BIBLE READING: Romans 16: 25-27 Luke 1: 26-38
To God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ ... the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed ... Romans 16.25,26
There are many mysteries in this life, things that I simply don't understand. I don't understand, for instance, why there are so many refugees throughout the world, exiles from their own homeland. Groups of refugees who seem to be mainly composed of the elderly, women, children and other helpless people, without even the bare necessities of life. It is a mystery why so many other people seem to enjoy such an extravagant lifestyle, not so very far away from them.
It is a mystery to me why Jesus was killed. I'm not sure that when we say Jesus was without sin, it in fact means that Jesus never had an evil or lustful thought. I feel sure that when the Bible talks about him being sinless it is not saying he never even swatted a mosquito when he was young. I'm sure it means that Jesus went about doing good, that he did nothing to warrant being killed on a cross. It is a real mystery why the religious authorities were so opposed to him.
It is a mystery why everyone isn't a believer. Jesus on the Cross is the most powerful symbol of God's love, if nothing else. Why wouldn't everyone believe? There is nothing to be afraid of. Psalm 130:4 "But there is forgiveness with you: so that you shall be feared." I suppose forgiveness, on our part, doesn't necessarily inspire love for us in others. Sometimes people might respond with contempt, but fear is also likely, as the forgiveness reveals a differing world view.
And it not just that everyone else is mysterious and therefore in a sense unreliable. There is a level in which I can truthfully say: "I don't know myself". St Paul agonises over the good that he would do, but his own inability to do it. In Romans chapter 7 he laments: "I do not understand my own actions" (v15). And so the actions and motivations of others are essentially mysterious. We can never really know another person, even those to whom we are married.
But I want to point out that all these mysteries concern mysteries about humanity - and not about God at all.
"God is love" - "in him there is no darkness at all". There is no mystery about God and of his love for all of the creation.
If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, God always has been a God of love. So the sorts of sentiments like the God of the Old Testament was an angry God, but the Cross of Jesus placated that anger, and now God is a loving God - are the stuff of Sunday School teaching and simply and obviously untrue.
But if God has always been the God of love - why Jesus? It is no easier or harder question than: "Why did God create mosquitoes?" So Jesus was moved to say: "Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it." (Lk 10.24)
The solution to the problem of why such important people failed to see the obvious, might be in part to their humanity.
St Paul, in his agonising over his own willingness but inability to do the right thing, points us in a helpful direction. God continues to proclaim love for the creation. Human beings, shies away from such unmerited and unconditional love. There are always those who profit from keeping people and God separate, and most often they are those who sound the most religious or spiritual. The money changers and the pigeon sellers in front of the Temple. The disciples discouraging the parents from letting the children come to Jesus. I've wondered how God can love some people - especially when those who have committed horrific crimes – like the terrorist in Martin Place.
It is a mystery.
We are told: "the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages ... is now disclosed …"
The mystery of God's love has been revealed, it can no longer be a mystery. The words of Jesus Christ can be heard week by week in church by anyone willing to listen, can be read by those fortunate enough to have a Bible and be able to read. The gospel has been announced. There is nothing more to add to it. There is no mystery. It is seen in the ministry of ordinary, down to earth, peasant parents, Mary and Joseph.
The story of the angel Gabriel coming to visit the ordinary girl named Mary which has begun this and every other Christmas is known far and wide. God coming to an ordinary person and using her acceptance for the bringing of that good news. God comes - and comes to redeem us – to bring light into the dark places of our lives – to guide us home – to know love and forgiveness. God comes and says, as the angel said to Mary - play your part in the bringing of the kingdom.
Mary was no different from any of us. She was not born in a palace, and there is no evidence that she or Joseph were in any sort of privileged position in society as far as wealth or influence went – they were just ordinary people.
God comes to all - saint and sinner alike - not just to those who label themselves spiritual.
We all feel that sense of unworthiness, and desire that God should ask someone else more gifted. It would be easier (or so we think) for God to choose the gifted, the wealthy, the spiritual, the mystics, the preachers, the celebrities...
But God is not interested in getting us to confess to all our sins, or that we should become politicians or public speakers or even deeply spiritual people.
God asks us simply to let others, saints, sinners or whoever, make the contributions they are moved to make to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ as they perceive God's presence and blessing in their lives. God invites us to see the Holy Spirit at work in all sorts and conditions of people.
In doing so we spread the good news – that God is at work, maybe surprisingly to us, in many, many people.
Acknowledgement: Chris Heath