Sunday, April 03, 2016

Plans, Disasters and Fixes

A sermon for the Eve of the Annunciation

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman”.

In the depths of Channel Four’s schedules, there is a programme called Tattoo Fixers.  In this programme people arrive with an array of badly crafted tattoos, and those which are less funny once the owner has sobered up. The programme’s team of tattoo artists then transform the tattoos into more tasteful and more beautiful tattoo by integrating the original design into their new art.  The original tattoo is not erased, but cannot be seen any longer.

This evening we celebrate God’s plan for the redemption of the world.  “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” as St Paul puts it.  This plan is announced to Mary by the Angel Gabriel.  It is a plan that is not just for us, but which will have an effect on the whole of creation.  We have sung the Magnificat, Mary’s hymn of praise which speaks of God remembering his promises and delivering his people.  We gather on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation, when God’s plans to restore the whole of creation in Christ are announced. 

We also gather on the second Sunday of Easter, and so cannot forget that the plans and promises of God include the crucifixion of Jesus, indeed the crucifixion is pivotal to those plans.  At the heart of the plan whose annunciation we celebrate this evening is a death.  Death is central to God’s plans, because death is what the plan needs to deal with.  At the heard of the plan is death, and at the heart of the plan is a girl.  “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman”.  The angel does not release a statement onto the internet; or appear to the ruling elite and tell them of God’s plan.  Instead he appears to Mary, a young girl, but who is central to the plans of God.  What if Mary had said ‘no’? 

There are, then, dangers to God’s plans.  Dangers due to the fragility of the people to whom they are entrusted.  Dangers due to the darkness, the death, that is incorporated in the plans of God.  Perhaps we should not be surprised that the first reading this evening from Genesis speaks of plans going wrong.  We are not three chapters into the Bible before it begins to go wrong.  The man and the woman hide from God.  They are afraid.  The man blames his wife  - ‘she gave the fruit to me’.  The woman blames the serpent – ‘he tricked me’. The whole thing is rather pathetic, like children in the playground.  There is fragility here, there is death, the plan is going wrong right at the beginning.

And yet, we also begin to see in this how God will put things right.  God does not simply undo the damage and start again.  Instead, we begin to see God at work in the damage that the eating of the fruit has done.  God’s says to the serpent that ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will strike his heal.’  On the one hand, this is a straight forward description of affairs.  Human beings and snakes often live in a relationship of enmity.  Humans seek to kill snakes by cutting off their heads; snakes bite humans, often on the foot.  But it is also a statement with stronger theological resonance.  The offspring of the tempter is death.  The offspring of the woman is the one about whom Paul wrote: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman”.  Death did indeed strike Jesus, but in doing so Jesus destroyed death. 

God is at work to bring about his plans.  He does not do so by tearing things up and starting again until he gets a creation that works.  Rather, he works with what he has made, even as it starts to destroy itself, in order that it can be made right once more.  Hence Tattoo Fixers.  A more erudite image might be that of a tapestry.  Imagine a tapestry that has a great slashing tear through its centre, and then imagine the artist sewing the threads of that tapestry.  They work around and through the cut to make it not just an integral part of the tapestry, but the part that gives meaning to the whole piece of art.

In both the tapestry and in Tattoo Fixers, we have analogies for God’s action in redeeming the world by incorporating even the disasters into his plans.  The good news that we celebrate on this eve of the annunciation; that we celebrate during this Easter-tide; and that we celebrate every time we gather on a Sunday, the day of the Resurrection; the good news is that God in Jesus Christ does not let the darkness and the disaster, the pain and the evil have the last word.  God is working constantly to bring new life out of death, to bring healing out of suffering and to bring beauty out of the ugliness of our wrongdoing and sin. 

Our challenge is to recognise the times when we allow ourselves to think that death and despair have the final word, and to open ourselves again to hope and to the working of God. If we can learn to see God working in the darkest places of our lives then we have an important gift to share with others.  So where are we hurting, despairing and thinking that there is no escape? – those are precisely the places that the God who announces his plans to Mary and the God who raises Jesus from the dead is at work.  More than this, we are called to join in with God’s plan to bring life, beauty and healing where there is death, sin and hurt. 

Tonight we celebrate the annunciation of the plans of God to a young woman; we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; we gather to celebrate the way that God works even through our failures and disasters to bring life, beauty and healing; we gather to renew our commitment to the call of God to see God at work in our own lives, especially where we are most broken and despairing; and we gather to hear again God’s call to join in his mission of bringing his plans into being in a world that badly needs them.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman”.


First given at Derby Cathedral 3.4.16.

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