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Homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA December 21, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.

4th Sunday of Advent; Year B (RCL): 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Canticle 15; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  
       

       I love this Collect. I heard it A LOT while serving at my field education site during seminary. The rector there, Fr. Vincent Powell Harris, would pray this collect often, if not every Sunday, in the sacristy as we readied to approach the Altar for worship. It was not until I was ordained priest and celebrated the Eucharist the Fourth Sunday of Advent that I realized this is the collect for this Sunday.

         “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself,”

         In Second Samuel, we hear about the promise that God had made to David, and keeps, to give him an everlasting throne. Centuries later, after the Babylonian exile, no king sat on the throne. Even then, however, the people of Israel remembered this promise and continued to hope for a king, the messiah, the Lord’s anointed. Instead of David building a house, or temple, for the Lord, the Lord promises to establish David’s house as a kingdom and dynasty forever.

         This is the Davidic Covenant, the fourth of four covenants that God made, first with the living creatures of the earth, and later with God’s people. First there was Noah, with a rainbow in the sky as waters receded from the face of the earth following the great flood. Then Abraham, with whom God entered into an unconditional covenant, including a promise of land, descendants, and blessing and redemption. Third was Moses who brought the tablets of Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai to covenant with God’s people. Finally, the covenant with David would ultimately span from the covenants of the Old Testament into the promise in the New Testament.

         In Luke’s Gospel, the angel tells Mary that God will give David’s throne to her son Jesus. She is perplexed by Gabriel’s greeting and by the news of her coming pregnancy, but Mary is still able to say, “Let it be with me according to your word.” We who know that Jesus is called king only as he is executed still find it a mystery hard to fathom, but with Mary today we hear the news of what God is up to and say, “Count us in.”

         In this annunciation account, Luke makes clear that God comes with good news for ordinary people like Mary from little-known places such as Nazareth. This king will not be born to royalty in a palace, but to common folk in a humble manger. Here Luke highlights the role of the Spirit, a special emphasis in his gospel.

 

Consider the words of the angel Gabriel, the reaction of Mary, and what it all means for Advent, Christmas and our faith. We see Mary’s faith, and in it, we will see our own faith -- faith in Mary’s Savior and ours -- Jesus Christ. We see how in Jesus, God accomplishes the impossible, and gives us every reason to respond like Mary, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

         Most in the Episcopal Church do not venerate the Virgin Mary like our Roman Catholic friends. Scripture provides us no indication that Mary was either more of a saint or sinner than any of us. Yet she assuredly said, ‘Yes’ to God. Mary needed a savior like all of us. She is righteous only by grace through faith, like you and I. Nor is Mary some sort of extra go-between mediating God’s blessings to us. There is only one mediator between God and humankind; that is Jesus the Christ.

         Yet Mary serves, like many saints, as an example of faith. Through her life, God brought many blessings to all people. Her role as the bearer of God and mother of the Lord Jesus is certainly special, and we honor Mary’s memory if only for that. But there is more. Mary, especially in this text, is a shining example of faith in God’s word of promise -- even over against what seemed impossible

         Mary’s feast day on our church calendar is August 15th, but it is during Advent and Christmas that she most inhabits our imaginations. This Fourth Sunday of Advent devotes itself to focusing on Mary’s role as the mother of the Son of God. As Theotokos, which in Greek mean “God-bearer,” Mary’s own body becomes the literal house and temple of the Christ, which the Lord promised to David. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus!”       

         But contrast Mary with Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. A few verses before our reading in Luke today, Zechariah had lost his speech in response to his lack of faith, when Gabriel told him he would become a parent. He and his wife Elizabeth were old, and she was barren, and Zechariah doubted God’s power to do what God said. Zechariah, a priest in the temple, served God daily but did not trust when told of this extraordinary happening.

         Mary didn’t seem bothered that she would bear the Messiah, or that this child would do great things and reign on David’s throne. Her only question was how it would happen, not whether it could. Mary believed God when many would have said it ‘Impossible.”

         The answer was sufficient. The power of the Most High would overshadow her, and by his Spirit, she would be with child. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” “Here am I, the servant of the Lord,” she replied; “Let it be with me according to your word.” That is Mary’s response of faith. That’s her saying, “Amen.”

         “Let it be with me according to your word” is the response of any faithful Christian to God’s words of grace. Your sins are forgiven. “Let it be with me according to your word.” I baptize you in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation.” This is Christ’s body and blood given for you. “... That your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” In Christ, you are highly favored, and God is with you. “Let it be with me according to your word.”

         This was, and continues to be, God’s plan. God promised David to build him a house, a habitation, a temple. In fact, God promised an offspring who would build the House of God into an eternal dwelling. To Mary, the angel promised her Son would rule on the throne of his father David. Jesus Christ is that Davidic king who rules eternally, and wants to dwell internally, within every one of us. Jesus builds the house of God, the Church, and the gates of hell will never prevail against it or against us.

         The impossible-sounding plan had been coming for some time. When a young virgin from Nazareth responded in faith, the plan moved forward. When you respond to the Gospel in faith, it moves further forward. Impossible as it may have seemed then, God’s Word, the Logos, the Incarnation, continues to bear fruit, and build the Church, living stone by living stone, to stand forever.

         Of all the miracles that God has done, is there anything more impossible than the Virgin Conception? You might make a case for the parting of the Red Sea, or the feeding of the Five Thousand, or any of the other great and mighty wonders. You might even have your own miracle you cannot explain. We should see the most impossible thing is accomplishing our salvation through God’s Son. Through a baby who was born to a woman, a man who suffered and died, and who rose again, just as he said would happen.

         With God, all things are possible: According to God’s plan and promise, for our salvation, by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Therefore, ‘Let it be with us according to your Word’ to ‘Purify our conscience by your daily visitation, that our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in each of us a mansion prepared for himself.’ May we all celebrate with joy the birth of our Savior, for us and in us.

         AMEN.