Friday, December 26, 2014

Let It Be Done Unto Me According To Thy Word.

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16Canticle 15 
Romans 16: 25-27

A Sermon Delivered on Advent IV, 2014 at St. Thomas' Church, Whitemarsh, PA. 

Behold the handmaid of the Lord!
Let it be done unto me according to thy word!

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. 
Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. 

"Annunciation" By Henry Ossawa Tanner
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Over time many millions of faithful people have begun their day with those words at the sounding of the church bells, as people pray the Angelus with the chiming in of the morning.    

And yet it seems we have, at times, a fraught relationship with the Virgin Mary.  So many of us struggle with who she was, what she means, and how she has been perhaps misused over time, by both Protestant and Catholic alike.  

So who exactly is Mary, and why is she so important?  We don’t after all, celebrate the birthday of First Mother Mary Ball Washington, or have a holiday for the feast of St. Francis’ mother. Giving birth to a child and surviving the ordeal, particularly at that time, is certainly a miracle, but it’s not really the kind of miracle that usually gets one regarded as the second most important person of the New Testament, behind the Christ himself.
But there is more to the Blessed Virgin than that, and more she has to offer than simply being the theotokos, the God-bearer.

Let’s think back briefly to Abraham and Isaac.  God created a covenant with Abraham, promising to be faithful to him and his children forever.  God, testing Abraham, making sure he would be as faithful to God as God was to him, asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved.  You recall that Abraham did not withhold even his own son, but God stayed his hand, sparing Isaac.  And Abraham’s faith had been reckoned to him as righteousness. 

But though God stilled Abraham’s hand, he did not stay Pilate’s.  But it was not Pilate’s Child that had been condemned.  It was God’s own.

And a sword pierced God’s own heart also. 

But though it was the Son of God who died, it was not the Lord only who lost a child on that fell day.  In fact, no matter how shattered and heartbroken Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John may have been, there was only one other who lost an innocent child. 

And it strikes me (as one so newly priested) that on that day Mary stood at the foot of the cross just as the high priest would stand at the altar in the temple. And better than any other of our order could she offer her sacrifice for the good of the world saying: “This is my body.  This is my blood.” 

And we know the benefit of that sacrifice, for by it God redeemed us and the whole of his creation, for we celebrate it again and again every week.  But it came at great cost, not only to God in the person of Jesus, but to the person who carried the Christ within her body for nine months, to the one who brought forth into the world through her straining and gasping and her desperate and bloody work the holy divinity of our Lord, the fullness of God enrobed in flesh, enrobed in her flesh. 

And I get the feeling that when Gabriel cried out “Χαῖρε, Ave, Hail!” that Mary didn’t imagine she would wind up standing on Golgotha at the foot of a cross. 

But she did.  And she did because of her grace-filled submission to God.  “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word.”   I can’t help but think that someone must have taught Jesus to say in all things “thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

But we do not only venerate the Blessed Virgin for feeling the pain of the loss of a child, for that pain is far, far, too common in our world and there is not one single romantic thing about it.  We don’t venerate her for teaching her child well, because truth be told, I have to think raising Jesus was probably a relatively easy task, at least compared to raising, I don't know, someone like me. 

No, we hold up Mary because when an archangel appeared in her room crying “Hail, Mary,” her response was “let it be done unto me according to thy word.”  Regardless of cost, let it be done; regardless of pain, let it be done; regardless of difficulty, let it be done.  

And oh, how we need the Lord’s will done.  You’ve heard over the last three weeks all three of your clergy and our Bishop address from this pulpit the painful happenings around our country.  And Lord knows, all of us would much rather be talking about cute babies and oxen and donkeys.  And yet this morning the families of Officers Liu and Ramos in New York City are waking up four days before Christmas unconcerned with presents or tree trimmings because their loved ones have been taken from them, shot without warning or opportunity for defense.     

Only minutes up the road, an entire family has been killed, and even that incomprehensible tragedy has been pushed out of the headlines by other terrible news.  
This is why it is why Our Lady is perhaps more important now than she has been in a very long time.  Because violence is what happens when we impose our will by force.  Violence is what happens when we decide that we should be the ultimate arbiter of justice.  Violence is what happens when we in our limited, clouded, imperfect judgement decide we are worthy to usurp God’s will and supplant it with our own. 

Violence is what happens when we fail to say “Behold the servant of the Lord!  Let it be done unto me according to thy word.”  Let thy will be done.  Not my will.  Not my will.  But your will.  Your peaceful will, your sacrificial will, your loving will, your redeeming will. Your will where the proud are scattered in their conceit.  Your will where the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up, your will where the hungry are filled with good things, your will where you remember your promise of mercy.  

We need Mary because we need a reminder of the beauty of holiness, of the good that comes when we submit to God’s will.  We need the example and the prayers of the Queen of Heaven, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head, the one who brought Christ into the world because we so desperately, desperately need Christ brought back into the world again. We need the power of God to overshadow us. 

We need her example so that we might look at Christ in the same way and with the same love she did, loving Christ and his teachings as a mother loves her children, as any parent loves their children.  We need her because we need to see God not only as the one enthroned in heaven surrounded by the elders and the tribes and the martyrs, but among us and amidst us in the blood and flesh and grime and dirt and hay and the humanity all around us.  Because it is only in our recognition of the incarnation of God here with us that we can understand what God’s will is.  And it is only then that we can truly pray for God’s will to be done. 

So this year more than most I find myself celebrating not just the beatific scene of Mary serenely smiling and holding her beautiful, cooing newborn, but the strain and pain and effort Mary undertook to wring out of her own body the presence of God, and aspiring myself to reflect that, and to take this new year to more frequently say: “let it be unto me according to thy word.”

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. 
That we may be made worth of the promises of Christ.

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