Sermon, December 20, 2015

Love: The Blessed Vulnerable Mary
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
December 20, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Sunday of Love, Christmas Sunday
Luke 1:26-56; Matthew 1:18-25

Mary is the model for all Christians, not just Catholics, not just women, but for all of us.

A central doctrine of our faith, far more important than the virgin birth, is the belief that Christ lives within every one of us. Jesus prayed that we would recognize this truth. (John 17:23) Paul said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) Every time we take communion we ritually renew Christ’s body and blood living within our body and blood. Every one of us at our baptism receives affirmation that the same Spirit that made Christ Christ is present in us.

Our calling as a church is to be the body of Christ. Our calling as individuals is to do our part as members of Christ’s body. (I Corinthians 12) Jesus sends his followers to bear into the world his power for healing and reconciliation with God, so that the world may turn from its selfish ways to the ways of God’s realm of mercy, justice and peace. Most of all, we are called to bring Christ’s love into the world by loving God and loving our neighbor—neighbor meaning everyone in the world who is in need of love, especially the stranger or wrongdoer or enemy.

Like Mary, we have something of Christ to bring to birth that the world desperately needs. The scriptures and the news headlines tell us this as clearly as if the angel Gabriel were standing in front of us announcing it. And like Mary, we have to decide how to respond.

I am talking about birthing our life work, our heart’s deepest dream, the contribution we long to make to our family or community or world, but I am also talking about what we will do as soon as this service is over, and after we go home, and as we go about our lives this week. Every person we encounter presents us with the chance to bring Christ to birth through a smile or a compassionate, listening heart, through a kind word or a sharing of our truth to forge a link of loving community.

Our Identity and Aspiration Statement talks about “the rich history of contributions to the town of Bradford made by our church and its members,” and it talks about how “we respond to the Christian message by coming together as a united force to help in times of crisis, and by supporting local and global missions, and by serving those in need.” The same Statement also talks about striving “to be a loving church family where everyone feels welcome and at home, appreciated and supported,” and where “we maintain healthy communication and a positive, hopeful attitude as we face inevitable challenges.” We bring Christ to birth as a church in some big ways, and we also bring Christ to birth in small ways, one loving act at a time.

Every birthing of Christ has in common that it requires risks. It asks that we make ourselves vulnerable to discomfort, failure, attack or shame. The Roman Catholic Church calls Mary the BVM, the Blessed Virgin Mary, but what was far more miraculous than her virginity was her vulnerability. Her virginity was only the circumstance that made her so vulnerable. It was her vulnerability that brought Christ into the world. It was her opening wide, saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”

BVM should stand for the Blessed Vulnerable Mary. Her blessedness came through her surrender to whatever might happen, her willingness to risk saying yes to the scandalous calling she heard, based on an encounter with an angel and the Holy Spirit that no one was likely to believe. It was her vulnerability that made possible the blessing of Christ’s birth.

Brené Brown is a best selling author and sociologist who has studied vulnerability. She says in her book Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope…. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Brown writes, “I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.”

As the Christian author Madeleine L’Engle said, “I love, therefore I am vulnerable.” (Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art)

This is true not just in romantic love or friendship. We give our love to our children and we are vulnerable for the rest of our lives. If they hurt, we hurt, and sometimes they hurt us. We give them birth, we sacrifice for them, and then come adolescence, they may decide we are an embarrassment or annoyance and they want nothing to do with us. Yet we never stop loving them.

Love makes us vulnerable in church, too, in at least three ways. First, we take risks opening up, sharing our joys and deepest concerns, singing in the choir, working on a committee or walking up to someone we do not know well during refreshments and having a meaningful conversation. Second, we are vulnerable as we try to bring Christ’s love into a world that increasingly ignores, scorns or spurns Christians. Third, we are vulnerable to the challenge of change, because the future for the Christian church will probably look different from the church that we have known. Loving the church and doing works of love as a church make us vulnerable.

As Brené Brown says, vulnerability is a place of power, not weakness. It is the birthplace of love, courage and creativity. They are what we need in order to bring Christ to birth in this challenging, rapidly changing world. We may have the impulse when we feel vulnerable to withdraw, to protect ourselves, to risk less, but exactly the opposite is what we need to do, as Mary showed us, and as Joseph showed, too.

Joseph stood by Mary despite the shame of her pregnancy. We need others to be vulnerable with us, like Joseph. We need communities of vulnerability, people willing to support and defend us, people courageous enough to take risks with us as our partners in bringing creative, Christ-like works of love to birth.

Mary and Joseph together are the prototype of the church. We all need to be Mary here, and we all need to be Joseph for one another. Our future depends on our being the Blessed Vulnerable Church together.

Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are all about vulnerability: waiting, hoping and expecting that light will come at the very darkest time of the year; giving birth in a dirty animal slobbered manger in a manure stained stable, and the shocking vulnerability of God there as a baby; the long journey of the wise men by night following nothing more than a star and a dream. The Christmas story is full of people taking so many risks for the sake of love. It calls us to do the same.

So my question for you is how can you take more of a risk with your love? How can you make yourself vulnerable bringing Christ to birth in your life today and in the year ahead? Search your heart, look at the needs of this church and the needs of others around you, pray and reflect on what you could give, and say with Mary, “Here am I the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

Then God will help you do the rest. The Holy Spirit is within you, Christ is living within you, and if you give your consent, they will make the miraculous, blessed vulnerable birth take place through you, bringing you a life that is full of meaning and purpose, full of undying light and love.

Our joy is in direct proportion to the vulnerability we risk for love. So let us pray in silence, saying to God, Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word…