Holy Terror!

Sermon Preached at Christ the King on December 21, 2008

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:47-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38
Advent 4B

I.N.I. (In the name of Jesus)

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  (Luke 1:49-50)

God is present, God is merciful, and we are to fear God… Fear, a concept most North Americans are not accustomed to. A fear that as Luther refrains in his Small Catechism explanation of the Ten Commandments, “we are to fear and love God.” Luther recognized that God’s law for us begins with both fearing and loving our creator. Without these two things, we live our lives as little gods instead of as little Christ’s.  (Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism, translated by Timothy Wengert, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001)

Love we can grasp most of the time. We who gather in worship around the world this morning do so to call on, pray, praise, and give thanks to our gracious God of love and mercy. But fear… in our age of comfortable living, even with fears of economic uncertainty, catastrophic weather and global unrest, true fear, emotional and physical fear are largely unknown.

I have not known the fear of being on the end of an enemy’s gun sight, nor was I in Pearl Harbor, Columbine, or lower Manhattan on those days of infamy. I have been accosted on a European City Street, been in a near miss on an airport runway, been on a flight that has made an emergency landing, and even a cruise ship that ran around… but true fear… fear that God requires through the commandments, fear Mary sings about, and fear Gabriel assures us not to hold onto, I have not truly experienced.

My fears are more psychological, worries really, kind of like these…

  • Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypen-gyo-phobia.
  • How about cats? If you’re afraid of cats, you have ail-uro-phasia.
  • Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have clima-ca-phobia.

Maybe you have thal-asso-phobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephy-robia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have panto-phobia. Do you think you have panto-phobia? What’s panto-phobia? The fear of everything. THAT’S IT!  (Charles Schultz, A Charlie Brown Christmas, United features Syndicate, 1965)

Well for all you Charlie Brown’s out there, we often feel fearful, but this time of year, it is not Lucy Van Pelt who gives us a glimpse into God…the One we are to fear, love and trust… it is Mary in the Gospel of Luke. Mary the Mother of our Lord, the person who graciously accepts what God asks of her. She is perplexed and greatly troubled by what the angel Gabriel tells her, and he senses her fear.

But Mary, this young 13, 14 or 15 year old unwed, mother-to-be, receives the heavenly news and sings about what the Lord has done and continues to do, magnifying the Lord in her very soul. Her experience and her song, as sweet as they may sound, are meant to remind us of the God we are to fear and love.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her sermon titled, “Mothers of God,” quotes Meister Johann Eckhart, a Dominican theologian and mystic from the 14th century:
(Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 1995)

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?
And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? Then, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.

Timeless questions we are left to be perplexed about and perhaps instill some fear, a holy terror in each of us. Fold in the reminder that by grace we have been saved through faith, not by our own doing, or works we can boast of… and we see Mary’s holy humility and the incarnation more clearly. God is doing something through Mary that should strike a bit of fear and love in each of us.

What God is doing is remarkable… and should fill us with both holy terror and gracious love . Mary the meek and mild teenager from a tiny village lived an invisible life in poverty until God chose her.
          To God…
                    she is blessed, she is special,
                    and she is chosen to be God’s mother.
          Through Mary…
                    we see that to God we are blessed,
                    we are special, and we are chosen to be
                    God’s children.
          Through Mary…
                    we see that God does not care about who we are,
                    where we come from, what we do, or how much
                    wealth we have.
          God chose Mary and God chose us!

God meets us here on earth, coming in unexpected ways. God brings holy terror …not through the blood and guts of the sword, or world domination through economic or political means. God—if we are honest—brings holy terror by coming to us in the last place we would look—as an “illegitimate” baby, born from the blood and guts of a homeless girl in the dark and cold of night. Not as a king in human terms, but as One whose gracious love is worn in a crown of thorns… on a throne of torture in a kingdom made tangible… by an empty tomb.

It is this God who brings holy terror and gracious love that we await.

  • A God we are called to fear and love .
  • A God we are to call Daddy, Mommy, Friend, Savior, and King.
  • A God we are to hear, taste and see.
  • A God whose birth we wish merry greetings over.
  • A God born by and for us, and the lowly, hungry, broken, hurting, and perplexed.

Sue Monk Kidd in her book When the Heart Waits, tells of visiting a monastery near Christmas and in greeting a monk with ‘Merry Christmas,’ received the response ‘May Christ be born in you.’ Word that lived in Mary and Word that brings comfort and life for our scared and troubled world this Advent.

This Christ that is to be born in us, if we listen to the words of Mary, should bring both fear and love of God. We live in this tension, a sort of holy terror , both blessed as Mary sings and called to a world far different than ours. If we are as Luther said to be little Christ’s, we as God’s hands in the world are to lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things, and not focus on ourselves, the rich.
A world turned upside down, magnificent to ponder, terrifying to live out!

  • What would it mean to not buy those gift cards or wrap those presents for family and friends, and instead focus all of those resources on the lowly?
  • What would it mean to not bake cookies and rich foods for festive gatherings we host or attend, and instead prepare those good things for the hungry?
  • What would it mean if we welcomed the great things God has done for us, and instead feared, loved, and trusted the holy, merciful and mighty One?
  • What would it mean to welcome this Good News personally and instead shared it with our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers?

The Gospel of Luke was written for an audience very different from those of Mark, Matthew, and from many of the recipients of Paul’s letters. The hearer’s of Luke lived at least a generation after the apostles, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., and were outside the Holy Land. These folks had never been Jews, and like you and I were considered cosmopolitan, middle-class Gentiles who lived in a secular world, skeptical of organized religion. They respected and were drawn to religious history of Israel, the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ, and I think lived in a time and place where Mary was someone they could relate to and be perplexed by at the same time.

Mary’s story and song resonates as it echoes Hannah in I Samuel. Mary this morning places us at the meeting of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of Good News. We wait with Israel, longing for the promises of old, and keeping watch for the fulfillment of the new. The Irish Jesuit’s say, that in the whole history of salvation, this is the moment of abundant joy. Mary is pregnant not merely with her child, but with dreams about a glorious future. This young mother-to-be overflows with gratitude for being the channel of God’s grace to humankind.  ( http://sacredspace.ie/#advice, December 16, 2008)

Mary sings, not a sanitized Christmas Carol, but the Magnificat, a prayer that lights the fuse on God bringing light to a world darkened by sin through…

  • A birth to illuminates a world where we have too much while others have too little.
  • A birth to light a fire that grows within us to feed the hungry and raise up the lowly.
  • A birth to kindle our faith and draw us to share when we have more than we need and others have need.

We wait this fourth Sunday in Advent, and in these final moments and birth pangs…

  • We sit in Gabriel’s announcement to Mary to fear not—and in Mary’s faithfulness and openness to God’s will.
  • We sit with humble Mary who away from her home—seeks shelter to birth mercy for you and me.
  • We sit drawn in with Mary to God’s acting in the world—through the Christ child and through each one of us.
  • We sit in wonder perplexed—about God we are to fear and love, God who comes to be with us and make us new, and God who overshadows our very being.

In these final, darkest days of the year, may your vigil of waiting in fear and love be focused on Mary’s humanity, and the One’s divinity—One God, creator, redeemer and savior. And may Emmanuel—God with us, be born in you this Christmas!


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