sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 12/11/2011
Scene from “Jesus of Nazareth” where Gabriel speaks to Mary…
26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.”
38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.
As we said last week, this advent we are reflecting on waiting, and the role it plays in new creation being birthed in our world. Because when God is ready to act to deliver his people, after years and years of waiting, he chooses to begin with pregnancy. Before the kingdom of God comes to the world out there, it must first come to the world inside of us. Spiritual growth, like pregnancy, is a patient unfolding. It requires endurance. Lots of uncertainty. Periods of deliberate waiting. Pain that is embraced and incubated for the sake of the new person who will be born.
Today we want to focus on Mary’s words to the angel.
“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”
How does holy waiting begin? What is holy waiting like? What comes of holy waiting?
We know how regular waiting begins. It’s almost always forced on us, isn’t it? Something we are powerless to resist. Somebody or something else is making us wait. And so we can either be zen about it all, or angry.
As for what it’s like, well, that kind of depends. Are you Zen about it? Then it’s not so bad. Maybe you find a way to pass the time relatively painlessly. Are you ticked off? Then maybe it’s a little bit of frustration hell as you fume and rage against the machine.
And what comes of regular waiting? There’s really no way to know for sure. Maybe you get what you were waiting for. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just give up and never find out. Maybe you say, enough is enough! And you take matters into your own hands.
Holy waiting is altogether different.
Holy waiting always has a purpose, and that purpose is always new creation. Salvation. Redemption. Rescue. Growth. New life.
As for what it’s like, 9 times out of ten, holy waiting is painful. And although we are welcome to be Zen or to get angry, it will only postpone, not eliminate, the pain of holy waiting.
And most of all, holy waiting begins with Mary’s prayer: “May it be..”
God’s new creation plan, salvation, redemption, rescue – it all hinges on those who are willing to say, “may it be done to me according to your word.” And then who are willing to enter a pregnant period of waiting.
We see this in Mary. But we also see it, perhaps even more profoundly, in Mary’s son.
Jesus entering womb. May it be. Then born. Entering wilderness. May it be. Then beginning ministry. Entering garden of Gethsemane. May it be. Then resurrection.
And we see it in Jesus’ Father, as well…in the parable Jesus tells about the prodigal son. The son who demands his inheritance early, and leaves home to seek his fortune. May it be, says the Father. And then he waits. And waits. Not angry. Not Zen. Just with pain and longing in his heart, until the prodigal returns.
May it be is how true, holy waiting begins.
It sounds so much like surrender, doesn’t it? So passive. So helpless, powerless even.
It is one thing to have the kind of faith to step out on the water.
It is another thing to have the kind of faith to let yourself be thrown out of the boat.
That is the kind of faith it takes to say, “May it be…” That is the kind of faith it takes to see the kingdom come to the deepest places in our souls. That is the kind of faith that leads to new creation being birthed in the world.
Consider Jesus in his last days before his death on the cross. The death that defeated sin and death and evil, and opened the door to resurrection life. In those last days, Jesus is characterized not by a take charge, make it happen kind of attitude, but rather one of surrender. Isaiah even describes him prophetically as a lamb being led to slaughter.
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2“As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
paradidomi // to give over into one’s power or use
Sometimes translated “handed over”, sometimes “betrayed”.
Throughout those last days, Judas, and the chief priests, and Pilate, are all described as “handing Jesus over” or “betraying” Jesus.
So, in fact, is God.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up (handed him over, betrayed him) for us all…
When you are in a time of holy waiting, it can feel like you are being betrayed. Even by God. [wife in labor… “you did this to me…!”
Nonetheless, neither Mary nor Jesus fight the betrayal. They surrender to it. They allow themselves to be handed over. May it be. Not my will, but yours.
Jesus, extraordinarily, resists the temptation to use his power to escape. In the wilderness, he won’t turn the food into bread. During his arrest, he won’t call in a legion of angels to slay the arresting guards. On trial, he won’t use his words to marshal a defense. He even resists the impulse to nurture anger at the agents of the pain he is experiencing. As he is arrested he says, “All this has taken place to fulfill the scriptures of the prophets…” On the cross he says, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…”
Is it that we must welcome what seems to be the injustice of God before we can experience his true justice? Is there a purer faith than that? Isn’t that the faith of Abraham when he takes his son Isaac to the mountain to be sacrificed?
Both Mary and Jesus have God’s favor announced to them before enduring humiliation of the deepest kind. Mary the impregnated, unwed teen. Jesus the naked, crucified criminal. What a contrast between the announcement of favor and the experience in holy waiting! Holy waiting is filled with the kinds of doubts only that kind of experience can produce.
So what do you hold on to during the waiting?
The words the Lord has spoken to you. “…for no word from God will ever fail.”
All else may be taken from you. That’s part of the pain of being handed over. That’s part of the may it be done to me according to your word deal.
Do you trust that all the chaos swirling around you can be shaped into God’s good purposes while you fix your eyes on what it means to be handed over? While you allow it to be done to you according to God’s word? Do you trust that God can bring about his good purposes even though forces that God has chosen out of his mysterious purpose not to restrain are at work? That God can speak to whomever he needs to speak to?
In waiting, I imagine the doubts Mary must have experienced. Day after day after day. The drama and gossip and looks. Her previously imagined future slipping away. No wedding shower. No wedding celebration. No baby shower.
In waiting, I imagine the concentrated, birthed in pain joy that Mary experienced in hearing that an angel had spoken to Joseph. The joy at the encouragement from her cousin Elizabeth, the parallels with Elizabeth’s story. The wonder at the shepherds arriving. The way in which the words of Simeon and Anna must have landed at the temple.
She had heard the angel. It was being done to her according to the angel’s words. And yet, the waiting was not over. The pain had not yet completed its new creation work. Not even when Jesus was born. Not even when Jesus was doing miracles. No, not until the tomb was empty. Her waiting, in fact all of humanity’s waiting, was joined together with Jesus’ waiting – or perhaps, better said, Jesus’ waiting was joined to our waiting.
It is in the waiting of the tomb that we have our first true fellowship with Christ. It is in the fellowship of suffering that the work of waiting gives birth to new creation, so that we can share in the fellowship of the resurrection.
Because, in the end…
God’s true justice was worked. Every betrayal gathered up and redeemed. The hands into which the handing over happened finally revealed to be God’s hands.
Is there a more revered woman than Mary in the history of the world? Is there a more royally clothed, more fully alive Judge than Jesus? New creation has come through their “may it be done to me” and subsequent waiting.
Through holy waiting, Salvation has come.
Through holy waiting, Redemption has come.
Through holy waiting, Rescue has come.
Through holy waiting, Resurrection has come.
Behold, we are your bondslaves.
This advent, may it be done to us according to his word.
Next time you have to wait, do the following:
1. Practice the “May it be done to me according to your word..” prayer in line or in traffic this week. Let yourself be handed over to it. Don’t try to escape it. Don’t try to hurry it along. Choose to let it be what it’s going to be, whatever the cost.
2. Notice your pain and tell God. Instead of getting Zen – achieving some enlightened and peaceful state to coast through the waiting – or getting angry (at the cashier or other people in line or whomever), fix your attention on the pain you are experiencing and talk with God about it. “This is really ticking me off…” “this is really making me anxious…” “Please help this person get a move on…” “I can’t believe this always happens to me; this is my life…”
3. Find somebody to love. Find some way to love the person right in front of you. Even and especially if they are the one making you wait. If nothing else, pray for their blessing.
And then finally, for those who are in a season of holy waiting:
4. Remind yourself of the Lord’s words to you regularly. Daily even.