With rejoicing, won’t you bow your heads in a word to prayer with me.
It is now come grateful on this night, asking that you would hold us, keep us and unite us. But most of all, fill us for those places that you are preparing to send us. This we ask in your wonderful name. Amen.
Certainly, as we gather on this evening, we’re moving deeper into this season and indeed to this week, drawing ever closer to the day of Christmas. We cannot but take note already on this evening, of the music that has helped to set the atmosphere, the voices, the instruments, the carefully fashioned lyrics, have ushered those of us who have been listening into what I often describe as that mysterious spiritual intersection, where our imaginations, reflections, reasoning and visioning arrive at the same place at the same time. Often seeing who will take the lead, how we will navigate our way. As I have had the opportunity to reflect upon all the readings that would be shared within this service, there were so many themes that I wanted to take hold of.
And as I thought and wrestled on this evening, we recognize this night as a high moment. And for others, they might describe it as a foundational moment, within the Christian faith and within the church, depending upon which direction you decide to enter. But no matter whether you enter from the foundation or come down from the mountain, we meet each other, acknowledging the significance, the importance and the impact of our savior’s birth. On this night, we have been moving from selection to selection, passage to passage, from one writer to the next. The words that have been spoken, the words that have been written and the words that have been read, all of them have a way of moving us, stirring us as we recognize and sense, not just the coming of a special date on the calendar, but the presence of the Divine that is in this place. In preparing for this moment it was just a few brief words found in Luke’s gospel that I had to wrestle with in trying to pull it all together.
What a year we have been through. And what would I say in a moment like this? What would I grab that might help us with what we’ve been dealing with. With what we are dealing with and what we will deal with. While I focused in on just a few brief words found in Luke’s gospel, the truth is they were ringing so loudly that I confess they shook me, and I’ve read ’em before. They shook me while at the same time, excited me. I share them tonight as we sit in this season. I share them tonight as we sit in this sacred space. I share them tonight, as we gather together, looking forward to the days to come. Hear them once again, as we look out into the world that we are facing and look within and take hold of the faith that we are embracing. The angel met that young girl called Mary and said something to her that I pray we hear tonight. “The Lord is with you”.
The words spoken to a young woman were heard on that day, and I believe they are in need of hearing on this night. A few brief words that are part of a larger narrative in Luke identified as the Annunciation, which is the announcement by the angel Gabriel, to the Virgin Mary, that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. The words that were spoken not only spoke about the promise that would be fulfilled, but they addressed a present need in the life of this young girl. They were words, better yet they are words that address one of our most crucial concerns. The words are spoken by the angel Gabriel, who showed up unexpectedly, who showed up suddenly, who showed up without warning and without anticipation. Without prior notification, God dispatched the angel Gabriel with good news and breaks in on the course of human events.
God breaks in and shows up in a place and at a time when the political, the economic and the social factors were all so fluidly shifting and moving that tension filled the atmosphere. Tension that had to be navigated by everyone on a day to day basis. Into this moment, the angel sent by God breaks in and speaks with this young woman who is not a member of any Royal class, but counted among the marginalized. And sometimes the ostracized. The angel shows up and speaks to the most unexpected one. God chooses and speaks to her while at same time is still speaking to us in order that we might have a sense of wonder, like she had. And at the same time, a sense of assurance that she received. And all that is going on in the world at this moment, I find myself, admittedly, oftentimes in need of assurance. You may not admit it, and you may not confess to the person around you or near you, but I know I’ve got company in this place that throughout the recent days, you’ve needed some assurance.
You may not admit it out loud, but we have all experienced and are experiencing continued concerns, extreme divisions, uncertainty within our political, economic and social order that has become places of disorder. I have found myself looking for God, listening for God, waiting on God and wondering out loud, “Where are you, God?” You don’t have to admit it, but I know I’m not by myself, that somebody’s been looking for the Lord to show up in the middle of all of this that is going on outside of us. And if we’re honest at the same time inside of us.
The words spoken to Mary as Gabriel shows up, it is not in a place as elaborate as this space. Gabriel shows up in a space, not in a room filled with thrones or with fine adorning and decorations. The angel shows up in what might be a forgotten section of the city, a town in Galilee called Nazareth. A town that we can conclude was not always spoken about in complimentary fashion because we would hear later someone say, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The setting of this scene was an important town nestled in the Hills of Galilee, overlooking a fertile and a cultivated densely populated plain. This angelic visit was not in the sanctuary of a great temple, but in a quiet secluded part of a humble home. And he did not show up to a priest, appareled in traditional investments. But what it tells me is that there is good news, no matter where you may reside. It is in this moment where God’s angel breaks in and delivers more than beautiful words, more than poetic platitudes, but a truth that we have the privilege of embracing today and a truth that I long to hear every day. They are in the beginning of the greeting. And here we are listening in on the angel, as he speaks to Mary, the words that are spoken in a moment and are spoken at a time where some may have been teetering on the edge of giving up, where some may have been wrestling with family circumstances, where some were wondering what the future would hold for individuals and community. In that moment, Gabriel speaks and says to Mary, “The Lord is with you”. I don’t know about you, but that’s the news I needed to hear. Isn’t that what so many of us long to hear? Isn’t that the good news that lifts us empowers us, strengthens us, as we have to face and continue to face the confusing moments and chaotic circumstances? The Lord is with you.
