Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Irrational Season

     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, favoured 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 favour 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 for ever, 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.     – Luke 1:26-38

     I saw an angel once.

     I was standing in the check-out line at a 7-11 one day.  In front of me was an old man, stooped like he was carrying a heavy burden.  The clerk was a short, heavyset Hispanic girl – acne scarred her young face.  She was not particularly attractive.  He finished his purchase and then just began to talk to the girl, "My wife died a month ago…" he said.  He went on to speak of her cancer… the long months of losing her bit by bit… and his loneliness now that she was no longer in his life after so many years.  As his sad story unfolded, I glanced at the girl, and she had the most gentle, listening expression on her face.  And, maybe it was my imagination, but as she listened, it seemed to me there was a glow, a gentle light all around her, and she changed… she became one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.  When he was done, he just kind of nodded quietly to himself, picked up his purchase, and left.  The glow around this girl seemed to fade and she became just an ordinary kind of homely girl once again.  She seemed to come out of the trance, and looked at me rather embarrassed and asked, "Why did he tell me that?"  All I could say was, "He needed to tell someone, and you were kind enough to listen."

     Angels show up in the most unusual places.  Angels showed up in the middle of the desert to an old man and his wife.  In Genesis 17, they appeared and told Abraham that, at ninety-nine years of age, he and his wife Sarah, who was ninety, were going to have a son.  Sarah listening behind the tent curtain laughed.  Quite impossible.  Irrational.  And yet, at that same time the next year, a beautiful baby boy was born, and they named him Isaac, which means laughter. 

     In Exodus we read of Moses telling the greatest empire of his day, Egypt, to let God's people go.  Completely out of the question.  Ridiculous.  Yet in Exodus 14, we read of God's angel who led a captive people, the Israelites, out of Egypt by acting as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Who would've thought an angel would've shown up to help out a bunch of slaves?

     And in our Gospel today, the Angel Gabriel shows up in this little backwater town of Galilee called Nazareth, terrifying and beautiful, his wings woven of starlight, radiating power and love, and speaks to this teenaged peasant girl, and promises the impossible… that Mary would have a child.  But even more irrational and impossible, that God would no longer be far off, sending others with messages for his people, but that God would come among us in the flesh – not in fire, or thunder, or lightning, or smoke – not with trumpets and fanfare – but that God would come among us, small and tiny and helpless; and that we could touch his soft velvet cheek, and his mom could play piggies with his toes… and God would smile and giggle.

     The most impossible, irrational, ridiculous thing of all happened: No longer would women and men have to reach up to God, because God was coming down to meet us here.  Because of the bravery of one teenage girl, all of human history changed.

     Thank you, Mary for not being afraid of what others would say; for not being afraid of shame; for not being afraid of what Joseph and your family would think. Thank you, Mary, for saying yes to the impossible… to the irrational. 

     Isn't it amazing how much of God's plan God was willing to place into fragile human hands?  God was willing to place into the aged, wrinkled hands of Abraham and Sarah the birth of a nation.

     God was willing to place into the hands of a sheepherder and a former murderer, Moses, the deliverance of the Israelites.

     God was willing to place the nurture and care and love of his only son into the arms of this teenaged peasant girl.

     God was willing to place the protection of his son and mother into the rough hands of an uneducated carpenter, Joseph.

     And God is willing to place into your hands and my hands today God's plans for our own time.

     Angels appear in the most unlikely places, at the strangest times, telling us of impossible, irrational things.  For some people, Angels appear slowly over time… they come as a feeling or a certainty about what they should do.  For others, they strike like the blinding light struck Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9.  Some people just glimpse God's plan for them out of the corner of their eyes… it's elusive… if they turned to look at it directly it seems to disappear, but it's always there.

     In Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass Alice said, "One can't believe impossible things."
“I dare say you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

     So what seems impossible to you this morning?  Maybe you're struggling with the loss of someone so dear to you that it seems impossible you could ever smile again.  Maybe your life has been in such a mess that you feel like it's never going to straighten out.  Perhaps something has caused you to lose your faith, and it seems impossible you're ever going to regain it.  Whatever burden you might be carrying today that seems impossible to deal with, I offer to you the irrational words of the Angel Gabriel:
"For nothing shall be impossible with God."

     It's not just we as individuals who have a problem believing impossible things; the whole world has this problem. And to these things that the world thinks are impossible, that the world considers irrational, the Angel Gabriel has a ready answer.

      “It's impossible to feed all the poor of the world.”
     And Gabriel says, "Nothing shall be impossible with God"

      “It's impossible to return love for hate.”
     And Gabriel says, "Nothing shall be impossible with God"

      “It's impossible to make sure every child has good prenatal care.”
     And Gabriel says, "Nothing shall be impossible with God."

      “It's impossible to love my neighbor as I love myself.”
     And Gabriel says, "Nothing shall be impossible with God."

      “It's impossible that we can establish complete equity and justice in our land.”
     And Gabriel says, "Nothing shall be impossible with God."

     Nothing… nothing…… nothing!

     God came down to us at Christmas… The most impossible thing of all… So that we might believe the impossible is possible.

     So, the next time the Angel Gabriel stops by your house, what are you going to say?  Will you say…

     “Who me?”
     “I can't do that.”
     “I don't have the time.”
     “I'm too old to change.”
     “I’m too young.”
     “I'm just one person.”
     “That's irrational!”
     “That's impossible!”

     Or maybe, just maybe you will you take a chance and trust the God of the impossible…
     and burdens you been carrying in your life will be lifted…
     and you will be able to love people who are completely unlovable…
     and the hungry will be fed…
     and justice will be done…

     Maybe, just maybe, you like Mary will say to the angel, "Let it be with me according to your word."  And the world will never be the same again.

     Madeline L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, and a great writer in our Episcopal tradition once wrote:

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There had been no room for the child!