Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Nativity According to Gabriel

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
20 December 2015

Opening Prayer
Loving Jesus, who comes to us each day, we ask that you will come to us this day and meet us through the story of your coming to the earth. As we hear and experience the story of your birth to Mary and Joseph, we ask that you will be born in us by the power of your Holy Spirit. As we hear and experience the story the shepherds we ask that you will draw us to worship you. As we hear and experience the story of the wise men, we ask that you will reveal yourself to us in the daily stuff of our lives, through our work and study and play. As we hear and experience the story of the angels we ask that you will fill us with the mystery of your presence, and that you will help us to learn to not be afraid. Loving Jesus, who comes to us each day, we offer you this day. Amen.

The Nativity According to Gabriel
It was a busy year for Gabriel and the other angels.

Mary (Luke 1.26-38)
It all started one afternoon in Nazareth, when Gabriel was sent to bring a message to Mary. But how to introduce oneself? ‘Hello’ seems rather informal. How about ‘Greetings, favoured one’? Nope, that just left the young woman confused, and looking terrified. Try again. ‘Do not be afraid, you have found favour with God’. Better. But then the kicker, as they say, ‘You’re going to have a child, and I’d like you to call him Jesus. He’s going to be great – trust me on this.’ Well, she looked a bit less scared, but no less confused. ‘How…???’ she stuttered. ‘Um’, Gabriel replied, ‘let’s just say the Holy Spirit will take care of things’. Mary, not having had any kind of answer, really, said ‘yes’.

The Angel Gabriel from heaven came,
his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
'All hail', said he, 'thou lowly maiden Mary,
most highly favoured lady.'

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
'To me be as it pleaseth God', she said,
'My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name':
most highly favoured lady.

Joseph (Matthew 1.18-25)
Gabriel thought his job was over having got a ‘yes’ from Mary, but then mission number two came his way, and this time he had an angry and fired up man to deal with. Joseph, Mary’s fiancĂ©, apparently wasn’t taking her happy news very well at all. He was planning to break things off. If they’d had messaging apps in those days, he’d have done it straight away, but the Angel got in there first. ‘Um,’ he began, about to launch straight in but then he remembered the scared look on Mary’s face, ‘don’t be afraid!’ he said, trying to begin a bit more gently. ‘Joseph, I’d like you to take Mary as your wife, take on her child, and call him Jesus. He’s going to be great – trust me on this.’ Joseph, being a man of few words who also knew what was good for him, woke up from his dream, took his courage in both hands, and did as the angel had commanded him.

God it was who said to Joseph,
“Down your tools and take your wife!”
God it was who said to Mary,
“In your womb I’ll start my life!”
Carpenter and country maiden
Leaving town and trade and skills -
This is how God calls his people,
Moving them through what he wills.

Bethlehem (Luke 2.1-7)
By this point, Gabriel decided that he was due a day off, so he let the Holy Spirit take the lead in the next part of the story. Joseph and Mary had to make a journey to the town of Bethlehem to be registered for the big census, and arrived there just in time for Mary to have her baby. It all seemed like something of a mess, what with there being no room at the inn and ending up in a stable. But thankfully the innkeeper had an ear open to the creative stirring of the clever Spirit, and sometimes there’s more to life’s chaos than meets the eye, and so the Baby who’s going to be great was born in the same town as the great king David of old, and the Holy Spirit went home dusting his hands with satisfaction at a job well done.

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by:
yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee to-night.

For Christ is born of Mary;
and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King,
and peace to men on earth.

Shepherds (Luke 2.8-19)
And now it was the turn of the cynical shepherds, out in the fields looking after their sheep, and Gabriel set off once again, this time to try and to convince them that there was something special going on in a stable in town, and that they really shouldn’t miss it! By now he knew how to begin, ‘Do not be afraid’ he said, as they cowered in terror at the sight of one of God’s messengers hovering in the sky in front of them. ‘I’m serious’, said Gabriel, ‘you won’t want to miss this one – there’s a baby just been born, and he’s going to be great. You really should go and take a look’. But the Shepherds decided they weren’t going anywhere, so Gabriel decided it was time for some reinforcements. One angel might have done for a young woman, or an angry man, but shepherds needed overkill. Anyway, one heavenly multitude later, the skies still ringing with the deafening chorus of the angelic host, and the shepherds were off the hillside as fast as their legs could carry them, making their way to the stable, to see the little baby. And they all agreed the he was going to be great.

Infant Holy, infant lowly,
For his bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing,
Christ the babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging, angels singing,
Nowells ringing, tidings bringing.
Christ the babe is Lord of all
Christ the babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil till the morning new,
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow
Christ the babe is born for you!
Christ the babe is born for you!

Wise Men (Matthew 2.1-12)
Well, thought Gabriel, I’ve taken care of the Mother, and the Father, and the Shepherds, and the Holy Spirit did the whole Stable in Bethlehem thing. What’s next on the angelic to-do list? Ah, yes, the wise men. They might not listen to angels – far to mystical – but being wise men, I bet they’d listen to science and reason. So Gabriel popped back to the beginning of the universe to have a word with the lord of the cosmos, and between them they arranged for a conjunction of planets, or was it some kind of star, or maybe a comet, who knows how these things happen…? Anyway, it was enough for the wise men, who followed their wisdom and their science all the way to where the baby lay. And they said to his mother, ‘we think he’s going to be great’, and they gave him gifts of gold, and spices, and precious oils, and were about to go back to visit King Herod and wreck the whole thing when Gabriel, panic stricken that it was all going to go wrong at the last minute, decided that it was time for one last angelic visitation. And the wise men who followed the signs were confronted with the angel after all. ‘Don’t go back to Herod’, said Gabriel, ‘he wants to kill the baby who’s going to be great. Go home by another route.’ And to Gabriel’s huge surprise, the wise men said ‘yes’, and everything turned out OK, at least for now.

The first Nowell the angel did say,
was to certain poor shepherd in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, lay a-keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
          Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
          Born is the King of Israel

And by the light of shining star,
Three wise men came from country far
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
          Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
          Born is the King of Israel

May the blessing of the Christ who comes to us, the Spirit who stirs and inspires us to action, and the God who enfolds us in love, be with us today and always. Amen.

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