Are you Ready for Christmas?

December 18, 2011

(Romans 16, 25-27; Luke 1, 26-38 & 46b-55)

 

It’s a question people constantly ask you this time of year. “Are you ready for Christmas?”

 

Is anyone ever ready? There’s so much to do, so many things to arrange at home and at church: services to plan, shopping to do, meals to prepare for, presents to buy for different age groups, and celebrations with family members to co-ordinate. No wonder so many people collapse exhausted on the actual day!

 

The trouble is we all want to have a ‘perfect Christmas’. When the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke on Radio 2’s Pause for Thought’ last Thursday http://tinyurl.com/7qk9g5t, he spoke of his belief that God doesn’t wait until we are ready and everything is perfect; God comes to us, in the same way as he came at the first Christmas, in the middle of the mess, to bring love and joy.

 

In the account we heard from Luke’s Gospel, it’s quite obvious that Mary wasn’t in the least bit ready for the events of the first Christmas Day. She wasn’t ready to be a mother: she was betrothed to Joseph, but, as she explained to Gabriel, they weren’t yet living together and she was still a virgin. She certainly wasn’t ready to be the mother of the Messiah, the Saviour of the World and the Son of God. So her response to the angel’s announcement was, “Why me?”

As she knew, she wasn’t anyone special. Two thousand years of Christian devotion may have turned her into something remarkable, through doctrines such as her Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption, and titles such as Theotokos (God-Bearer), Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Co-Redemptrix; but, as many of our TV Nativities show, in reality she was a simple girl, probably still a teenager, from a provincial village in an occupied country, with very little education, destined for a life of hard work, marriage and motherhood. The choice of her to be the mother of Jesus was nothing to do with her special qualities; it was an act of God’s grace.

 

Luke’s account tells us about Mary’s response to the announcement of Jesus’s coming birth, and at the same time, gives us pointers to how we can make ourselves ready to receive him when he comes into our lives.

 

Mary responded with humility. She puzzled over the announcement that she was ‘highly favoured’, because she didn’t think she had done anything to deserve that. But she accepted God’s plan, not just as a ‘handmaid’ or ‘servant’ as the text is usually translated, but as a slave, which is what the Greek original usually means. She demonstrated that she was ready to go along with what would happen to her, even though she knew it would make her life very messy and turn the ordinary life she was looking forward to upside down.

 

She also responded with acceptance and obedience. “Let it be with me according to your word”. She accepted in spite of her doubts and questions, believing that with God’s plans, even the most unlikely events were possible. She demonstrated at the Annunciation that ‘obedience of faith’ that Paul spoke of in his letter to the Romans.

 

Mary also responded with joy. The Magnificat, which we heard in our second reading from Luke, is a psalm of praise to God for everything that will come about through the birth of Jesus, the Saviour.

 

But she also responded with insight. The Magnificat is a prophecy, which describes the distinctive and revolutionary character of the Messiah which Jesus will be. Through his coming, the poor will be exalted, the mighty will be brought down, the hungry will be fed and the proud will be scattered. This anticipates the whole of Luke’s Gospel, which  proclaims that  the titles which were given to the Roman Emperor – Saviour of the World, Prince of Peace, Son of God – actually belong to Jesus, not Augustus Caesar. The coming of Jesus undermines the worldly standards of wealth, status and power; his reign is not just for the Jews, but includes the Gentiles and those considered outsiders (Romans emphasises this as well). A peaceful revolution is about to begin!

 

What the Magnificat also tells us is that Christmas is not just about the birth of Jesus. It is about the birth of a whole new order of peace, love and justice, which this child brings into the world. It is about the birth of the Kingdom of Heaven. How ready are we for that this Christmas?

 

The celebration of Jesus’s birth should not be an escape from the harsh realities of life, as is the case with so many people’s Christmases these days. Mary is not going to escape reality. Luke’s story shows her as part of a poor family, which is pushed around and has their lives disrupted by the decisions of the civic authorities. She gives birth in squalor, away from the support of her own family and the familiarity of her own home. She has to rely on the kindness of strangers.

 

It’s very different from the sanitised version that we are so often presented with in Nativity plays, where politics and poverty are very much in the background. Most people prefer it that way, and see the Christmas holiday as a chance to retreat into domestic life, and forget the problems of the world. But the Magnificat calls us to the very opposite of escapism. It calls us to active engagement with the powers of this world, in the name of a God who comes to undermine the established order. At Christmas we are challenged to be part of the new order of things which the Magnificat describes.

 

We are called to called to engage with the way power is exercised in our world – but to do so as servants, as Jesus  did, not as dictators. We are called to tackle the issues of poverty, but with generosity and through sharing, as Jesus did, rather than by assigning blame. We are challenged to do something about the causes of disease, homelessness, and prejudice; but we are called to do so as collaborators, as friends, as welcomers, as Jesus did, rather than judging and excluding those who suffer from them.

 

The story Luke tells us this morning, and the psalm which Mary sang, tell us of a new way of living within the old order; a way which is messy, which turns our normal lives and expectations upside down, but which is ultimately joyful and transforming. They call us to connect with the outcasts, the marginalised and the poor of the world and of our community, and to live Christmas in the same servanthood, humility, and simplicity as Mary did.

 

So, are you ready for Christmas? Am I?

