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Advent 4 Sermon: The phone is for you, it’s God calling…

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Advent 4 Year B Preached 18 Dec 11 at SJE Edmonton
Luke 1:26-38, Romans 16:25-27

May all of my words be only the words of Christ, and all of our thoughts be only the thoughts of Christ, for now and for ever. Amen. Today we’re going to talk a bit about vocation – when God calls you. The model for our own vocational calls, and our response to those calls, comes to us through today’s narrative about a young girl named Mary. We’ll talk about that model first, and then spend some time talking about what is happening to Mary, as she is our model for vocation.

The first thing is to be clear as to what I mean by vocation – and to draw that term wide. Usually when we talk “vocation” in church, we’re talking about people becoming ministers. The proper context for that word rests outside the church in the mission field…that is, the greater world. Each one of us is called into God’s service, and a part of our role as Christians is to listen for those calls, to discern what they mean, and then to act. We’re not just talking about employment here – God’s vocations can call us to any role, to raise a family, to a life of singleness, to work to support our family, or to support other families. God calls his people, young and old, into all forms of vocation – and this is one great leveller in the community of God’s people, for the one thing that distinguishes us is that the glory and honour in responding to a call from God eclipses anything that the world may connect in terms of value. What do I mean? You may be a well-lettered physicist working at the Large Hadron Collider plumbing the depths of the sub-atomic world, and perhaps turning several hundred years of science on its head…or you might be the cleaner at a local office building or a stay-at-home parent. The world sees those jobs in very different ways. To the Christian, our first question is not how much do you make, or how much power do you have, but rather are you obediently answering God’s vocational call? If you are, the job or role associated with that call is made glorious because you are doing God’s work. Just one more way that God raises up the meek and brings kings off their thrones.

If we look at the text in Luke’s gospel, I see four steps in the calling of Mary, that are instructive to us as we consider God’s call. So, four steps:

1. God calls. “Greetings, favoured one!” Not all of us are as fortunate to have an angelic encounter, as most of our calling falls into the ‘still, small voice of God’ category. Sometimes the call from God is an inner yearning for something else, or perhaps a sense that all is not as it should be in your life, a sense of unease that motivates you to change. All things are possible in God.
2. Pondering. Mary’s immediate reaction to the greeting of the angel is to ponder the meaning of the words. When you think God might be calling you, our first response is to turn to prayer and contemplation, to ponder what sort of call it might be, and to ask the question of trusted friends in Christ.
3. The Call. Once we’ve finished pondering, there will be a confirmation of the call. Confirmation sometimes comes only when we express our willingness to follow God in what he is inviting us into. What will happen afterwards is the presentation of an opportunity which previously had been unavailable, a door will open, or an invitation will come, that provides the means to answer that calling.
4. Our Choice. Mary’s response, “Here am I” offers her willingness to accept the call – we always have choice. God always waits on our response, and if we fail to respond, the call will come in a different form, or at a different time. There is no such thing as a missed call, for God will continue to knock.

This process is set out beautifully in a song by Regina Spektor, “The Call”, which was the closing anthem in the Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. It is a beautiful rendering of the idea of a call from God. Her opening stanza sets it out:

It started out as a feeling / Which then grew into a hope / Which then turned into a quiet thought / Which then turned into a quiet word /
And then that word grew louder and louder, ‘Til it was a battle cry

For those of us who do not have the angelic encounter that sequence: a feeling, to a hope, to a quiet thought, to a quiet word (for Mary: Here am I) and then once we have accepted, that word turns into a battle cry, all consuming, and full of joy.

