December 6, 2015 // MAKING ROOM: SAYING YES // Sara Wolbrecht // Luke 1:26-38
Friends, we are in week two of Advent – Advent is the four Sunday’s leading up to Christmas, and it is a season marked by waiting – being mindful that there are so many things we wait for – and how hard that can be. And yet our waiting, as people of Advent, is not something passive – like when playing baseball you don’t stand there in the field waiting for the ball to come to you. But your posture is one of expectancy – you’re on your toes, glove is out, knees bent, you’re ready to jump, dive, run to get that ball. And so it is for us in Advent – getting ready takes work. And the posture we’re trying to find is one where we are Making Room. And HOW we are doing that is through a number of things – including weekly Advent Yoga, and daily practices that center on our theme for each week. And yes, these Sundays together, we light candles, and we read through Luke chapter 1, making room for Jesus’ birth.
Last week, Advent 1, we read about Zechariah – who, as he was working, doing his job as a priest in the temple, there, he was met by Gabriel, an angel from God. And we named how God shows up in this world and our lives in the everyday working, grocery shopping, hiking, having coffee moments of our lives, too. And how that means we can notice the extraordinary in the ordinary – we can choose to make room for wonder. And we’ve been practicing wonder this week through our daily practices.
To continue practicing this, I want us to take a moment and reflect on moments of wonder we’ve experienced this last week, whether you were doing our daily practices or not – what is a moment of wonder from this week? And a second question, to get us ready for where we’re headed today, too. So, if you could find one or two others around you – preferably someone you did not come with. Introduce yourself and briefly, succinctly, answer these two questions:
What is a moment of wonder you had this week? (or two)
What are some crazy things you’ve done? In your life. (Risky, stupid, exciting, outside the box, outside your comfort level).
Crazy times for me: Was in Italy by myself for five days when I was 22 years old (with no cell phone and hardly any internet). I’ve eaten snails. I’ve cliff jumped into Lake Chelan.
So I wonder: why do we say yes to doing crazy things? I think we say yes for many different reasons – as varied as the kinds of crazy things we do. But there is something to saying yes to crazy things that is connected to our lives with God. And today, we get to look at that connection. Between God and the crazy things.
There is one woman in all of history who is possibly the craziest woman of all time. The biggest risk-taker ever. She didn’t cliff jump (that I know of). She didn’t eat spiders or gamble. But she did the crazy thing of saying yes to God.
Mary, the craziest. What could be crazier than saying yes to an angel who tells you that though you are fourteen years old, unwed, unwealthy, unknown, that YOU will soon be pregnant and then give birth to the Son of God. Crazy.
So let’s read of Mary, opening up to Luke chapter one, right where we left off last week – with Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin) is newly and miraculously pregnant in her old age, her husband Zechariah silenced by Gabriel until their son, John the Baptist is born – again, moral of the story, always believe the angel. We continue reading Luke chapter one, as the stage continues to be set – making room for Jesus’ birth.
Many of us have heard these words and seen this story so many times that it feels normal, familiar, domesticated, even. But I invite us to try and hear them as new words, and to pay attention to what we notice in a fresh way.
Luke 1:26-38In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
So if we can set aside how familiar this story is, then we can honestly look at each other and say: She’s crazy, right? And yet. Mary is not the only one saying yes to crazy things in the Bible, right? We see it woven throughout the stories of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. The crazy yeses that people say to God. Abraham and Sarah are one of my favorite examples of this. In Genesis 12, the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” In a culture where no one leaves their families, their land, God says: Go. And he doesn’t even tell them where they are going. Go. Just keep walking and I’ll let you know when you get there. I’m sorry? How do I pack for that? What about my plans to do stuff here? And Abraham and Sarah went. Mary, too. And the crazy prophets, the things the disciples did – crazy stuff.
And then for us, who sit here surrounded by twinkly lights together in 2015, could easily look at this, and say: well, that was for those people at that time, doing important biblical stuff, and really God today, doesn’t ask us to do crazy stuff like that. That’s not for us. …I think we feel that way particularly with Mary, with the yes she says to God about becoming the mother of Jesus. We picture her like this... Mary has been painted and drawn and imagined more than any other woman in all of history – we feel like she is pretty exceptional. And don’t get me wrong – she is. She is the mother of Jesus, after all.
And yet, also, as much as she is on this amazing pedestal of holiness, she is also just a girl who said yes to God. Here’s what I want us to notice in this – it begins in what the angel says about Mary and what God has given her: The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…” Luke 1:30-31. For you have found favor with God. Favor. What does that mean? Let’s read on.
And we love Mary’s response! Mary says: “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Good question, Mary – we’re right there with you. Even without the scientific insight we have today in how pregnancy happens – they knew where babies came from – so yes, Mary is confused. And she is asking for clarification. Which I like to note that Mary’s question is different than what Zechariah asked for last week – both Z and Mary came back at Gabriel with questions – but Zechariah’s was about having proof – for Mary, she just can’t see how this is possible. How can this be? And then Gabriel tells her what it means that she has God’s favor…It means she does not face this alone. The angel goes on to say: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Luke 1:35
Mary, God says, we will do this together. This is what happens when God finds favor and gives favor – Mary is given what she needs to work together with God to do the crazy thing. And Gabriel knows that this is as crazy as it sounds and so he speaks the words that Mary – and we – need to hear: for nothing will be impossible with God.