 

No, I’m not! If I knew one of the local clergy was coming round, I’d have a tidy up. If I knew a member of the Royal Family was going to pop in for tea, I’d get some new crockery and make sure the front room was newly decorated. But how  can I be ready to welcome our heavenly Priest and King into my life, if he’s going to enlist me into his revolution, and turn my life upside down? I’m not a revolutionary, and I like my life the way it is.  How can I be ready to be a servant of the poor and the marginalised, to be open to those whom society disapproves of, to be someone who challenges those who exercise power in church and state in the name of Christ.

I may be ready for the comfortable, sentimental family Christmas, that concentrates on the baby and the animals and the Magi with their strange useless gifts, but I’m certainly not ready for that sort of Christmas.

 

Yet I know I have to try. That’s what Advent is about. Advent 2011, like every Advent before, is when God gives us an opportunity to become more Christlike, a fresh chance to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas and an invitation to make ourselves ready to welcome the Baby of Bethlehem as the bearer of the Kingdom of Heaven, our King, and the Saviour of the World. So, let us get ready together!

Let us pray:

God of all hope and joy,

open our hearts in welcome,

that your Son, Jesus Christ, at his coming

may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself.

Amen

(© New Zealand Prayer Book)

 

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3 Responses to “Are you Ready for Christmas?”

  1. Axelbushing is in error when he says “it could have been any woman on Earth and would not receive any Kudos from God for commenting on his Holy mother in that way. (1chron:16:22, “Touch not my annointed”) An Israellite was struck dead for accidentally touching the ark of the covenant. Mary was a “living Ark”, she carried within her, God.

    God pays particular attention to detail and doesn’t make mistakes. Mary was from a very devout line. As “Preacher Woman” states, “Mary responded with humility”. Yes and even more importantly, she responded with something else. Something that no-one, absolutely no-one that I can think of in the Bible (except Jesus) had done and that is, immediate, complete obedience with no questions, excuses or hesitation.
    Some say Mary was only mentioned a few times in the bible. I say, how many times have YOU been. What is YOUR fruit?

    I find Preacher Womans article wonderful. I may/may not be of the same denomination but it has been a blessing to me. I will ‘save’ this to read again.

    Re: PM’s remarks re the Archbishop’s comments, I agree too, that with us, God doesn’t wait till everything is perfect but thankfully He looks at the ‘finished picture’ when He is transformation work in us is complete.

    If Jesus had to wait ’till He had 12 ‘perfect’ disciples we would never had 12 apostles to preach the Good News – and then you and I would be destined for Hell.

    Re the rest of the Archbishops comments and having read the full article entitled “Have a Messy Christmas says the Archbishop of Canterbury” I regret I must correct the well-intentioned but error-filled comments of the Archbishop.

    The Archbishops observations are honest, logical, and appear to be obvious. His ‘chaos’ / ‘unplanned’ theory appears to be referencing the facts that either the Inn was noisy and full; or the time, was a busy time; people on the move; the tax season; the census, the town was busy; all other hotels/Inns were full; or the location / conditions / circumstances of the Holy birth, etc.

    However there is no confusion or mystery surrounding the birth of Christ. A mystery is only a mystery to those whom it has not yet been revealed. So in the Spirit of Christmas, here’s an explanation as to why the Birth of Christ (and that’s what Christmas is really about) was the opposite of “chaos” and most certainly far from being “unplanned”.

    Why was there no room at the INN? (No… it was not a “muddle”).

    The reason why there was no room at the Inn is not that it was ‘unplanned’ but that God did not want room at the Inn.

    God did not want His Holy Son born there amid drunkenness, sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idol worshippers, evil thoughts, etc.

    In short there was SIN in the INN
    and so it was not a fitting place for the birth of a Holy God. At that time, that place was the stable! It would have been nothing for the creator of all things seen and unseen to provide the grandest palace adorned with Gold and Silver but it was not with gold and silver we were to be saved nor would the Lord condone mammon and greed. The humble stable with the animals that bore no sin was the cleanest place for our Saviour to be born.

    However had our Living God wanted, I don’t think there would have been any major problem on His part to provide a room at any inn of His choosing, at any time regardless of how many people were or were not coming for any census or event at that time.

    It was God’s wisdom and predestination alone that His Son Jesus Christ be born on ground that was Holy and without sin in the camp. (No ‘chaos’, no ‘unplanned’ events, no ‘lack of peace’)

    We have an all powerful God where ALL things are possible and who knows ALL things past, present and future, and He had already made up His mind to have His Son born on ground made Holy by His Presence. God’s planning is ALWAYS perfect (including anointing and appointing Mary) and He is a God of order not disorder.

    A beautiful video with carols that reflects the true meaning of Christmas is at: http://www.fivefoldministryireland.com/#/christmas/4557967804

    Wishing the Archbishop and all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
    Harry

  2. Excellent exegesis on the nature of Mary!
    To me the miracle of the Incarnation is somewhat diminished by making Mary into a semi-divine vessel. It could have been any woman, anywhere on earth. When God comes to us as Man, He doesn’t give us time to clean off the kitchen table, and He doesn’t give us time to go to theology college to prepare. He just knocks on the door.

  3. and they brought unto Him gifts of disposable diapers, nordic fleece sleepwear and the complete Baby Einstein DVD set…

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