Advent 4 Sermon.
BE NOT AFRAID – Nothing is Impossible with God.
1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
1:28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
1:29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
1:30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
1:31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
1:34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
1:35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
1:36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God."
1:38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN. Please be seated.
The message in the gospel is a powerful one this morning. The Angel Gabriel is telling young Mary, that she has been chosen by God and she replies, Here am I, the servant of the Lord. The Angel Gabriel answers her question with the reply,
BE NOT AFRAID - Nothing is impossible with God.
For a bit of background :
- Tradition tells us that Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old when the angel appeared to her.
- We know that in first‐century Jewish culture, a girl who became pregnant out of wedlock faced grave danger. At the very least, she became an object of widespread scorn
A piece of music that we have prepared here at St. Philip’s two years ago addressed Mary’s asking of what she knew when she consented to Gabriel's request:
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
We have no way of knowing what Mary knew. She knew just enough to get started.
Sometimes that is how it is……. A leap of faith.
Sometimes it takes a leap of faith……. Just get started and lean on the Lord God for courage, strength, hope, love and a peace that passes understanding.
In this case Mary’s fear stemmed from the visitation of this Angel,….. the reply being -
Be not Afraid Mary! – nothing is impossible with God. –reassurances from Gabriel.
Fear - this is an emotional reaction that we have all faced at times in our lives.
That is exactly when it is important to look for signs of God’s presence.
Today, Rev. Donald asked me to talk about my volunteering with Open Circle. The Gospel today is a good segue in talking about circumstances that can certainly instill moments of fear. A very different topic than the gospel, but fear - all the same.
How many of you have ever stepped foot into a courtroom or a prison?
I think those two settings are exactly the sort of time and place where such urging to be not afraid would be so every welcome. Whether you are the offender, the victim of crime, or the family of someone who has been hurt due to a criminal act, the waiting for a decision that impacts your life, can be a time of fear and anguish.
- Waiting to hear about bail being set, time served, release or not.
- Waiting to hear the decisions about sentencing, time-frame, and where you will be held or not.
There is fear in the faces and postures of those present during times such as these.
I do not spend time in the courts, but Open Circle provides me the opportunity to spend
time with women “doing their time” in the Women’s Correction Centre. I hear their stories and I would like to talk about that now.
The mandate of the deacon is “to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world” and in particular, “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely” (BAS p. 655). That is what I promised to do when I took my ordination vows.
When I took my Clinical Pastoral Education time, my placement was at Selkirk Mental Health Centre and I worked for part of my training on the Forensics Ward. It was this 3 month experience that confirmed in my heart that I could use my gifts to journey with incarcerated people.
I certainly learned a lot about myself and it was just after that time that a door opened for me to get involved in Prison Ministry through Open Circle - a Restorative Justice based prisoner visitation program. I have been a volunteer with them for the past 2 years now.
Yes–visiting someone you have never met, who is in jail for a serious crime, can feel a little daunting at first, but I just remind myself of: Who God is what God does.
God goes ahead of me
God goes with me
God stays behind, working after I leave.
Open Circle matched me up with women who are either just entering the prison system, or they may be preparing to be released in the near future.
Truthfully, I usually go in with no clue of what to say or what to do; and then a relationship develops. God has been faithful in giving me the words to share, insights, discernment, and wisdom. Often it is not about saying much but rather being there to listen and be presence with these women.
Many folks may only have the experience of seeing prison from what they see of it on TV. (Orange is Black comes to mind). Well, some of that series is very true and reflects what it is like in a women’s correction centre, some of it is not.
Three things that Netflicks captured correctly:
- the dynamics between inmates can be really hard to take - especially as they approach release – there are all kinds of internal tensions and challenges to cope with.
- There are many uncertainties when released. 1) where will I live? 2) How can I start again with nothing but a bus ticket? – the drop off is the first stop after the perimeter on Portage Avenue. 3) Do I connect with old friends or not?
- Each woman who is incarcerated has an individual story to tell and one that needs to be told, if only someone will listen.
That is where I come in. I can listen and hear their story. I am not their social worker; I am a Deacon, a volunteer with Open Circle.
