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20th December 2015 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs
Sermon for Advent 4 Sunday

Micah 5. 2-5a
Luke 1. 39-45 / 55

I may have told you this previously, but one of the questions I most dread – and most welcome at one and the same time, is “So, what made you decide to be a Vicar, then?”

It is a totally natural question and usually asked in a kindly way – but it is one almost impossible to answer... And I usually say something like –“Well, I didn’ t decide exactly – but it was an idea that was put to me – a seed that was sown – and one that would not let me go. I had to follow the path and see where it would lead me!”Little did I know, over 20 years ago, that it would lead eventually here to Pattingham – a place that at the time, I had never heard of!

So my sympathies have always been with Mary and with Elizabeth. Two women – one impossibly old to have a child; one impossibly young and with no apparent husband. Now I am not likening my calling to be a priest with Mary’ s vocation to be the God-bearer ... there were definitely no Angelic visitors in my case and I am under no illusions – I am not the one who bears salvation for the world in my very being.... although something very precious is entrusted to me when I stand at God’ s table and repeat his invitation to come, taste the fare he has provided for us at such great cost to himself.

But I do sort of identify with both of these women who are caught up in a story that is so much bigger than any one person – or even two people. And it has to be said, - God can be very, very curious, indeed. He seems to pick the oddest, most unexpected people for his service... Think of Moses, the cowardly and hot-headed runaway – sent back to bring God’ s people out of slavery. Or Jonah – who also tries to run away –And so on and so forth. Sometimes you have to think, “couldn’ t he do better than that?”And then we come to Mary.

Mary who is young, perplexed and bewildered by what the strange visitor is saying to her – as well she might be! A girl feeling a deep and devout connection with God is one thing; a girl being told she will conceive a son via the ‘ overshadowing’ power of the Holy Spirit is another.

God’ s call can seem impossibly intrusive, verging on the abusive – for surely the power is all with God in this encounter? And yet the writer of Luke makes Mary’ s response significant; Mary’ s willingness to unite her will and purposes to those of God is no mere afterthought.

This could have been the story of an alien, overpowering, terrifying and uncompromising God who chooses individuals and expects obedience. And that would have the ring of authenticity about it. This is no easy, domesticated God – the sort we might invent for our own comfort – a super security blanket if you will.

In the film The last temptation of Christ, Jesus’ opening line is “God loves me, I know God loves me. I wish he’ d stop!”There is something of this God in the one who meets Mary. This is the God who calls, but who also pushes us out so very far from our ordinary human desires and expectations. This is the God who fills Mary’ s heart full of rejoicing – such that she will burst into a song of revolution and praise, and yet gifts her a son who will pierce her heart too.

So calling is about being drawn out of oneself towards something; a career, a way of life, of being. And so it is also about response. It requires commitment, a joining of the will to that to which one is being drawn. It is always about a ‘ yes’ and then giving of ourselves to that direction. And it is never passive. It requires trust and faith – and love. And it leave us vulnerable to pain and loss. Travelling with God then, the way of vocation – is never merely about a job, or even a course of action. It is about accepting the prospect that we will be changed – for either good or ill. It is not lifestyle – that great modern idea of what our jobs may allow us to lead – but it is living. And if God is what truly calls us – if God is the true ground of our being and the very heart of what we most truly are, then that call will always be the primary one. When God calls, we may resist, be suspicious –even laugh in disbelief and so on, but we can be assured we are being drawn out into our deepest, truest selves.

And when we feel that call – that tug at the heartstrings – we don’ t just have to take our own feelings into account – but others will authenticate our sense of calling too. Mary goes to tell her cousin Elizabeth – only to find that the older woman already knows her secret and that even her unborn child is in on the act!

So, how may God be calling to you? You may feel it ridiculous. That you are too young, too old, totally unfitted for the task, whatever it may be – that is only to be expected, given past experience! But let the thought stay within you; nurse and nurture it for a while; and when you feel brave enough – try telling someone else about your wildest dream. What is their response? If they are totally unsurprised, if they comment that it’ s been perfectly obvious for weeks / months / years – well maybe there is more to it than you think... and nothing will ever be the same again!