December 24, 2023 “Advent 4: Let It Be”
Let It Be.
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2023
St. John’s, Linden Hills, Minneapolis
[image: Coptic Annunciation] Mother Mary tells the messenger, “let it be.” A very old Christian legend–not in the Bible–says that God had sent Gabriel to many women over the years, asking their help, so God could see what it would be like to actually BE a human being.
[Jack Miles cover] My favorite New Testament scholar, Jack Miles, calls the incarnation of Christ “a crisis in the life of God.”
[Charleston] Another great writer, Steven Charleston, says that when Mary said yes to God’s impossible offer, God began what Native Americans call a Vision Quest.
What kind of vision could God need? Maybe to see, at last, why we humans keep failing to be strong, loving, and wise. Weren’t we made in the image of God? On the human side of the incarnation is Mary, confident that she could bear a mysterious divine child, and deal with whatever was coming.
[Google map] Some of our own adventures are planned, like vacations or Christmas dinners. Some just happen to us, like a diagnosis or a new person taking over the cubicle next to us at work.
[Hildegard circles] From God’s side, the coming of Christ was planned, maybe for quite a while. God and Gabriel were maybe just looking for the right woman. From Mary’s side, what exactly qualified her for mothering a miracle-worker, we do not know. It is no wonder that more than half of Christians worship her only slightly less than they worship God.
[David] In our first story, we have David, king of the whole of what we now call Israel and Palestine. A fighter, a musician, and the Chosen One of his time. God loved him and he loved God. He wanted to build God a temple. God said, no thanks, my little portable shrine is just fine, but I am going to build you a House. The House of David will be a great dynasty. And as it turned out, the dynasty lasted 400 years, but the borders shrank a lot in just 65 years. It would be 1948 or 1967 before an independent Israel would boast such territorial control.
[Blank] “Let it be,” said mother Mary, speaking words of wisdom. Paul McCartney got the lyrics from his own mother, in a dream. She had died when he was fourteen. Sir Paul says other people can imagine any wise mother, so of course a lot of us do.
[Prayer] The Serenity Prayer is based on our predicament.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
[Blank] Grant me serenity, courage, and wisdom. I know they are all inside me, in some place where you can activate them. You are the one, says the first step, talking to yourself and talking to God. Your power is higher than all my selfish powers. All my reasons, my bad habits, my fears. You live right inside of me, and I’m praying to you. You’re not me, but when I am the real me, I’m who you intended.
That voice that belittles me, that notices every time I fail? That’s not you, God. That voice that says I shouldn’t bother? That’s not you. That voice that writes people off, or says that nothing really matters?
[Serenity] Those voices are not serenity, courage, or wisdom. The true voice of your true self is never negative. It’s encouraging, forgiving, and has a gentle sense of humor. Not a cutting, sarcastic humor, but a voice that laughs along with you when you mess up because now you’ve got a chance to learn something from it.
[Blank] Elijah had one of the loudest voices in the Bible. He got taken to God in a chariot of fire driving him right past death into immortality. Elijah’s most memorable description of God’s voice was:
[Still, small voice] A Still. Small. Voice.
Which is why we need quiet, even in community. Not lonely quiet, but friendly, even smiling quiet. Mary wasn’t scurrying around, flustered when Gabriel found her. Mary’s mind was open, her body still. Let it be, she said, a lustrous dark yin to God’s bright angelic yang.
[Blank] She was Serenity, knowing the future would be in God’s hands as well as hers. She was Courage, she knew she was strong enough with God’s help, so she said let it be. She was Wisdom, knowing the difference between things she could not change and those she could.
She could change that she wasn’t pregnant. And wasn’t supposed to be.
She couldn’t change what her parents were going to say.
She couldn’t change whether there would be a wedding or not.
Couldn’t change whether Joseph would break off the engagement or go ahead and be a–what?– a stepfather to the mystery child.
She needed courage to say yes, and then tell everybody, and to withstand the blowback.
She needed serenity to let people have their shock, anger, fear, whatever. And then to calmly show people that she meant to have this baby. She needed wisdom to toggle back and forth in the next nine months between serenity and courage.
[Bethlehem] Tonight, at 4pm and 10 pm, in real life and on vimeo, the great yearlong story will continue, nine months later. Mary of Nazareth will become Mother Mary and Gabriel will send his buddies to hurry some shepherds into town. Bethlehem. David’s hometown. Joseph’s hometown.
[Separation wall] Bethlehem, on what’s now the occupied west bank, surrounded with ugly concrete walls to keep Israelis and non-Israelis apart.
[Rubble creche] Here is the 2023 crèche in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, with the baby swaddled in keffiyeh cloth and the rubble suggesting where we might look for the image of God in our time.
[Blank] Nine miles away from Bethlehem stands Jerusalem, David’s capital, where once he offered to build God a really big house. A temple. And God said, no, I’m fine.
[Gabriel and Mary again] A thousand years later, Gabriel found Mary, and she became God’s home. Her body. Her milk. Her doing the laundry and taking him to school and making meals and showing him how to love everyone as God loves him.
[Blank] God had tried being Yahweh, the warrior, Adonai the LORD, Ha Shem the holy name, Shekinah, the abiding presence. Nothing had yet worked in making the chosen people really live like they were the images of God. Then, instead of going high, God went low. Small. Invisible. A zygote. An embryo. A fetus. A helpless newborn. A little kid in an occupied corner of an empire as brilliant and everlasting as any. A boy who amazed his teachers. A big brother. A carpenter. And then a lot more.
[Iraqi woman] Mary pondered all these things in her heart. Did she even have to speak aloud? I am at your service, she said. Let it be.
I don’t think she even used a whisper.
Because she knew that God wasn’t just Up There, but In Here.
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
When the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 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, and you will name him Jesus. 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 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.
A thousand years before Mary’s baby was born, David’s wars of conquest were over, and he felt it safe to move the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital city, which he’d recently captured. The ark was a wooden box, carried only by the most trustworthy men. They handled it with sturdy poles, like a stretcher. People treated it with great caution and reverence, because The Lord of Heaven’s Armies dwelled in it. They put it on a brand-new ceremonial cart. Nine miles they carried it, into Jerusalem, where David had ordered a tent pitched. They made sacrifices and peace-offerings there. And there was peace, for a time.
Neighboring kings sent gifts to honor David. David, in turn, always gave God credit. The most famous gift was lumber sawn from Cedars of Lebanon, with which David’s craftsmen built him a palace.
The most famous prophet at the time was Nathan, who always seemed to know the mind of God, and David sent for him, pointing out that he owed The LORD everything, and was embarrassed to have a much nicer dwelling than the LORD. Nathan agreed. But that night, God sent him a dream.
Tell my servant, little David, that just because he gets a house, it’s not his job to decide when I get a new one. But it’s a nice gesture. Tell my servant, little king David that I am going to build a house for him: the House of David is going to be a permanent dynasty. I’ll never take my steadfast love from David.
When David got the news to cancel the order for more cedar, he went straight back to the tent where the little Ark stood. He prayed one thankful prayer after another: God, we’re really not worthy, but once again you’ve helped us. And I do not presume to be worthy of beginning a dynasty. So of course I will accept your blessing.
Immediately he went after the Philistines and vanquished them in particularly cruel ways. His capital city might be called Yeru-Shalem, the holy peace, but David was no prince of peace. His dynasty lasted 400 years. His kingdom split and shrank after 65 years