And like Abraham and Sarah, like so many throughout the Bible and throughout time, Mary says yes to the crazy things of God. This is not just something for the biblical all-star team to have done – but saying yes to the crazy movement of God in us and in the world, is central to who we are invited to be today. To be people who say yes. Like Mary we say yes to the wild possibilities of God.
And we CAN say yes – because like Mary, when God invites us into something crazy, God gives us the grace and the favor to do the crazy things.
But here’s the thing about it. It is often so hard to recognize when God is giving us that favor. How do you know when it is God? How do you know that this crazy thing is from God – and not that one? How do we know when God is giving us that grace and favor – and so we should dive in? Anytime we’re making a decision about our lives – the partner we’re with, what school to attend, what job to shoot for, what major, where to live, whether to move, what car to buy – in those times especially how do we know which thing God is giving us favor to do? How do we know when it is a crazy God thing, and not just crazy?
Well, there is no sure-fire, one sentence answer to that. Though there is so much we could say about how we hear God and listen for God in our lives – we’ve talked about some of it, and there will other times to dive into that. But today, we stick to our Advent focus of what it means to make room. And today, following Mary’s beautiful example of what it means to say yes to the wild possibilities of God – we look at how we make room for that – and it begins, actually, by saying no.
Before we can say yes to the wild possibilities of God, we have to first say no. No to other stuff. We have to actually make room in our lives so the yeses to God can happen.
Like for Zechariah and Mary – they were people who were faithfully devoted to God. Even though they were both terrified when an angel shows up with them – they could still see this messenger from God for what he was. And they could hear with an open heart, this invitation God was extending to them. They could hear that they had grace and favor – even as it was crazy.
I find their example so compelling and so challenging. Because I know for me, that I miss that angel showing up in my life because I am just too busy, too tired to pay attention and see what God is doing right in front of me. I miss it. Are you like me?
You see for us, we obviously live in such a different time and place then Mary and Zechariah – we are swimming every moment in a culture that demands that we work hard, prove ourselves, earn our worth and approval. And a culture that fills our time with so many gooood distractions.
We started last week with wonder – to plant ourselves firmly in that practice of making room for God to show up in the everyday details of our lives. To catch our breath in the everyday stuff. Believing THAT can happen, looking for it. Because: wonder is the spark where the Holy Spirit gets started. Wonder is how God gets our attention – at least one of the ways. And from that place of wonder we hear God say: Do not be afraid, for God’s favor is on you – now let’s have some fun…
And that wonder, that spark, that encounter we have with God needs oxygen, it needs room to grow and expand, and become those fiery crazy opportunities to step into what God is doing. Without room in our lives, those moments of God come and go, and we miss hearing the message that comes with it. We miss the invitation, the possibility, the fun that God is up to. And it’s not that every moment of wonder becomes a life-changing encounter where an angel shows up… But it is one way it happens, and I think it is happening way more often than we realize.
This week then, as people of Advent who watch and wait and are busy with preparations, we take wonder even farther. We make room for that wonder to grow – and we do it by saying no. Looking at our lives – the rhythm of our day, our week, the stuff we have, the people we’re loyal to, the amount of work we do, the amount of play we do, our times of rest and quiet and exercise – all of it. And this week, we’ll ask, “Where is God inviting me to say no? To stop something? To make room in my day or my spirit? … Where is God inviting me to say no? ”
Honestly I think step one for many of us – myself included – is: put down our phone. Say no to always having your phone. Don’t pick it up when you’re at a stoplight – but actually pay attention to the place where you are. Pray for the people you see. Don’t plug it in on your nightstand – but actually read or write or pray as the first or last thing you do each day. When you’re home – keep your phone in a basket by the door so you don’t give in to the compulsion to be scrolling through things. I know for me – those would be huge noes that would make more room in my life.
And maybe for you it is not your phone, but it is the tv, your computer, or your over commitment to something else. What are your distractions? What is getting in the way? What can you say no to, so that you can then say yes?
As our final thought, I want to frame all of this with a quote from the poet Mary Oliver, who asks of us:
There is just one life we get to live – this one. And yes, it is wild – especially when we say yes to God. And yes, it is a precious life, for it is finite, we are finite. And the radical invitation of God and Advent and lived out in Mary’s story – is the invitation to work with God to shape what our life looks like – how we spend our lives, this wild and precious gift we’ve received from God. And as people of Advent, as people who follow the path of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the invitation is for us to find ways to say yes, again and again to God – and those yeses begin in our courageous intention to first say no. And to say it again and again, so we can say yes to life.
The band is coming back up so that we can sing into this reality of yeses and noes with God. And as we sing I invite you to hold the questions we always hold – to ask what is God saying to me? And what am I going to do about it? After we sing, we will pray for our world, for ourselves, for our yeses and noes. But for now, we make room to listen and sing.