Sermon for Sunday, December 9, 2012

Luke 1:26-38

Divine Encounters: Meeting God In Mystical Experiences (Mary)”

Today is the second sermon in a 6-week series entitled “Divine Encounters”

looking at the diverse ways the persons of the Christmas Story met God.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Jim Robinson, Pianist

The hear the Podcast of this sermon/meditation, click HERE:  121209SermonPodcast

To see a video of this sermon/meditation, click HERE:


Annunciation - Russion Icon, 1400's

Annunciation – Russion Icon, 1400’s

Mystical experiences are, by their very nature, illusive and hard to describe.  Writer Michael Ramsey describes mysticism as “an intense realization of God within the self, and the self embraced within God in vivid nearness.”  (1)

So, was Mary having a mystical experience when what we now call the Annunciation, occurred?  In some sense every divine encounter, including all those that I will explore this Advent and Christmas, is a mystical experience. Labeling Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel as “mystical” and the others not is completely arbitrary.  That which is mystical comes in many forms.  I am also keenly aware that talking about and, in some sense, analyzing such experiences is not appropriate/helpful/in keeping with mysticism, which is supremely ephemeral, subjective, and extra-sensory.

Virgin Of The Annunciation by Antonello da Messina, 1460

Virgin Of The Annunciation by Antonello da Messina, 1460

Having said all this, I still think a conversation about meeting the divine in in the mystical is appropriate if for no other reason than we moderns allow so very little time for, and prepare ourselves inadequately to experience the numinous and transcendent in our lives today.  I hope this time helps you and me both to be open to mystery and mysticism, even if just a tiny bit more.

Mysticism is a phenomenon known in almost all religious traditions.  The swirling whirling dervishes of the Islamic Sufi tradition, and the writings of Rumi, are perhaps the most well known.  “[Whirling] is a customary dance performed within the… worship ceremony through which dervishes… aim to reach the source of all perfection… This is sought through abandoning one’s… egos or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, which has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun.” (2)

Rumi, perhaps the most famous mystic in history, was a 13th Century Persian.  He wrote, “Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.” (3)  He also wrote, “In the sight of Love, fear isn’t even as great as a single hair: in the law of Love, everything is offered as a sacrifice.” (4)  Both intensely appropriate as we talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

So, rather than talk a lot more about “mystical experiences,” I would like to invite you into a meditation.  I’m in no way trying to “make” you or me have a mystical experience, for I don’t believe for a moment they are crafted or manipulated in such a way, but I do think that words alone often get in the way of opening ourselves up to a mystical experience.  So relax, sit back and hear this melding of words, images, and music.

Perplexed” and “pondering

The angel interpreted fear, but was it?

Perhaps this was the fulfillment of all that she ever believed and hoped for!

Or in an instant was a young girls wondrous imaginings of all that could be

Dashed to the ground?

Favored,” yes, but willing?  One could only hope.  Pray.  Imagine.

Meeting the divine messenger face to celestial face

Is no small feat for any of us,

But if this God has any say about it,

Such encounters are reserved for the low-life, low-brow, low-lying lovelies

who populate the scriptural countryside.

Shepherd boys and servant girls seem to get all the attention

Of this one-true-God.

Pharaohs, kings and high priests, keep moving on,

there’s nothing divine here for you to see.  He-he-he…

Confused?  Or just intrigued by the details,

She inquires how this will be.

The answer is as elusive as an anxious parent

telling a toddler where babies come from.

Holy Spirit visitations and powerful overshadowing

Are hardly comforting, much less illuminating

Dr. Spock and Dr. Ruth could do far better.

And the babe, already forming in her womb

Will be no shrinking violet, no blip on the proverbial radar screen of life.

He will be someone!

And in the fine tradition that brought this news to this peasant household

This someone will not be clothed in royal robes of human fashion,

But regal attire of divine crafting,

more sackcloth than robe, more shepherd’s crook than scepter

The peoples’ monarch, a truly humble sovereign,

One heart on earth and that same heart in heaven.  Always holding both/and.

Absorbing this, she acknowledges the course correction,

And in twelve short verses her life changed dramatically, irreversibly, wonderfully

As did the course of human history.

But, given the consolation of a relative in an equally audacious pregnancy,

Mary nods her head, in strength and confidence as much as in acquiescence,

“Let it be with me according to your word.”

And it was.

(1) Michael Ramsey, in Through The Year With Michael Ramsey,  ed. Margaret Duggan (Hodder & Stroughton, 1975), p. 164, as quoted in The Westminister Collection Of Christian Meditations, compiled by Hannah Ward & Jennifer Wild (John Knox, 1998) p. 175.

(2) Sufi Whirling, found online at Wikipedia:

(3) Rumi Sayings & Quotes, found online at:

(4) — Mathnawi [V, 2184]  From “Jewels of Remembrance,” by Rumi, selected and translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski, © 1996. By arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston,  Found online at: