Pastor Michael Frye:
This is an unusual day!
The last time the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve fell on the same day was eleven years ago in 2006.
Many Roman Catholic priests have been inundated by parishioners who are asking the same question:
“Does this mean that I have to attend mass twice in one day, or can I satisfy both at the same time?
But that really isn’t the question we are concerned about.
We understand that Christmas begins at sundown on the evening before Christmas Day – which is why it is called Christmas Eve.
Therefore, we use the lessons this morning assigned to the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and the paraments remain blue until they turn white for the Festival celebration of Christmas this evening.
However, when we read the lessons, we find ourselves smack in the middle of the Christmas message, so we are celebrating a combination of both today.
An angel (and not just any angel), the archangel Gabriel comes to young Mary and invites her to miraculously become the mother of God’s Son, the long-promised Messiah.
Mary is young, but she is no novice when it comes to understanding the consequences of an unmarried pregnant woman being seen in public; it could be dangerous both for her and for her intended husband, Joseph.
No one, not Gabriel, and not God, could have blamed Mary for saying, “no way; count me out.”
Why did Mary agree to this very unusual request?
First of all, Gabriel opened his announcement with the words: “greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.”
These words meant something to Mary.
They meant that God was bestowing his Gift of Grace upon her because he saw in her the person who would bear, give birth to, raise, and love this child with all her heart.
Secondly, Mary knew this was no dream.
She knew that her visitor was indeed from God, and she felt a strong obligation to fulfilling God’s wish for her.
So, with very little hesitation, she said:
“Let it be with me according to your word.”
A graceful response from a woman who was placing her future, and her life into the hands of God.
Mary’s “yes” to God had to be her own decision.
Mary’s song to God after the angel had departed includes some of the most beautiful and poetic words in the New Testament.
Listen to them:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
“From this day all generations will call me bless’d: You, the Almighty, have done great things for me and holy is your name.”
With these words, Mary acknowledges that, although she deems herself to be unworthy, this event will change her life forever.
Kristin Johnston Largen writes:
“Mary recognizes that God’s choice of her says more about God than about herself; and in her response to God she praises God, not for recognizing her greatness but for making her great; not for rewarding her holiness but for making her blessed.”
God bestowed his grace upon Mary because she was receptive in faith and in spirit to participate in God’s great plan to save the world.
Mary went on to say:
You have mercy on those who fear you, from generation to generation.
You have shown strength with your arm and scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.
Mary had a difficult time comprehending how God’s plan could work, since she was a virgin.
Nevertheless, she knew that through the centuries God had always kept his promises with his chosen people.
He certainly would in this case, as well.
You have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of your servant Israel, to remember the promise of mercy, the promise made to our forebears, to Abraham and his children forever.
Here is a woman who has lived under the tyranny of the Roman empire; she has endured the scorn of a male-dominated society which has belittled the role of women and enforced rules which have kept her from fully realizing her potential; and she has carried within her the hope that God’s promise made to Abraham and her ancestors would one day be fulfilled.
So, Mary continues to sing her song of hope and freedom, not only for herself, but for all Israel and for all future generations, including you and me.
She sings it for the millions of women throughout the ages who have had to endure being relegated to secondary positions because of their gender; she sings it for those who are caught up in the throes of grief and despair; she sings it for the children in society who are vulnerable and dependent upon parents and other adults for food and shelter and a nurturing environment that allows them to live to their full potential.
Jay Adams writes that Mary sings her song for all the people of God who live on the margins of their communities (whether they are poor, or destitute, or homeless, or falsely imprisoned, or living in war-torn countries).
And, Mary sings her song to the powerful to remind them of their responsibility to care for those who are most at risk.
All of us should join in singing Mary’s song, for we all bear a responsibility in making sure that the Christ child to whom she gave birth is celebrated and remembered, not just at Christmas, but throughout the entire year.
We all bear a responsibility for fulfilling Christ’s mandate to love God and to love one another in thought, word, and deed.
Mary’s song is not just her song; it is ours, as well.
God has shown his favor to us that he first breathed into Adam and Eve when he called creation good.
He has done great things for us every day of our lives, although we don’t often recognize or acknowledge it.
God shows us his strength every day by separating us from those who would harm or destroy us and lifting up those who are often ignored or despised; and, God keeps the promises he has made to humankind since the beginning of creation – to restore the relationship with him that was broken.
Through sin by sending his Son to act on our behalf for the salvation of the world.
God calls us to not only remember these promises, but to live up to them, as well by taking up the mantle of Christ as his ambassadors, just as the shepherds did on that first night of Christmas.
That means opening our hearts, and our doors to all people so that they, too, can come to the Christ Child in the manger and know the hope, feel the peace, experience the grace, and inherit the salvation that God is showering upon us through the birth, death, and resurrection of our Messiah; our Lord; our Savior; Jesus, the son of Mary; Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Let us pray:
“O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!