and they are deeply concerned with faith. The font and the table are about death, birth, new life, and are indeed declarations of war.
Please hear and consider a poem by John Donne.
“Annunciation” by John Donne
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room
Immensity, cloistered in thy dear womb.