May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
Well, it's here at last. All those months of preparation and anticipation. A whole year since the last time. Adverts all around, gifts in the shops. It's really exciting. Yes finally, this week, Episode 2 of the Lord of the Rings was released. Did you think I was talking about Christmas? Well I will shortly but for now, I can hardly contain my excitement at being able to go and see how Frodo and the other Hobbits get along in their quest in Middle Earth .
I don't know how many of you are familiar with Tolkein's famous story from either having read the books or seen the first of the films. I confess to having done both. The first film, released at this time last year was a huge success. It was, in every sense the Christmas blockbuster; big action scenes, amazing special effects, a huge box office hit and 4 Oscars to boot. The second film looks set to do just as well and is, by all accounts, even more spectacular than the first.
This got me thinking about what it is about this story that has so captured people's imagination. Well firstly, it is a moral tale about good versus evil. The mythical land of Middle Earth is divided up into the relatively peaceful lands of men, of elves, of dwarves and of hobbits and the wasteland ruled over by the essence of evil; Lord Sauron with his bands of Orcs and trolls.
Once Sauron held sway thanks to the power of his ring but that was lost in battle centuries earlier. Now the ring is found and it falls to our hero the little hobbit Frodo Baggins to battle his way through the land of evil to destroy the ring in the volcano in which it was forged before Lord Sauron's men can overpower him. If he can do this, then Sauron's power will die and Middle Earth will be saved.
So what is it about this story that makes it so attractive to people in our 21 st century world? I've talked before about how people seem to be searching for the big answers in life; why am I here, what's life about, what's the point of it all etc. In some strange way, Tolkein's story is providing people with some of what they want. It is a story about good triumphing over evil. It is also a story about the fortitude of the little person against the might of the big. Our little defenceless hobbit being carried through danger by a faith in his mission and a belief in his success. It is a story about an unlikely hero. The saviour of Middle Earth is not a dashing knight or regal king but a non-descript little hobbit from an unknown backwater .
Does this ring any bells for you? Perhaps we should rebrand the Greatest Story Ever Told, the gospels, so that people turn to Christ for this inspiration rather than to the cinema. Instead of Lord of the Rings, we could have Lord of the Kings. A story of good triumphing over evil. A story of an unlikely saviour born in an unknown backwater who grows up with a complete and total faith in his dangerous mission. The saviour of our earth is not a dashing knight or regal king but the son of a carpenter in Nazereth.
So why are they queuing around the block at Ellesmere Port to get into the cinema and not queuing around the block in Bunbury to get into St Boniface? Our special effects obviously aren't up to much although if Rick gets his way we'll soon catch up!
When Jesus is born, he doesn't appear to be destined to save mankind. He looks more like a refugee than a ruler. You can't predict the end of the story any more than you can guess where the Hobbit Frodo will end up at the end of his story. Appearances can be deceiving. Only in retrospect can we see that on the night of his birth, history is in the balance. On that night, the world changed forever. God became man.
This earth-shattering event only came about because 9 months before, another unlikely hero made a decision just as heroic and we heard about that in our gospel reading today. Mary was a young woman of a respectable family who had made a good marriage. She was going to be the wife of a skilled craftsman - which would make her a part of the tiny middle class of Palestine . Her hopes and plans were, no doubt uppermost in her mind. A quiet life, children, a nice house, some financial security all of the usual stuff. I'm sure God figured in those plans as well. She would do her duty by God, follow the rules, pay her tithes, make the sacrifices.
The story of the annunciation that we heard today is God making a real mess of those plans. God is telling Mary, through the angel, that she will have very little of what she hoped for. God has plans for Mary and they are very different to the ones she has for herself. They are unexpected, they are a bit scandalous and they change everything. Through Mary, Christ would come into the world and the world would be changed forever.
It would have been so easy for Mary to turn and run. We all lay out our plans and get really irate when they get disrupted. This wasn't a disruption, this was rip it up and start again. Mary's response was; "Let it be to me, according to your Word". The key to Mary's greatness was her decision to walk away from the future she had outlined for herself and into a future that God had outlined for her. Now that is really hard .
We all have plans for Christmas and the New Year. Plans for our families and our lives; plans for our children. I'm sure that XXX and XXX have already started to think what the future might hold for little XXX whom we will baptise today. All parents do - it's part of our makeup. I'm sure, because we are here today that our plans include God in some way. We may plan to pray, or to come to church; like Mary, to do our duty by God. As Advent ends, we need to realise that God also has plans for us and His plans may not always match our own.
Shortly, we will gather around the font. One of the things that we give up at that font and at this altar each Sunday is the absolute authority of our own plans. We promise in our baptismal vows and in our Sunday liturgy to listen when God speaks. To let God say 'No' to even our best laid plans for ourselves and to respond to God's plans for us.
Now don't get me wrong. Plans for the future, for our lives, for the lives of our children are very important. God gave us free will. He wants us to make our own decisions. He does not want us to wander through life in a daze awaiting divine intervention. God wants us to use that freedom responsibly, prudently and carefully. Part of doing that is making plans and decisions and following through on them. There is nothing wrong with plans. There was nothing wrong with Mary's plan - it's just that God had other ideas.
Christmas is here to tell us that God's business quite often is different from 'business as usual'. So as Christmas closes in, the last word Advent has for us this year is 'Openness'. One of the hardest tasks we face in life as Christians is to be open to and to accept, what God has in store for us. That task can, however, be one of the richest and most rewarding.
We don't know what God has in store for us, just as Mary didn't know. We can't plan for it. We can only pray that we will have the grace to hear and the faith to respond to the call when it comes.
So, those of you planning a trip to the cinema over Christmas to catch the Lord of the Rings Part 2, may like to dwell on the heroic nature of little Frodo giving up his plans for a quiet life in order to save the world and be reminded of just what Christ has done for all of us in saving, not the mythical land of Middle Earth but the real land of this earth and all the people in it.
That baby, born in Bethlehem, that unlikely hero, born in anonymity who grew to sacrifice himself for our sake, who gave his life that we might live - now that's what I would call a Christmas Blockbuster!