A sermon preached on the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020, Year B, Luke 1: 26-38, by the Rev. Hugh E. Brown, III, D. Min, MSW, LSW, Rector, All Saints Parish, Princeton, NJ
The Light of Love
“How can this Be?”
In June of 2016, the day after Father’s Day, I did something I thought I could not do.
My mother and I had just received two telephone calls from the Lewis Gale Hospital in Roanoke, Virginia.
The first telephone call was to tell us Dad had been admitted to the ICU. The family is always notified when this happens.
The second call…. …”I’m so sorry but we need to tell you.”
It was so quick; a matter almost of minutes in between the calls.
At first, I felt this strange since of peace and—remarkably—a lack of surprise. After all, through decades of ministry I had known so many deaths in this way—directly following a key life event.
A time such as my Mother, my sister—and me---at Dad’s beside in the hospital on Father’s Day—for what would be—the last time.
But—then, this thought: “I can’t do this.”
“I can’t go to the hospital; enter that ICU room—and get his things; the items he took to the hospital.”
Like shoes I remember; a shirt I would know; his electric razer; Dad was a proud man; yes, it would be even in the ICU—used or not.
But we all do what we have to do. I have heard that often in 32 years of ordained ministry.
Upon my entrance into the ICU of Lewis Gale—the entrance where you must push some kind of button—then—and wait for some voice in the Intercom---I walked to the front desk.
A nurse stood up when I approached.
Yes, she stood for me; and then she smiled.
I don’t remember really what she looked like to this day; can’t remember her features.
But I remember the smile. And I remember that smile following me into Dad’s room.
That smile being with me as a picked up—yes, some clothing; some shoes; his electric razor.
And something else.
Light; the smile; that light.
As I said, I don’t remember her features.
But I remember a light as radiant, as blinding; as akin to furnace illumination with fire—as I will ever know.
On my bucket list—someday—is a visit to some goodness known place in the North—to see the great Aurora’s.
I’m not sure I will see anything like that smile.
I’ve thought of her a lot—that nurse with the smile—and the Light.
I have thought of her much during these past few months.
I have wondered if she Face-timed or Zoomed with patients and their lives ones in the ICU.
I have wondered if she stood with---kept vigil with—patients on their way to eternal life; like she might have done for Dad; I never asked her.
I have wondered if she was afraid; or comforted the fears of others.
I have wondered if she might have taken the risk to hug and enfold a dying COVID patient—like that amazing photo all of us saw within the past few weeks.
I have wondered if she relayed clothing—shoes—an electric razor—to the sons of Father’s lost.
But of this I have no doubt; if she did these things; there was Light; smile; burning fire.
That light empowering sons doing for their fathers—for the sake of love—something that they thought they could not do.
I am not sure that she would call herself a hero.
No—just in Camus’ words, just decency; and fire; and light; and love.
All of this came back when I was scrolling through visual images of the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to a young Jewish teen named Mariam.
For an angel of God came to a village called Nazareth; in a region torn by occupation, revolution, war; and no doubt the grinding illness and economic deprivation which all come in occupied areas of armed conflict.
The Angel, according to Luke, gives Mary a message—as all Angels do; that is what Angels are; not supernatural beings; but above all—messengers of God; in Billy Graham’s words God’s secret agents.
The message: that she would bear the Messiah; but not only that; that she would do so—of the Holy Spirit; for her child would not only be human; but divine.
The American artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner conveys this moment of Angelic message and Mariam’s response
It graces the bulletin cover this morning.
So many artists have attempted to capture this moment—this Angelic Visitation to Mary; so many have imagined the Angel Gabriel’s appearance.
Tanner does something different—to convey this moment that changed the course of human history; but more than that—changed forever—God’s relationship with humankind.
What does Mary experience—when she receives the knowledge, understanding, and word—that she will bear the Messiah; and bear him under a risky and potentially life-threatening way?
For who would believe her? Who would think she was anything other than unweed pregnant teen? Who, in the eyes of many would be shamed and alienated?
But more than that.
I have always thought that the Annunciation to Mary was more than “You will.” Even “You will” as assurance and promise.
From the beginning—the so-called promise was riven with expectations overturned!
Mary was being asked to do something without precedent; and without any support from her tradition.
I can’t imagine that going through Mary’s mind was the question: “I’m not sure I can do this.”
Yes, before, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord,” perhaps came indeed, “How can this be.”
But—there was Light.
The kind that no doubt was with Mary when old Simeon told her that a sword would pass through her soul.
The kind that no doubt assured her before Joseph believed her.
The Light that no doubt was with her when the children around her were all killed in a pogrom in Bethlehem.
The Light that would be with her when her Son was on the cross; and she stood with him; when few others would.
The Light that was with her when she was in the upper room with his disciples and perhaps, just perhaps was one of the leaders in the early Christian movement.
The Light that never left her.
For the Light shines in the Darkness; and the Darkness does not overcome it.
As do we—experience that Light.
Over these past few months of crisis.
Light; in ICU’s; on the Streets of protest; when our nation’s constitution and election systems are under assault.
The Annunciation Light is always there.
For you; as for me; as it was for Mariam.
Dear friends—blessed Annunciation Sunday.
Remember all those who, as we worship—are providing Light to those who “don’t’ know if they can do this.”
Remember that Light can birth new Messiah’s--and create new Magnificat’s.
For, perhaps, a yet unborn soul-gift is in you, waiting to bless the World.
Waiting for you to nurture it into fullness.
With terrifying dignity and empowering hope.
Do you see Light?
This very Morning?
Providing the Word: With God, nothing is Impossible.
For Smiles and Light are waiting…
…..even in the ICU.