- Sometimes we do not even talk about matters of spirituality and faith
- on the other hand that may be exactly what they want to talk about. Some have Christian beliefs, some Traditional Indigenous beliefs, some are searching. I can ask them questions to help them explore their faith, tell them of my journey and encourage them to keep on exploring their own.
- Sometimes a woman just wants to talk about missing their kids, not being out there to help their parent who is sick in the hospital, (the sense of guilt and regret about that), (the sense of guild and regret for breaking the law).
- Sometimes they may talk of worrying about keeping clean – away from drugs and alcohol, when they are released. How can they do this? Where are the supports to help them get through this time of temptation and fear?
Tough stuff…… It is a tough place, a place of fear and anxiousness where they are and it has been a tough place that got them there.
- Recent statistics confirm that 90 percent of the women in prisons were abused, somewhere in their past, mostly as young girls and more than 80 percent of the cases of abuse are sexual in nature.
- They tell me their stories of hardships and missed opportunities, and making bad choices.
- Their openness is truly remarkable and it certainly gives me lots to pray about, and gives me a reality check, over and over again.
- Women inmates are of all ages, young girls of 18, grandmothers too – not just all young women. This was a surprise to me – I made a wrong assumption that they would be all young offenders.
- The gals I talk to often talk roughly amongst themselves, but I must say, my experience is that they try to be careful to talk to me with care and they try to not let too many “F” bombs go off. Apologies almost always follow a slip up.
- Many are First Nations, Métis women with complicated family history and CFS (Child and Family Services) as either as part of their background or their kids are in care.
- Life has been hard…. So hard.
One common thread that I see is a feeling of having little value; and looking for someone to turn those feels around. Some have partners that have been abusive to them – but they put up with it; or some have partners who are waiting for them to be released to pick up the pieces of life and try again….. complicated.
- They have made choices in life based on those beliefs of being of no value, while battling addictions of one kind or another. Often those choices are self-destructive.
One question that lingers in my heart when I hear their story is how cruel life circumstances can be and how this impacts our choices or feeling of lack of options. The women I talk to have lived through desperate times, times of fear, despair, poverty, brokenness, which can lead to hopelessness.
As a Deacon
I cannot fix situations with resources at my fingertips. I can only serve as someone to journey with them until it is time to be released.
I am not someone who is there to judge them and my role is to share God's love and compassion in the name of Christ by responding to basic human need in a compassionate way.
If the church is to be part of social action, serving community in my role as an Anglican deacon allows God to use me where he plants me. I remind myself that I am to follow Christ’s example and this is one way to play a part of caring for a person’s spirit.
The Gospel of Matthew, reminds us to not forget the prisoner.
I was in prison and you visited me." Matthew 25:36
It is a privilege to do just that. God does the rest.
If you would like more information on how to get involved in Open Circle, please come talk to me after the service. There is always a list of people awaiting for Open Circle support.
And so……. in these last days of Advent, each of us is called to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open. Fear has no place according to the Angel Gabriel.
I can grasp on to that, but I have some work to do in my path in diaconal ministry, because I am not there yet and I must admit: I am at times fearful – not of being in physical danger, but rather of falling short in my role as a deacon in the community, being of service out there in a world of uncertainly. I am learning to trust God as having his hand in the situations of these women, for they have lived lives that call for strong resolve to overcome so much. This is a truth that I can confirm to you today. I am also very aware that when we are fearful of whatever is happening in our everyday lives, we are not alone.
BE NOT AFRAID…. FOR I AM WITH YOU – A PROMISE OF GOD.
I will leave you with these two questions
Where in your life do you most need to hear the Angel's announcement
"Do not be afraid!" ?
Where would you most like to speak the words 'Do not be afraid' and be believed?
I am thankful to be active in community with Open Circle and I am encouraged by the
witness of other volunteers at Open Circle who don't let even reasonable fear stand in the
way of doing what needs to be done. ……. Not even in the most fearful of places.
Let us pray:
Lord God- for you nothing is impossible.
Today we have learned that through a young woman in a small town in Bethlehem, your son was born. This took faith and trust on the part of young Mary.
By your Holy Spirit, fill us with new life and hope, and overshadow us with your power and grace so that we can be servants in a world who needs to hear the promise of your Word – Be not Afraid.