Let’s consider Mary in a bit more detail. In the poem, The Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot describes a tiring, seemingly foolish trip made by the Magi following, well following an idea. The Magi left their homes and their comforts to seek confirmation of an idea (as with most calls from God, the initial path can sometimes be unclear, and only becomes clearer once you have started on the journey). As they journey through the cold they recall all of the good times behind them, the summer palaces, silken girls bringing food and I’m sure many other things that were far more comfortable than what they faced ahead. The Magi arrive, just in time, and pass into that town of Bethlehem: At the Inn where it is written, there was no room, they find the manger. Now, as Eliot writes, one of the Magi looks back on this experience and says something profound:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
The Magi witness something in that stable that changes them forever. These were wise men, scholars, sages, astronomers, priests perhaps, who had seen many things and much birth and much death. They found what they expected – a usual birth in a not terribly unusual place but this birth was also entirely different. This birth, this seemingly minor event in a rumbling world full of bigger, more glamorous things, was bitter and hard and was in fact a form of death in itself. The Magi return to their good lives in their comfortable palaces…but it all seems somehow thin and unsatisfactory. They were no longer at ease in these old places, and would be glad of another death.

Answering a vocation to God is in itself a form of rebirth, and that rebirth is preceded with a form of death. Our baptism itself is a death to sin in water and a rebirth to new life. This is the life of the Christian: a constant cycle of death followed by new growth and rebirth (Steve Bell, “Old Sage” as a further example, “cause when you’re following a star, you have to walk at night, sounds crazy even now” – this is vocation). God’s call is something that should leave us all uncomfortable. Like the Magi we are witnessing a birth, but also a death. This experience should leave us challenged and thoughtful and uncomfortable in our old dispensation. Each of us has been called into our own particular vocation in the Lord. What does this mean? What does this mean to follow this idea of God’s calling to each of us?

The answer to that question is at least partly contained in the call of Mary. Imagine what has just happened, you’re a teenaged girl sitting quietly at home. You’re alone for the rest of the family is out shopping at Wal-Mart, for unblemished lambs or turtle doves. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appears in the room before you and says, “Hello, blessed one. The Lord is with you! Fear not for you will bear a child who you will name Jesus. He will be the son of the Most High and will sit on the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever.” Mary’s answer is not, ‘get out or I’ll call 911’, or ‘what does this mean in the long term for me?’ Or, ‘do you understand the trouble that this is going to cause my family and I?’ But the very practical statement – I’m not married, so how can this happen? Gabriel’s answer? All things are possible for God. Mary’s final words, and the answer to our question about what vocation means for the rest of us, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”. “Let it be as you have said”.

It always amazes me that Mary answers the way she does…there is no questioning about the bigger issues, about patrimony issues, who will pay to feed this child, what will people think of a pregnant teenager, just a simple question born of innocence: how can this be since I have not known a man? When given the question, which was more implicit than asked, Mary responds in that near-perfect model of obedience that I struggle to model in my own life, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary saying yes is the end of our encounter today. In fact, Mary says ‘yes’ in verse 38, and in verse 39 she is on her way to see Elizabeth already pregnant. Perhaps this contains a lesson for all of us on answering God’s call – the scary part is getting the call and saying yes. After you say yes things just start happening. Perhaps a last question is – how do you know when you’ve answered the call in the right way? For most of us will not be blessed with a personal interchange with Gabriel to tell us which road to take.

In the finding of a vocation from God, there is a great sense of homecoming. C.S. Lewis, in the last book of the Narnia series The Last Battle, describes the experience of the main characters as they come into the New Jerusalem after the apocalypse. As they move deeper into this new world they realize that it is the old world, but somehow “More like the real thing”. “The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more and it was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: “I have come at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

This is what finding a true vocation is all about…it is coming home to the land you have been looking for all your life, but never knew it.

Don’t be afraid to be in that place of uncertainty, for uncertainty in God is a Holy place, for it is the place of Mary, of Jesus and of all the saints. A place of God.

And a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel which means, God with us.


Regina Spektor, The Call

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder
‘Til it was a battle cry

I’ll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

Just because everything’s changing
Doesn’t mean it’s never
Been this way before

All you can do is try to know
Who your friends are
As you head off to the war

Pick a star on the dark horizon
And follow the light

You’ll come back
When it’s over
No need to say good bye

You’ll come back
When it’s over
No need to say good bye

Now we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget

Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes

You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say good bye

You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say good bye

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Written by sameo416

December 20, 2011 at 3:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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