Monday, March 27, 2017

Homily for the Annunciation March 25, 2017, The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith, Oblate SSJD

Isaiah 7: 10–14 Hebrews 10: 4–10 Luke 1.26–38

There’s a little girl in my congregation named Alyssa. She’s about 10 now, I guess. I baptised her when she was 5. She’s an amazing kid. On the day of her baptism she was beaming, I kid you not. When the liturgy began, she stood in her pew with her family and I asked her “Do you desire to be baptised?, she replied in a big, clear outside voice, “I do!”. She has a remarkably keen sense of God’s presence in her life and she is very open about the frank conversations she has with God in her prayers. She often up-stages me during the children’s talk (and sometimes during the sermon) with her astute answers and profound insights. This past Christmas Eve, as the children were sharing symbols of the Incarnation with the congregation, Alyssa went ‘off script’ and declared in that big, clear, outside voice of hers, “Mary was Jesus’ first home”. Just think about that for a minute – “Mary was Jesus’ first home” – it’s an astonishingly accurate observation.

Today we hear the story of the Annunciation; of the angel’s invitation to Mary to become Jesus’ first home. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus – do not be afraid – you have found favour with God.”

In the Hebrew scripture appointed for today, Isaiah actually foretells this story: Look, a young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Immanuel – God with us, or perhaps more accurately, God at home with us. God came to nest with Mary – and Joseph, first in a stable, then in exile, then in the apartment behind the carpenter’s shop. But what about now?  Where does God live now? 

Some years ago, I spent a summer working as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital in Montreal. It was a hard job – one I wasn’t sure I could do. The patients I was assigned to work with suffered from distressing illnesses that caused them to hallucinate or hear voices. They were often fearful, suspicious, frightened. They were all ages – some elderly, some middle aged. One patient was 22, my age at the time. Her name was Debby. Most of the time, she sat in the day-room, her arms wrapped around her, hugging herself and rocking. She seldom spoke, just made a low moaning sound. One morning, we learned she was being transferred to a “secure” or locked unit for specialized treatment, and as the orderly wheeled her away, she asked me anxiously, “Fran, does God love me?” She was crying and soon, so was I, and to comfort her, I said, though to be honest, I’m not sure I believed it at the time, “Yes, Debby, God does love you!” About two weeks later, Debby returned to our unit. I almost didn’t recognize her. She was walking upright. Her blonde hair was combed and gently braided on her shoulder. She was smiling – actually, she was beaming. She came over to me in the day room with her arms outstretched. She said, “You were right, Fran! God does love me!” and she hugged me. I thought, “Finally! I’ve gotten through to someone!” I asked her how she knew God loves her. She said, “He told me – he delivers the mail on the locked ward.”

At first I was disappointed – I hadn’t gotten “through” at all; I thought perhaps I had been too optimistic, too naive. I guessed that this woman wasn’t really cured at all – she was obviously still hallucinating, perhaps even hearing voices, if she thought God was the postie on the locked ward. And then it hit me. If God can come as a child born in a stable, then who says he can’t be a postie on a locked ward? Something in that postie’s manner – did he speak a kind word? Did he smile at her? Did he treat her like a person, and not merely a patient? If we believe, as we say we do, that Christ takes “our nature upon him”, that God has made us in his image, then aren’t we, like Mary, meant to “bear” God – to bring Christ to others, not by what we “give” them, but by who we are? Jesus told his disciples that if they loved him, truly loved him, then he would dwell within them. And people will know you belong to me, that you are my disciples, if you show love. Wherever you are, he said, I am in your midst. So, then, where does God “live” now?

The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith, Oblate SSJD with retreatant. 
Well, I think God lives in a high-rise on the waterfront, in a rooming house on Pleasant Street near my church and on the sidewalk where a homeless woman sleeps on a heating grate to stay warm.  God dwells in the refugee camp and in the slums, in the mud hut and in the 4-bedroom house in the suburbs.  God inhabits the hospital room and nursing home, resides where there is peace and where there is no peace, sits at the table teaming with food and at the one where there’ll be an empty place this Christmas. And I hope he still has a job delivering the mail on the locked ward.

Yes, indeed, Alyssa, “Mary was Jesus’ first home”. And God continually comes to nest in each one of us, inviting us to be a place of welcome in the world. Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith, Oblate SSJD