Spoiler Alert! (4th Advent, B)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 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.
December 24, 2017
Many of you know that I really enjoy movies. I’m a huge fan of the big blockbuster superhero movies that have become the trend in Hollywood these days, not to mention science- fiction-action-adventure movies like the Star Wars franchise. In my free time, I read and watch videos about the most recent movies and all the upcoming ones. When the movie studios release a new trailer for a highly-anticipated movie, it’s like a mini-holiday on the internet. And I’m not ashamed to say that I partake.
There is a whole market for people, like me, who are obsessed with trailers and fan speculation and reports from movie sets and interviews with the director and principal cast, and so much more. The problem is that sometimes, you know so much about the movie before it comes out, that there are hardly any surprises when you finally buy your ticket and sit down in the theater with your tub of popcorn. In recent years, marketing departments have been heavily criticized by fans for including spoilers in promotional materials for upcoming movies. Likewise, movie critics and reviewers are supposed to keep spoilers out of their articles, unless they give an explicit “spoiler warning.”
A spoiler is a bit of information from a movie, book, or other media that you wish you had learned on your own. A spoiler ruins the surprise. On the internet, you have to try really hard to avoid spoilers, especially once a movie has been out for a few days. I’ll often try only to watch the first trailer for a movie and avoid the later ones or TV commercials leading up to the film’s release, because they can give too much away.
And it can be pretty dissatisfying to spend $11 or $12 on a movie ticket and $6 on popcorn, sit through a movie, and leave saying, I could have told you everything that would happen before I walked in.
But of course, this isn’t true for all stories. Sometimes you’re going to see a movie that is a remake of a movie you already love. Here, you already know the plot so spoilers aren’t as big a problem. Or you’re watching a movie for a second or third time, and you’re not just blindly consuming the plot points. There is always more going on in a good movie, book, or story, than simply a plot summary.
The best media are rewatchable or re-readable. You can know exactly how it will end, and the journey still fills you with emotion, tears, or laughter.
That is where we find ourselves today. The 4th Sunday in Advent is December 24 this year. It’s Christmas Eve, but we’re still here finishing the season of preparation and waiting called Advent. Perhaps this morning, more than most, it feels silly to pretend like Christmas isn’t right around the corner. We know the end of the story. We’ve heard about the birth in a manger, the shepherds and the angels. We might even feel like we don’t have anything to gain by re-hashing it again this year.
But the story is far richer than the bare plot points. Yes, we know what happens to Mary and Joseph and Jesus, but that shouldn’t ruin the experience. There is more depth to be mined each and every year.
The archangel Gabriel surprises Mary with the gift (and curse) of a child. Mary considers the danger she will be face as a virgin who becomes pregnant before her wedding day to Joseph. The brave woman responds to the messenger in faith: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She is willing to welcome the coming of God to earth, even if it ruins her social life. She is willing to take on real risk to become the Mother of God made flesh. She shows resilience courage in her love for God.
Jesus’ arrival is not simply as a boy “tender, meek, and mild,” but also as one “tender, meek, and wild” (quote from "Glory" by Gungor). His presence turns Mary and Joseph’s lives upside down. Joseph has to come to terms with an unbelievable truth about his bride-to-be. He has to trust God to forgive her and accept the child Jesus as his own.
And of course, Jesus’ mission is not passive and quiet either. Gabriel says, “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” He is to dismantle the powers of this world and build a new kingdom of God built on justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. He will continually challenge self-righteous religious and political leaders to look out for the needs of all God’s children. He will be a chaotic force for good who disrupts the status quo.
And even if you knew all of that already, the story still carries weight. The story of Jesus’ birth is about much more than the literary merits of the storytelling in the Gospels. It’s not just a story in the past. It’s not simply an inspirational tale. While it may inspire and encourage in the ordinary sense, the point of the Christmas story is remind us of God’s abiding presence with us here and now.
The Christmas story is different from any movie or book we’ve ever read before because the main character is reading it with us! Jesus is alive and present with us in the power of the Holy Spirit. God and Church are not passive media for us to consume. Instead God is a living person whom we can get to know and love today.
So there are no spoilers here. Don’t let your knowledge of the nativity story discourage you from worshiping with us tonight, tomorrow, and into the new year. Jesus is jumping off the page and into our lives. He’s here with us in the Bread and the Wine, and his Spirit lives in us. And he’s not just here to comfort us. He’s here to mess things up, to challenge our sense of security and self-assuredness. He’s here to remind us that we need God and we need to community of the Church. He’s here to reign over us forever in a new kind of kingdom with a different politic than we can ever really imagine. For more on that, stay tuned tonight.