Timing is Everything – Luke 1:26-38

Today, Sunday 24th December 2017, is the 4th Sunday of Advent and it just so happens that this year it is also Christmas Eve. This evening and tonight we will be listening once again to parts of the Christmas story, but this morning, along with every church that follows the lectionary, we are remembering Mary and her role as a precursor, a witness, to the coming of the King and her role as mother of Jesus. Our fourth candle on the Advent wreath represents Mary.

Timing is everything.

The Gospel reading set for this morning is usually read every year on one particular date, the Feast of the Annunciation which falls on 25th March each year – unless its date clashes with Easter or a Sunday.

Timing is everything.

The liturgical and calendar scholars among us will have noticed that 25th March, is exactly 9 months before Christmas Day. Our gospel reading makes a lot of sense as part of the Christmas story, but seemingly less so in March at or around Easter time. However, most of us will recognise that when we are talking about pregnancy, 9 months is a very important time period. The feast of the Annunciation is very carefully placed exactly 9 months before the birth of Jesus – which suggests that Jesus was neither a premature nor a late baby!

I was born on 11th May 1960, 9 months was a very important period for me – for my parents were married on 1st August 1959 (9 months and 10 days before I was born). I count as a honeymoon baby – but if pregnancies were usually 10 months then there would be something different to say about my status!

Timing is everything.

So, around Easter time each year, just as we are today, we are reminded of Mary’s call to be the Mother of God. Mary hears words from the Angel Gabriel which cause her heart to miss at least one beat – called to be the God bearer, the Theotokos, called to co-operate with God in creating his Saviour, called to bear the stigma of being with child out of wedlock. Both gift and burden, both grace and shame.

As we move on through our liturgical year, through Christmas and on to the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas, we will be starkly reminded of Simeon’s words to Mary. For her, not only would the pregnancy be a long a difficult time of waiting – but the whole of her life was to be spent waiting for a painful end.

And as we travel towards Easter, we will be reminded even more starkly of Mary’s encounters with joy and suffering. On Good Friday, we will appreciate again that Mary understood pain – she bore in her body the pain of the cross – she felt the nails being hammered into the wrists of her son, she agonised as she watched him die the most painful of deaths. She had to release her child into God’s eternal care long before his time. And, as those things happened, she felt a mixture of all the emotions a mother can feel – anger, guilt, shame, and deep aching loss. Like any mother, her grief was to be unbearable.

Mary also understood the joy of motherhood – she watched her precocious child grow to be a wonderful man. She felt the joy of being part of the making of this special son. And on the first Easter Sunday she had her son returned to her alive – wonderful, exciting, tremendous … but then she too, along with all those who knew Jesus, had to realise that she could not cling on to her Son. He was returning to his Father in heaven.

Timing is everything.

Here today we are called, by our Gospel reading, to see the Christmas events and those events which follow in the spring-time of our church year through the eyes of a mother – the eyes of Mary. We are called today to encounter Mary’s confusion at the words of the Angel. We are called too, to encounter Mary’s pain alongside the suffering of Christ, and as we do so, the pain will be just that bit more tangible.

We are called to feel the despair and the loss of Good Friday as we sit with Mary at the foot of the cross weeping for the loss of her beautiful son. And, if we are prepared to weep those deep tears of loss; if, in just a little way, we endeavour to identify with all mothers who have lost those they love; if, at least for a few days at Easter, we refuse to rush on to the joy of resurrection, because we have learnt patience like a pregnant mother waiting for the birth of her child; if we stay with the pain. If we struggle to understand the overwhelming and crushing burden of the grandmothers who because of HIV/AIDs now are sole carers for many of the grandchildren. Our encounter with the joy of Christmas in the services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, will be all the more intense.

For we will have understood the burden of pain carried by Mary and we will encounter something of the release she felt from the pains of labour as she welcomed her son into the world as a helpless child at Christmas. We might even feel something of the unbelievable joy of holding God in our own hands and arms, just as Mary did on that first Christmas Day. We might even feel some of the pride that she felt at the birth of her child and something too of her overwheming desire to tell everyone about the wonder of the Christ-child and that faith that was born with him.

Timing is everything – not 9 months but less than a day before the birth – this is a very important day in our preparation for Christmas. Now is our chance to listen, … to focus on the Christmas story. Let’s not let it slip by.


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