A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 18th of December 2022

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

I look from afar, and lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth. The Advent antiphon sung at the Cathedral Carol service on Advent Sunday night and sung as our Introit this morning has held in the very music… a longing …, a sense of hoping, waiting… looking out for what it is that we long …what we may not quite know … the writer of the antiphon is courageous in his description …he names for what he longs …  the power of God coming.

Advent is this time of waiting, keeping watching, hoping, for what? We may not even be sure. Waiting in this way is so often woven into the spiritual life, the praying life, the life that is at the heart of our very beings as followers of Christ. The vulnerability of it, the beauty of it, the grief, even, of it. Of waiting. And giving utterance to it. The music gives utterance to what it feels like to wait. The composer Palestrina knows how to portray longing.

Tell us, art thou he that should come? Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people Israel?

The praying life has woven into it this waiting and yet, there are times when unexpectedly, when we are not looking out for anything, God breaks in. On this, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear the story of God breaking into Mary’s and Joseph’s life. This year, the year of Matthew, we hear the story of God breaking in to Joseph’s life. And when God breaks in there are angels in the wings. Angels, angelos, the ones who bring messages from God.

Mary and Joseph were not on the lookout as we are. Not praying and longing at all. Mary was almost a child when Gabriel came. God breaking into her young life asking her if she would bear God’s son.

Denise Levertov described Mary’s encounter in her poem. Here is part of it:

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,

almost always a lectern, a book; always

the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,

the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,

whom she acknowledges, a guest. …

…we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions


The engendering Spirit

did not enter her without consent.

God waited.

She was free

to accept or to refuse, choice

integral to humanness.

This was the moment no one speaks of,

when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,




She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’

Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

She did not submit with gritted teeth,

           raging, coerced.

Bravest of all humans,

          consent illumined her.

The room filled with its light,

the lily glowed in it,

     and the iridescent wings.


     courage unparalleled,

opened her utterly.[1]

Mary wasn’t the only one met by Gabriel who showed courage. Joseph was also encountered unexpectedly by God. He was met by scandal. Mary, the one to whom he had been engaged, was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Joseph, was a good man and did not wish to disgrace her, so he planned to dismiss her quietly. He did not know that what was happening in Mary was the work of God. Until the angel came. And, what on the surface was scandal, was reimagined as the work of the spirit of God. The angel spoke in a dream. The night time is often when God speaks.

‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’

And Joseph saw the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy as holy ground, and he did what the angel said and took Mary as his wife and, when the baby was born, named him Jesus. What our poet Denise Levertov named “Consent, courage unparalleled” in these two, Mary and Joseph, gave a home for the birth of the Christ child, the one to be called Jesus, the one the prophets said would be named Emmanuel.

As we wait for Jesus’ coming, we are given two names to ponder.

Jesus, the one who will save us from our sins. Sins trap us. The habits of which we are ashamed, the once only actions that we cannot believe we engaged in, the little unkindnesses, the failure to love sometimes. Sins trap us, enclose us, hem us in, and this child will save us from our sins, will bring salvation, salve, healing, the making of space for us to thrive, to be as God made us to be.

At the School Christmas Carol services, so joyfully returning to our Cathedral in the past weeks, we heard, as the first reading, the story from Genesis 3 of God walking in the Garden of Eden at the time of the evening breeze. It is hot there, and when evening comes the people go out and chat, talk over the events of the day, delight in company again. Which is what God is doing. Only, the sin of Adam and Eve has done its constraining work and they are in hiding. And, so, God is lonely. In the garden at the time of the evening breeze. This story is read to give the sense of the grief of God, and the brokenness of creation, and the longing of creation for healing to come.

As if creation might be looking from afar… as though creation might be crying … Tell us, art thou he that should come? Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people Israel?

And this child who will come, whose birth we will remember, and hear, and sing, and wonder about, is the child whose name is Jesus, which means he will free us from our sins. Which means that the things that trap us, enclose us, hem us in, will be forgiven by him, washed away in him, and we and all creation will have space to thrive again. Space to breath afresh. Space to wander in the garden in the company of God at the time of the evening breeze.

For, as the writer of the Gospel reminds us, quoting the passage from the Prophet Isaiah that we heard read this morning, Jesus has another name, Emmanuel, which means God is with us.

We might wonder about that as we long for God’s coming. We might wonder about that as we watch flood waters engulf communities, as we grieve the death of those we love dearly and those we have known loved by others in our community, those loved in the war-torn cities of Ukraine, as we wonder if there will ever be peace on earth. Can we keep hoping for that? Can we look from afar? Can we sing with the choir Tell us, art thou he that should come? Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people Israel?

Remember, God breaks in. God broke into Mary’s life and Joseph’s life, unexpectedly, unaccountably, determinedly, in ways beyond their imagining. That is who God is. So we might, mightn’t we…

Sing with the choir …

And, this week as Christmas approaches, we might go out, to meet him and say…

Tell us, art thou he that should come? Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over thy people Israel?

Tell us, will you bring peace on earth?

[1] Denise Levertov Annunciation