Sermon 12/21/2008

Sermon for Advent 4 B
December 21, 2008
Michael Coffey

2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16 (Are you the one to build me a house to live in? )

Luke 1:26–38 ("Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." )

Two contrasting stories just before Christmas:
David, and Mary.
David wanted to stay in control.
You and I want to stay in control.
Life is too messy, too unpredictable.
We want to get it all lined up,
set up a system to make it work,
put things in their proper place,
keep things on schedule.
Maybe, if we can just get it all worked out
we can make things work out right.

You know how it is with us men.
We sit in front of the TV.
We hold on to the remote.
Don’t try to pry out from our fingers.
We need it. We need to hold on to the remote.
We need to stay in control.
We know just where to flip the channel
during the commercial break
to catch a snippet of news
or two jokes from a standup comic.
We know just the right time to flip it back
for the next scene of the show.
We hold on to the remote.
If feels good. It starts to mold itself to the shape of our hands.
We feel like, in our own small universe of cable TV,
we are in control.

David wanted this kind of control.
He’s a man. Even more so, he’s a king.
He’s starting to think he can make the world just right.
If everything goes the way he thinks,
it will be wonderful.
But there is this problem, this big problem.
Can’t seem to control the Lord, David thinks.
Ah. But, if I build him a house,
I can keep him contained.
I can keep God domesticated.
I can go to him when I need him to help out a bit,
but otherwise, I can stay in control.
David starts to planning. Build a house for God.
Keep him still, contained, predictable, available for my bidding,
But not out on the loose.

David acts like he wants to look out for the Lord.
He’s concerned.
God has no home! No pillow for his huge head!
But David’s concern is really a cover-up
for his own need to stay in control.
So the Lord responds:
David, David, David.
You’re going to build a house for me?
You’re going to contain me?
Domesticate me?
David, I don’t need you to build me a house,
but thanks for the offer!
David, I will build you a house.
I will determine the length and purpose
of your kingship.
I will give you the gift.
I will stay in control.

The biblical God
and the God of real life
will not submit to our control,
will not allow us to house him,
will not fit our agendas.
We are constantly having to let go of the God we want
and learn to accept the God we have,
the God we cannot control.
But, as we learn the difficult lesson
that we are not in control
we start to be open to and accepting of
the One who is.

The other side of the story is Mary’s story.
Mary got a visit.
A messenger came to tell her
that things were going to change big time.
Mary, young, small, yet to know much about life
was about to lose control of her own life,
her own destiny.
Gabriel told her God had big plans for her.
It was going to happen just such a way, he said
and it would make all the difference in the world.
And Mary says:
How can this be?
I am still a virgin.
How can I have a child?
In an amazing moment of transformation
and acceptance of God’s will
Mary says:
Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.

Some people say that Mary’s acceptance of God’s will
was necessary for God to bring Jesus into the world.
Others say that God’s plan was set
but Mary was able to accept it
and so rejoice in it
instead of begrudging it.

Either way, Mary is having an encounter
with the truth that she is not the one in control.
She didn’t make the plan.
She didn’t choose to complicate her life
with an early, unexplainable pregnancy.
She is not in control,
but she knows the One who is
and she gives herself over to God’s strange ways,
and in that moment, she is transformed.

As much as we believe life will be better
if we can control more and more,
the spiritual journey of this life
is about controlling less and less
and learning to love the One
whose plan and purpose is for the good of all.
The pain and struggle of letting go of control
is not only necessary for our spiritual growth
it is also completely unavoidable.

It is more a matter of how soon we will stop fighting
the reality of life and the God we have
and give ourselves over to something
we can only trust in faith.

Mary's encounter
with this uncontrollable God
goes quite differently than David's.
Gabriel speaks his divine message:
Your child will be holy,
he will be called Son of God.
For nothing will be impossible with God.

That was a word Mary probably knew all too well: impossible.
So much was impossible for her,
as it is for us:
That we will ever make everything right.
That we will ever get control of our lives.
That we will ever turn God into one of us,
and get control of this story we call life.
So much is impossible with us.
But Gabriel said, as if to remind Mary,
as if to remind us,
that this is the uncontrollable God we are talking about:
Nothing is impossible with God.
Gabriel speaks of Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth
who is also going to have a child,
not too early, like Mary
but much too late.
Elizabeth is a reminder of all the times
God worked his impossible ways in people’s lives.
And then, as if suddenly all this nonsense made sense to her,
Mary said:
Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.

Right there, Mary does it.
We find it so hard to do,
so listen to Mary do it:
She gives up control.
She gives up controlling God
by expecting only what is possible.
She gives up controlling herself
with her well thought out plan for her life.
She gives her self over to the mystery of what is
and the unexpected word of what will be.

Yes, sometimes the channels are flipping faster
than you can handle.
Yes, it drives you crazy
that you can't grab the big remote control for Life,
and push the pause button,
or find the show
where everything goes the way you want it.
Yes, we fall into loss and grief,
and chaos seems to run amok
making a mess out of all that we plan.

But there is One who has some kind of mysterious control.
There is one calling to us
like he did to David
so we can stop trying to control God
and accept the gift God has to give to us.
There is one calling to us
like he did to Mary:
Let go of your tight grip on your life.
Something unexpected is happening.
You are becoming the means of God’s good news
entering the world.
God is working his wonders through you.


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