Isn’t this good news that we need to hear when reading about the suffering all around us, the turmoil that tries to overwhelm us, and the challenges that confront us. The Lord is with you. There are so many things that I wanted to tell you even further than that, but when you leave here tonight, what I want to you recognize and what we need to hold onto is that the Lord is with you. These are words spoken in a season that has been identified as the Pax Romana, a season of total peace. But this piece is noted and emphasized by one particular author who says that here this peace neglected to note that the fruits of the peace that were so ceremoniously celebrated, fell almost exclusively to the rich.
What about those who are in need? What about those who are in struggle? What about those who back are against the wall? They need some good news just as well. And I came by to tell you this morning, the Lord is with you. These words that were spoken are both timeless and timely. As they move us deeper into these days. In this commercialized world in which we live, many miss the gospel good news, because they are motivated by the artificial lights. They are inspired by the decorated trees and overpriced gifts that some will purchase.
When the good news of our savior’s birth has given us hope, if we will only take hold of it. The good news of our savior’s birth has lifted our faith, if we would just embrace it. The good news of our savior’s birth has extended us love, if we would just receive it. These gifts, faith, hope, and love are before us. And we are all invited to open it. Think for a moment, God with us. Hold it for just a moment, God with us. Embrace it for just a moment. God with us. This notion, this understanding, God with us, would turn the world upside down. The Lord is with you.
Our Lord Jesus would come into the world and the marking of time would never be the same. One side would step and become known as BCE. While the other side would look back at it and call itself, CE. Our Lord Jesus would come into the world and it is said that slavery would become uncomfortable. Our Lord Jesus would come into the world and the blind would see, the lame would walk. The captives would be set free. A great faith was witnessed by Mary in the midst of this announcement. She had not yet seen, but she believed and blessed are those who have not seen, but yet they believed. This evening and every evening, like Mary, we should be a witness of great faith that gives praise to a truth that says, the Lord is with us.
There is someone who is here this evening that I want to tell you, the Lord is with you. There is someone watching us online and I came by to tell you, that the Lord is with you. There is someone feeling alone and lost. I’ve got one message for you. The Lord is with you. They can’t come to agreement sometimes on Capitol hill, but the Lord is with you. I came by to tell you tonight, there’s a mother who’s in need tonight. And the Lord is with you. There’s a father who is in need tonight. And the Lord is with you. There’s a son in need tonight. And the Lord is with you. There’s a daughter in need tonight and the Lord is with you. There’s someone laying on a hospital bed, but the Lord is with you. There’s someone wondering where their next meal is coming from, but the Lord is with you. There’s someone who’s wondering if I’ll make it through the night and you need to hear the words that the Lord is with you. Someone sitting in this place ought to be able to say, I’ve come from a mighty long way because the Lord is with you. When I look back over my life and I start to think things over, I can say I’m truly blessed because the Lord is with me.
I hope tonight that we’re able to stand in God’s love because the Lord is with us. I tell you, he’s given us a name and he gave Mary a name where there’s power in that name. I’m getting ready to go home. But they often said, and I was raised in a gospel situation where it says, I don’t want a religion I can’t feel sometime. Well, I’m starting to feel something right now on a night like tonight where it says the Lord is with me. I remind you today. He’s giving us a name that is above every name, a name that I heard my mother call, a name that I heard my father call. And I know I got company in here that doesn’t want to leave here without calling that name. In that name, there’s power in that name. Have I got company for just a moment?
Somebody said, what’s his name? His name is Jesus, Mary’s baby. Jesus, lily of the valley. Jesus bright and morning star. Jesus, my savior. Jesus, my deliverer. Jesus, my comforter. Jesus, bridge over troubled water. Jesus, my leading stick. Jesus, my all in all. Have I got company tonight that says there is a name I love to hear? I love to sing its word. It sounds like music in my ear. The sweetest name on earth. Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus. Oh, how I love Jesus. Because he first loved me. I came by to tell you one thing the Lord is with you.