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21st December 2014 - Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Advent 4
2 Sam 7. 1-11, 16
Luke 1.26-38 C

So here we are - Sunday before Christmas - Advent 4.

Today we have lit 4 candles on the Advent wreath - just the central one to go now!
And how are all your preparations at home?
Cards written and posted?
Parcels all packed up?
Presents chosen?
Turkey bought or ordered?
Maybe not the sprouts done yet - but I bet they are on someone's list!

Christmas all boxed off, every eventuality planned for - all sorted …

Only Christmas isn't for US to sort - not really.

Christmas isn't - at its heart - about what WE do - it is about what God has done - What God does for us at Christmas - and perhaps that is the mistake we too easily make. It is a very human failing - wanting to think that we have everything under control. That it all depends on us and the response we make.

David thought much the same. He was grateful to God for his military success and wanted to show his appreciation. At last, after all the uncertainty and the danger - after months and years of living rough, living off the land, always on the move - never staying anywhere more than a few nights… after all that David could finally begin to relax and enjoy being the King of Israel. The shepherd boy from the hills finally had a settled home - one befitting a King. No more tents and caves - but a capital city. A house represents safety, security - the fulfilment of a deep need for David (and probably for most of us too). And so he assumes that God would like a home too.

David's desire to honour God is genuine, and he has thought carefully and lovingly about the best way to do it. But he has still got it wrong. God is not angry - more amused with David, but it makes no difference. Maybe he knows that lurking behind all David's fine plans for a home for God lies a small, unacknowledged part of David's mind that wants to domesticate God. Does David think that if he builds God a home, he will know where God is and what he is up to? Does he think that a safely housed Ark will represent a safely tamed God? If so, he soon learns what we all have to learn, that God cannot be tamed and confined. God will move when and where he chooses - not where human beings - even though they be kings - will have him be.

Patiently God explains that it is not our job to make him a home, but God's job - and his joy - to make this world a home for us. The great work is started at our creation, continued through rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt and into a new community, and completed when God himself comes and makes a home with us.

When God chooses to enter humanity it will be not with a king, but with a simple peasant girl. And even then God comes gently, patiently; sends an angel - his messenger - to negotiate with Mary for the kind of home that God is making. Mary is confused, bewildered, puzzled but ultimately not afraid. She asks just one question - not demanding to know what God thinks he will achieve; she does not ask what it will cost; she does not preen and demand praise because she is the one God has chosen. All she asks is "Aren't I a bit of a problem? Are you sure I fulfil your requirements? And when the angel replies "It is all taken care of - God can do that, " then Mary says "Fine."

Fancy choosing an insignificant backwater in a small, occupied country to announce that God is coming to make the world his home, and so to make it our home too. And such sensible, manageable care for Mary, at this stage, putting her in touch with Elizabeth, the older, wiser relative - the one person who can understand the amazing nature of what is happening to them both - who will understand Mary and not condemn.

And so Mary begins her task of waiting - waiting on God. Waiting for the birth of her child. Waiting for the time when she and Joseph can safely bring the toddler back from exile - when his life is not in so much danger. Waiting for her first-born son to grow into a man. Waiting for his extraordinary ministry to begin. Waiting for his dying breath as he hangs on a cross and finally - when his life is ended - Mary stays with the disciples, waiting for the next, the most amazing, the concluding part of God's plan. Teaching them and us new depths and aspects of waiting of which we had never dreamed. She begins her task of waiting and praises God from the depths of her soul - for the joy and for the suffering to come. It takes an extraordinary degree of faith to keep on praising God in the face extreme suffering - just ask those Muslim parents mourning the their children this week?

When David offers to make God a home, God explains that his home has always been with his people. He has gone with them, preparing things for them, making provision for them in ways they may never have realised or noticed. He knows that they long for a home, but they do not realise that they can have no home without him. All the things that we long for, that we search for throughout our lives, - love, security, peace, fulfilment, joy - all these things are to be found in God, our only real home.

So now God is preparing, as Advent moves towards Christmas, to come to us, in our own place, in what we call 'home' and yet are never quite content with. He will make it and us, his home, so that we can come to our true home, our peace and security at last.

Gracious God,
You may not ask of us, what you asked of Mary,
but nonetheless your challenge invariably comes,
calling us to avenues of service which we would never imagine possible.
Whoever we are; we all have a part to play in your purposes,
a unique role in making real the love of Christ
here on earth, here and now.
Help us never to underestimate your sovereign power -
or make the mistake of thinking we have tamed and confined you.
Grant us the humility we need to hear your voice
and the faith we need to respond.
Like Mary, let us be ready to answer when you call:
'Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be to me according to your word.'
All this we ask, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen