December 24, 2017

A little over 100 years ago, the United States was on the verge of entering World War I. The United States Army was in need of recruits to help the anticipated war effort. A well-known illustrator by the name of James Montgomery Flagg painted a poster which has become an iconic symbol. The poster shows a stern face of a man dressed in patriotic clothes. The piercing eyes look directly at you and the index finger is pointed towards you. Yes, the character is the one we refer to as Uncle Sam. The caption says “I want you for the US Army.” The image was first seen in a weekly news magazine with the caption, “What are you doing for preparedness”. The US would not enter the First World War until April 1917, but this poster represented the importance of the war effort. The poster suggested that every US citizen had a patriotic duty to assist. The face on the poster provides our image of Uncle Sam. It was most likely that of a meat packer from 1812 who sent food to the US Army. The poster was so special that it was modified slightly and used again in World War II. The poster was modeled after a similar one used by the British government using the image of a war hero named Lord Kitchener. The I Want You poster was a call to action and it expected a response from all who experienced it. The correct response was yes! Today, we hear the story of Mary. She responded to a call from God and she gave a resounding yes to the call. Mary gives us encouragement to accept our own call from God and today we seek to answer yes to that call. I don’t think that you will find God staring out from a poster with a finger pointed at you but I do think there are ways for each of us to seek and understand God’s will for us. During Advent we have been preparing for the coming of Jesus. Much of what we have read in Scripture is about the second coming. But today, we shift and focus on the story of the first time that Jesus came to earth. It is the story of a miracle. And it is a story of human response to God’s will. We begin with God’s gift to us. The angel proclaimed to Mary “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” This greeting is meant for every one of us. God is with each and every human. Despite what seemed like a wonderful blessing, Mary was confused and probably afraid. Then the angel proclaims God’s will for Mary, that she will bear Jesus, the son of God. To Mary, it seemed impossible but the angel shared those important words “Nothing is impossible with God.” Mary then responds “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” I repeated some of the dialogue to help you focus on each of the steps of the exchange. I think they are steps that each of us experience in our interaction with God. First there is the understanding that God is with us. Yes, God is here for you. Second, we have some level of confusion, perplexity and doubt. How is it possible that God is with me? I am not worthy. I am just a small little person in the universe. I don’t matter. And yet we all do. After some reassurance, God asks us to do something or to be something. And then we have a choice. While it does not come across so clearly in the gospel, Mary had a choice as well. We have free will and we get to decide if we will follow the will of God. I would say that today we are encouraged to say yes to God and to follow God’s will. Mary was not the only one to say yes. The gospel of Matthew tells us about the yes of Joseph. Joseph had planned to dismiss Mary but he was told in a dream not to do so. Joseph said yes to God’s will and Joseph cared for Mary and cared for their newborn son, Jesus. Mary’s commitment to follow God’s will sounds a great deal like the words of Jesus himself. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion, he decided to follow the will of his Father, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” There are many other examples in Scripture of people who said yes to God. Often they were reluctant or confused when they first were approached. Their struggles give us great encouragement as we too often struggle to accept God’s will in our lives. Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, received a visit from the angel Gabriel and was told that he and his wife would have a son. But Zechariah did not believe and the angel took away his voice until his son, John, was born. I think of Abraham and Sarah. The Lord appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre. After the meal, the Lord told Abraham that Sarah would have a son. Sarah laughed. It wasn’t laughter of joy but rather laughter of unbelief, how could this be she must have thought. When the Lord heard Sarah’s laugh, the Lord said to Abraham, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Sounds a little like what the angel said to Mary, Doesn’t it? Sarah and Abraham said yes to God’s will that they raise Isaac and that the generations that followed would be faithful to God. I also think of Moses. He was tentative as well. When God asked Moses to deliver his people out of bondage in Egypt, Moses had lots of excuses. Moses said I am not good enough to do this for you, and What am I to say to the people? And he said they won’t listen to me and Moses said I don’t speak eloquently. God persisted, God was with Moses and Moses finally said yes to God. Or how about Paul who persecuted the followers of Jesus and was even on his way to do more destruction when God woke him up. It took some lightning from God to get Paul’s attention but finally Paul said yes to God and became one of God’s most dedicated missionaries. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote about God’s work and our response. Today’s verses are a summary of all of Paul’s beliefs and all that he wrote in the letter to the Romans. God will give us strength through the words of Jesus Christ and God’s strength will help us to be obedient in our faith. Obedience is the yes to God; The positive response to God reaching out to us. Let us all ask God for the strength to be obedient, to say yes. I have never been visited by Gabriel or another angel and told the will of God. I have been visited by a human being who suggested what might be God’s will for me and it has helped me to ponder what response I might give. Nathan, the prophet shared God’s will with King David. Perhaps if we can quiet ourselves down enough, we will hear God speaking to us. In addition to hearing God’s will, we must be ready to respond. Our first thought is often to say that we can’t or send someone else. We just may need a shot of courage. This week, a clergy friend suggested that I go back and read a poem by Denise Levertov. She found courage in the glory of nature. I would say that she found God in nature. Please listen to this A certain day became a presence to me; there it was, confronting me--a sky, air, light: a being. And before it started to descend from the height of noon, it leaned over and struck my shoulder as if with the flat of a sword, granting me honor and a task. The day's blow rang out, metallic--or it was I, a bell awakened, and what I heard was my whole self saying and singing what it knew: I can. A being came from the sky and struck her shoulder with a sword just as a king might commission a knight. Will you keep your senses open for God to strike you with His sword and may you feel the strength of God’s will and respond just as Mary did. Perhaps you will be perplexed at first but then you will realize that you can and promise to do God’s will. When you celebrate Christmas this evening or tomorrow morning, I hope that you will look on the baby Jesus, worship him and say to him, Yes, I will follow you. Amen.

Last modified on Saturday, 06 January 2018 18:58

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  • Romans 5:3-4
    “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”