Bitter sweet Christmas

Luke 1:26-38

Romans 16:25-27

Sermon By Emma Swarbrick

For Christmas I’ve been slaving away in the kitchen.

I’ve developed these ground-breaking new chocoltes.

Too good for children.

Unique flavour combinations.

Enliven your palette!

I’ve brought a few to share, out of the great Christmas spirit of generosity.

Who would like one?

They really are special! They encapsulate the season!

Don’t you like them?

Bitter-sweet

Promised only good

Left a bitter after taste.

I wonder if that is how Mary felt after her visit from the Angel Gabriel? The wonder, the splendour, to be visited by an angel – such sweet surprise! And didn’t he bring good news! His opening line is, “Greetings, favoured one.” “Me?” she must have thought, “Favoured one?”

Good news:

  • Number 1. Visited by an angel.

  • Number 2. The angel calls me ‘favoured one’

It’s looking good!

  • Number 3. I’m going to have a baby! Wow!

But – oh. Here comes the bitter – she’s going to have a baby – an unmarried teenager. Being pregnant is perhaps not the best news. How is she going to tell her family? To tell her fiancé? To face her community?

Good news.

But life-changing.

Crazy.

Bitter-sweet.

This Christmas season is full of good things. You can’t escape the jollily on the television or in the shops. Twinkling lights brighten the dark night and decorations turn boring rooms into beautiful palaces. Christmas music is all over the radio and in every shop, café and restaurant. The excitement of children is palpable and watching our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews counting down the sleeps lifts all our hearts.

But for some, the laughter and joy, the twinkles and sparkle are painful. The joy of the season reminds of what is missing. While all around is laughter – a broken relationship, the loss of a loved one, being alone – all these things seem much starker.

The season is bitter-sweet.

But in the face of bitter-sweet, what is Mary’s response?

If it had been me, I would have said I needed more time to think about it. Or presented the angel with a list of reasons why I couldn’t, why he must be wrong about me being a favoured one, that there would definitely be someone more qualified than me to carry the Son of God! But Mary says none of that.

In the face of bitter-sweet, Mary says, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

In the face of bitter-sweet, Mary says, “Bring it on!”

What can we learn from Mary?

Mary was obedient, even when the consequences were great, when the stakes were high.

Mary accepted the good news, even though the message was unlikely and her experience unreal.

Will you be obedient to God’s call?

Someone else has a bit-part in today’s reading too, who deserves a mention.

Before Mary accepts the news from the angel, she has a question for him. How can she have a baby when she’s a virgin? Her reasonable question comes with a reasonable response – Nothing is impossible with God.

Mary has had good news, but so has her relative, Elizabeth. Even though she is old, she is pregnant too!

I really feel for Elizabeth, whose introduction to the Bible narrative is, Elizabeth “who was said to be barren.” Elizabeth has had the bitter. She tasted the sprouts first before she got to the chocolate. In the verse before the section we had read to us this morning we get an insight into what life must have been like for her before – she says God took away the disgrace she has endured among her people.

Her bitter life has been a life of disgrace and endurance.

Perhaps you feel that way about your own life. The joy of the Christmas season only highlights for you all that you have never had. Perhaps you think your time will never come. You wonder whether God has forgotten about you.

If that is you, then know this – nothing will be impossible with God.

God has a special job for Elizabeth, just as he has a special job for Mary. One young and one old, but both favoured.

What is God’s message to you today?

Greetings favoured one.

Do not be afraid.

Nothing will be impossible with God.

Let it be, according to your will.

And we know the Christmas story is bitter-sweet for we know how the story ends. With the sweetness of a baby born begins a life so extraordinary that it ends with a brutal death on a cross. And from the bitterness of a brutal death comes the sweet glory of resurrection. The story of death and resurrection is intertwined through the narrative of a bitter-sweet birth and as Mary is driven to praise God in the immortal words of the Magnificat, so are we.

Now to God be the glory for ever!

Good news is here to stay.

Amen.

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