Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 18, 2011

2011.12.18 “Two Words That Change Your Life Forever” – Luke 1: 26 – 38 Advent 2011

Central United Methodist Church 

“Two Words That Change Your Life Forever”

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 1: 26 – 38

December 18th, 2011

I once heard a quote attributed to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, one of the great orators of the 20th century, that if he had to make a speech lasting two hours, it would take two minutes to prepare.  But if he had to speak for two minutes, it would take two hours to prepare. Today, two minutes is about all I have.  Yes, preparing took more than two hours.

You may be wondering, “What are the ‘Two Words that Change Your Life Forever?’” Several possibilities come to mind: “I do.” “I’m sorry.” “He/She’s dead.”  But the ones I have in mind are these two: “I’m pregnant.” (OK, technically three)

Whether those two words strike fear or joy in your heart, I suppose, depends upon your situation in life.  What they do, at the very least, is raise is more questions.  How old are you?  Are you married, do you have someone you will help you with the baby? How are you going to work, how are you going to support yourself and the child? What will it do to your life?  Or, at least, the next 18 years of it?  Are you male or female?

Sadly, we know, that if you are male, and hear those words from your girlfriend, fiancé, or spouse, one sad and cowardly possibility is to walk away. It happens. It quite likely has happened to people sitting in this room today. 

On the other hand, it’s also possible that if you’re male, and in a committed relationship, those words “I’m pregnant,” mean “We’re pregnant.” Even then, for men, those words may hold more of a fascinating possibility than a knowledgeable reality. Okay, in nine months we will have a baby; what’s going to happen between now and then? Will my wife be sick and throw up every day? Am I going to have to go out in the middle of the night to buy strange food? Will we ever have sex again? And other inconveniences.

Of course, for women, the words “I’m pregnant,” mean something quite different. It’s not a fascinating possibility; it’s a actual physical reality. This developing human being will soon be taking over your body, at least until its exit into the world, which in itself has been compared to pulling a watermelon out of your nose. All mothers here who experienced childbirth know what I’m talking about, women who didn’t may be relieved, and all men, definitely are.

Of course, whether you are male or female, after the words I’m pregnant, whatever happens, whether you make it full term to delivery or not, your life will never be the same. The experience of pregnancy, and birth, and raising toddlers and teenagers, will shape your life irrevocably. You senior parents and grandparents among us, does it get better or worse?

Did Mary think about all these things that day when the angel Gabriel came to her, long before she would ever tell Joseph, “I’m pregnant,” before she herself would be told, “You’re pregnant.” When the angel Gabriel dropped in that morning for coffee to say, “God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus,” it wasn’t yet an actuality, it was still a possibility, an invitation. 

If Mary was a young woman, some say younger is 14, she almost certainly did not know what she was in for. Do any of us, parents, ever know what we are in for? Perhaps Mary didn’t know about the physical stuff, perhaps not the social stigma she would experience for having a child of uncertain paternity, perhaps not what it would be like to raise a child as a single mother, if Joseph died early, as the Gospels suggest. She certainly could not know what the circumstances of his birth would be like, what a precocious child and young man he would be, or what evil men would do to him while he was still young, very young.  Mercifully, Mary would not have known she would have to watch the torture and death of her own child, helplessly standing by. As the elderly Simeon prophetically said to her during her visit to the Temple following the baby’s birth, “And you, Mary, a sword shall pierce your own soul.”

Whether she knew any of this on that day of the Annunciation or not, the most remarkable hinge on which the whole story turns is whether Mary would say “Yes” to God. This is not God forcing himself up on Mary; we know what that’s called. This is Mary saying “Yes” to God’s invitation, and for that all generations have called her blessed.

I love how Renaissance painters have portrayed this moment, as almost every Renaissance artist did. For example, consider this one by Fra Angelico, from the monastery of San Marcos in Florence.  It is a stunningly beautiful expression of the mystery and grace and courage of Mary’s experience. The artist painted the angel as a lovely but ordinary person, looking almost as young as like Mary. And the angel awaits Mary’s answer. So, it’s more than an annunciation; it’s an invitation, awaiting Mary’s response.

God still does it, you know, asking us to do God’s will. Perhaps not to have a baby, although God sometimes still does that too. Every day, and sometimes in special ways, God asks us to do God’s will. We may never know for sure, any more than Mary, when and in what way the request will come.  

This last week before Christmas, can be a busy and frightening week for all of us, no less so for us pastors. And yet, every year at this time of year, just when I’m already scared whether I’ll make it, God often asks of me one more thing, like to hold a funeral for someone who has died. This year, it was for Jean Tinio, held here to a packed church yesterday.

But I remember one in particular. Sunday afternoon, December 15th, 2002, just about this time of year, the phone rang, and it was one of my fireman friends. He and I were often the two senior members of a four-member ladder or rescue company.  He owned a Heating & Air Conditioning business; I was a Methodist preacher. Guess who was most useful?  On this particular day, it was to be me, because he said, “Dave, my daughter just died, and I was wondering if you could help us.  We’re not very religious and we don’t go to your church, so if you can’t do it, I understand.” “Yes,” I said to him, “Yes,” “I’ll help you in every way I can.” 

All most everyone in town knew his daughter, who was 21, one of those special people born with Down’s Syndrome; who bagged groceries at Jewel. In her short life, she had touched many people; the day of the funeral, the funeral home was filled. I said, to those sitting before me: “Some people like to think of angels as fearsome beings who always have to preface their remarks with, “Do not fear”; but the real angels in life are more often sweet souls like this, who once they get our attention, teach us by their lives, and change us profoundly.”  At last, when her Dad spoke, he said it best, better than I ever could: “I cried the day she was born and the day she died, but I laughed every day in between.”

“I’m pregnant.” Two words that will change your life forever. But another word is equally powerful: “Yes.” Like Mary, will you say “Yes” to God?

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