Becoming a Servant of the Lord (Worship for December 20)

Good morning and welcome to this celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Download the liturgy and pray along with us here:

The 9:30am service:

The 11:15am service:

Sermon text:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

I have a whole pitch for why Protestants might want to consider taking on a deeper devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’ll spare you the whole thing this morning but I do want to give you one part of that pitch. It takes into account Saint Luke’s testimony about her, that she is “highly favoured” and “blessed amongst women.” Simply put she is unique. And her faith serves as an example and encouragement to us: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” If we want to know what a life of faith looks like, we might contemplate Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

Our gospel reading this morning ends with Mary’s great proclamation of faith but it begins with God: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” This is significant. Write this down: faith begins with God. It is a gift that God the Holy Spirit generates within us until it becomes, truly, our own response.

That’s what faith is, a response to God. God initiates, God takes the first step, God condescends to us first in order that we might be raised up to him by faith. Wherever you are, God does not leave you there alone. He sends, and has sent, his word that it might generate in you a new life of faith, hope, and love.

So it is that Gabriel was sent to Mary: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” The word translated “greetings” also means, “rejoice.” That God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible should address us, draw near and make himself known to us in an intimate and personal way is cause for rejoicing! New life in Christ begins with this exclamation—rejoice!

Indeed, God’s word to Mary literally generates new life in her: “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” And for the second time in this brief conversation Mary is perplexed. She wants to know just how this is going to happen since she has never had relations with a man. She does not doubt God’s word, but rather asks how God’s promise will be fulfilled.

The conception of this child, says Gabriel, will be a work of the Holy Spirit who will overshadow her womb and create something out of nothing. Evoking the imagery and language of the Creation story where the Spirit of God hovers over the formless void and brings forth life. The new life that will be generated in Mary will have a divine, not a natural, cause.

I think what Jesus wants us to know here is that God’s power can overcome human incapacity. Our nature as human creatures is stained by sin which means that whatever capacity we ourselves have to love and trust God is severely limited. And yet, for God all things are possible. He is able even to overcome the barrenness of our hearts and minds; able to generate faith and love in us where previously there was none. 

In Saint Luke’s telling, it is only then, after we hear the word of God that we arrive at Mary’s response of faith: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Some of the church’s earliest theologians said that Mary conceived by hearing and obeying God’s word, because it was through such obedience that the word of God became fruitful in her.

The faith of Mary is an example of the sort of faith and obedience you and I are called to as well. Here is what a perfect human response to God looks like. Not rational certainty or the absence of any questions (“How can this be?”) but rather pure trust: “Let it be with me according to thy word.” Likewise, when you hear the word of God ponder it, meditate upon it, digest it, and give yourself over to it that you yourself might be fashioned into the likeness of the word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

In my opinion the Anglican Church of Canada is ripe for renewal and I believe that the Virgin Mary points us in the right direction. If we long to see our parishes renewed by the power of God then that work will begin right here in places like this with people like you. And it will happen as you yourselves hear and receive God’s word and meditate on it so that it generates faith within you enabling you, like Mary, to embrace your vocation to be a “servant of the Lord.” This year, even more than last, may we grow in our love and obedience to the word of God. 

Now may God who is able to strengthen you according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, bring about in you the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

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