24 December 2023

The Annunciation and the Magnificat are at the heart of this week’s worship. Mary’s experience of becoming the mother of the Coming One is revealed to be not just about her giving birth to a child, but about her participating in bringing a whole new world to birth. The light of God’s Reign radiates through the stories associated with Advent 4, most especially the Magnificat which expresses the justice and peace that Mary’s child will bring. And so, this week, as we finish our time of preparation, we discover that we’re not just waiting for a person – however divine he may be. We’re waiting for a radically new way of being that embraces not just Jesus, or those involved in his birth, but the entire cosmos!

May we find that our preparation for the Coming One is completed, and that our work is done well as we worship this week.

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16: God, through the prophet Nathan, declares God’s promise to David that he will establish his kingdom forever, will give him peace from his enemies, and will establish a nation for God’s people.

Luke 1:47-55: Mary’s Magnificat, celebrating God’s grace and justice, and the way God has fulfilled God’s promise to the ancestors of God’s people, raising up the lowly, and bringing down the powerful.
OR Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26: A celebration of God’s choosing of David, and strengthening him to serve God as king.

Romans 16:25-27: Paul celebrates the God who has fulfilled prophecy and has made known the Good News about Jesus so that Gentiles might believe.

Luke 1:26-38: The angel Gabriel visits Mary and declares that she will give birth to God’s son. He also tells her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and Mary accepts her calling.

The last Sunday in Advent offers a creative juxtaposition of images. In the Old Testament God’s promise to David is spoken through Nathan the prophet. It’s a fascinating exchange in which David seeks to align God with his own agenda by building God a house. But, in reply God refuses, offering instead to build for David a dynasty (a house). As Psalm 89 reveals, God does not need David’s wealth or protection and God will not be domesticated to David’s agenda. Rather it is David who is to be strengthened by God and who is to align with God’s purpose. Yet, centuries later when this promise is fulfilled in Christ, the way it happens is in stark contrast to the royal wealth and grandeur of David. In fact, the circumstances and songs of Christ’s incarnation reveal the Baby to be One who undermines imperial power, wealth and domination in all its forms. In Mary’s Magnificat the subversive nature of God’s Reign in Christ is celebrated, and in Paul’s closing words to the Romans, the radically inclusive nature of this Reign is celebrated. And so, as we remember again the announcement of Christ’s incarnation, let’s remember that it’s not just the birth of a Child that is important here, but the birth of a whole new order of love and justice which this Child brings into our world.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: The Christmas story can often be viewed as a cute, irrelevant story which, in order for us to celebrate it, requires us to step out of the tough realities of our world. In this sense it may be simply a form of spiritual escapism. However, when we read the Lectionary passages for this week, what we see is the very opposite of escapism. It is, in fact, a call to radical, subversive and transformative engagement. But the strategies of this engagement are completely different from the power, wealth, domination and “divide-and-conquer” methods we are so used to in human affairs, and by which we are so easily seduced. The inspiration and challenge of the Christmas story is that God’s new order is among us. We are no longer waiting for God’s Reign to arrive. We can participate in it now if are willing to receive the courage and the imagination and the faith. And so, as we engage with the issues of power in our world, we are invited on a journey downward to become servants and collaborators, rather than tyrants and dominators. As we engage the issues of need and poverty, we are encouraged to become givers and sharers, rather than hoarders and accumulators. As we wrestle with disease, loneliness and homelessness, we are invited to become friends and welcomers, rather than  judges and excluders. As we face the impact of our consumption on our planet, we are invited to become mindful protectors and to live lightly on the earth, rather than careless consumers of resources. Ultimately, like those we encounter in this story, we discover that there is a whole different way of living within the old order of our world, and that, no matter what our station or position may be, we can share the benefits of this new order by simply living it visibly among our neighbours.

LOCAL APPLICATION: In our homes, churches and communities, we may be tempted to celebrate Christmas as a sentimental holiday which takes us out of “the world” for a time, and gives us a distraction from the pain and difficulties facing us all at the moment. But to do so is to miss a profound opportunity. When we begin to realise that Christmas is not just about the Baby, but about the new order, the new way of being, that the Baby inaugurated, we are open to experience and live this new life now. When we recognise that God’s Reign cannot be understood with the framework of our power structures, we begin to open ourselves to a new reality, and a new experience of God. The Christmas story invites us into more than just an individualised spirituality or a judgemental rejection of materialism. Rather it calls us into a radical connectedness with others – especially the least and marginalised. It calls us into a radical generosity and care for one another. It calls us into a radical simplicity and servanthood. Which means that, even as we share gifts, we are called to share ourselves, and to move beyond simply giving “things” to taking the time to understand one another and give each other the gifts of love, support, protection, acceptance and challenge. The big question is how our Christmas celebrations can manifest the new order of God’s Reign, and how they can welcome and touch others with their life-giving reality.

O Come Emmanuel
Joy To The World

Hymn Suggestions:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Joy To The World
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
What Child Is This?
Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground)
My Soul Magnifies The Lord
What Kind Of Throne
Praise The God Of Grace And Glory

A Liturgy for Advent and Christmas

Video Suggestions:
The Annunciation – Children’s