Home for Christmas: Annunciations
December 19, 2021 Luke 1:46b-55 Home for Christmas: Annunciations
Annunciation is normally used with the definite article: The Annunciation. The Annunciation refers to the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would have a son, and call him Jesus. But when we read Luke’s gospel no sooner has Gabriel offered this grand announcement to Mary than Mary turns around and offers her own, a second annunciation. Laura shared it with us just now, and we know it as the Magnificat, or Mary’s song.
What we see here is that one annunciation about the meeting between a longing world and a loving God calls for another. Gabriel to Mary, Mary to . . . the world. Who will be next? Who’s going to be so taken with the news of a divine love that comes to hearten a weary world—maybe a weary us—so taken by that angel’s rumor that we cannot help but whisper it ourselves?
John Shea writes about Sharon, a five year old telling the Christmas story in her family’s living room. She drew to a close with “Then the baby was born,” And then a question: “And do you know who the baby was?” Her eyes brightened and widened even more, and she whispered, “The baby was God.” And with that she leapt into the air, twirled around and dove into the sofa, where she covered her head with throw pillows.
Not every annunciation will sweep us off our feet in such a way. Some are smaller, quieter, don’t involve a single word. It was Christmas Eve at a church I served years ago, and eleven year old Austin, who was our acolyte, was supposed to light his candle from the Christ candle as we began singing Silent Night, then share the light with me and then the congregation.
Only the flame on that particular Christ candle was hidden beneath the candle’s rim; it wasn’t visible to the eye. Well it was, but it wasn’t, if you know what I mean, like so many things related to faith.
Austin approached the Christ candle with his own small candle, looked up, and then I watched as he paused for just the slightest moment of uncertainty. I knew what he was thinking: I don’t see a flame.
Then he proceeded to lift his candle to what he could only hope was a flame down in there that would light the wick of the candle he held. When he drew his candle back up and it did in fact hold a flame, it lit up a young boy’s face that was a blend of surprise and relief, confidence and wonder.
I’ve never forgotten it. How would you? I don’t know if in the years since Austin has drawn upon that moment for navigating his way through life. But I have. What was it exactly? Maybe it was his decision to trust without knowing for sure. Faith itself is an annunciation of sorts, isn’t it? Especially when believing is a tentative or difficult practice—when discouragements and vicissitudes challenge our assurance of a God who is really mending and moving and renewing the world, humbling the powerful, raising up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things. And then somehow, against the odds, by Christmas there’s a flame on the tip of faith’s candle. I don’t know just what it was, but my faith grew that night, and in some small way has helped me do what is mine to do ever since, helped me with my annunciations.
That’s what happens. One annunciation, whether big or small, loud or silent, intended or otherwise, begets another. I know a Christmas annunciation was really more like a word of wisdom. It was on this very day, December 19th, in the year 1947, on the floor of the U.S. Senate chambers. that Rev. Peter Marshall, the Senate chaplain at the time, was asked to pray to begin the what was the Senate’s final work day before the Christmas recess.
Have you noticed how preachers can sometimes preach when they pray? At least on a good day they do. Preach when they pray, and pray when they preach. He led them in prayer that day, and we have a summary of what he said/preached/prayed; words to this effect: We often use the phrase “spending Christmas”—I’m spending Christmas here, or there; this year I’ll spend Christmas doing this or that. As if Christmas were a bag of tokens to be emptied and then set aside. This year, the chaplain said, let’s think not of “spending Christmas,” but rather of “keeping Christmas.” Not a bag of tokens, but a season we cherish, and hold; a keepsake, a treasure of priceless value. If we keep Christmas in such a way, then surely Christmas will keep us, too, keep us in hope for the year that lies ahead.
Beloved in Christ, I’m telling you, annunciations are everywhere. Gabriel. Mary. Sharon. Austin. Rev. Marshall. Who’s next? Who’s next with the good news of a world made whole by a love made real in Jesus Christ? Good news spoken not with flourish, necessarily, but with faithfulness. A special invitation, a special gift, a special offering. A special labor of love. Offered to the church, or a neighbor. A child at Methodist Children’s Home. A refugee family you’ve found a way to welcome with some modest gesture.
I have this theory—I don’t know if you agree—that at Christmas the door of every heart is open just a tiny bit more than at any other time of the year. Every heart—the dreamer’s heart, the cynic’s heart; the encouraged heart, the discouraged heart; the broken heart, the mending heart. The heart of faith; the heart seeking faith. Every heart is open just a tiny bit more at Christmas.
To love, to forgive, to advocate, to give, to wonder, to worship, to hope—each of these in its own way an annunciation about the love of God gracing a longing world. We never know, do we, when what we say, or ask, or do, or give, or sing, or hope; believe or seek to believe will turn out to be not only an annunciation; the annunciation of our lives.