Sunday, December 23, 2018

4 Advent

Dec. 23, 2018

Luke 1:39-49 (50-56)

+ As most of you know, I sent out my Christmas letter yesterday. And I have to admit, it was a bit of a sad Christmas letter.  I shared in it that I felt I just could not get myself to send out Christmas cards with the letter this year—this of course being the first Christmas without my mother.

In typical St. Stephen’s fashion, I received many messages from people letting me know of their love and prayers.

So, because of the sad nature of that letter, I realized I really needed to end the season of Advent on a much lighter note. I wanted to end Advent as Advent should be ended. With HOPE.

Certainly, in our Gospel reading for today, we also catch a glimpse of hope and joy. We find Mary and Elizabeth rejoicing in the ways in which God was working their lives.  Mary, carrying within her flesh God’s very Son—the Messiah made flesh—and Elizabeth, carrying within her flesh John, who would later be the Baptist calling to us from the Jordan River, meet and there is a spark of energy that fires up between them.

Or more importantly, there is a spark of energy that comes up between the babies they are carrying within them.

What I have always loved about this story from scripture is that neither Mary nor Elizabeth probably fully understand what is going on within them. They both know that something strange and wonderful has happened.

Mary, the young virgin, has conceived under mysterious and certainly scandalous circumstances and is about to give birth. And Elizabeth, the barren elderly woman, also is about to give birth.

These sort of things don’t happen in ordinary life.  Have they happened in your life? Has anything even remotely like this happened in your life? If so, please let me know!  Certainly nothing even remotely like this happened in the lives of these two  Jewish women.

But now, here they were, greeting each other, both of them pregnant with children that came to them by miraculous means. And, although they might not fully understand why or how, they feel real hope and joy at what has happened to them.

The full expression of this hope and joy finds it voice in the words of Mary’s song—

“My soul glorifies the LORD
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

In a sense, when we find ourselves relating to any of the people we meet in this Gospel reading, we may find ourselves relating more to Elizabeth. As Mary and the baby she carries draws near, there is a sense of joy and hope that comes not from some external place for Elizabeth, but from a place deep within her. It is a joy and hope that leaps up from her very womb—from the very center and core of her body and soul.

And so it should be with us also as we enter the Christmas season.  As we come forward today, like Elizabeth, to meet with joy and hope this mystery that we are about to remember and commemorate and make ours tomorrow evening, we too should find ourselves feeling these emotions at our very core. But we can also find ourselves relating to Mary.

Like Mary, we are called to carry within us Jesus. Wherever we go, we should bear Jesus within us. God’s own gift to us dwells within us.  God’s very Word dwells within us!  And like Mary, we should be able to rejoice as well, at this fact that Jesus dwells within us. We too should sing to God, in joy and hope:

“My soul glorifies the LORD
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Now, we have been hearing the Magnificat quite a bit this morning, as we should.  This “Song of Mary” is one of my beautiful scriptures we have.

But before we think this is some nice little song to God from innocent teenage girl, I would like you to remember how radical it really is.  And how political it is.

Oh, you didn’t catch Mary’s political jab? It’s right there:

“…[God] has scattered the proud in their conceit.
[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.

For her, living there, in that time, it says a lot. And it’s echoing pretty loudly for us here and now.

God, we realize from this Song of Mary, does not let their “proud” in their conceit last long in that place. We know that God has no problem casting down the mighty from their thrones.

Mary’s song of defiance is our song of defiance today as well.  And that, even in our defiance, we are full of hope in a God truly does do these things.

Like both Mary and Elizabeth, this hope and joy we will be experiencing tomorrow night should be coming up from our very centers.  This is really how we should approach the miracle that we commemorate tomorrow evening.

Like Mary and Elizabeth, we will never fully understand how or why Jesus—God’s very Son made flesh—has come to us as this little child in a dark stable in the Middle East, but it has happened and, because it happened, we are a different people. Our lives are different because of what happened that evening.  This baby has taken away, by his very life and eventual death, everything we have feared and dreaded.

That is how God works.  God loves us enough that everything we have feared will be taken from us.  When we look at it from that perspective, suddenly we find our emotions heightened.  We find that our joy is a joy like few other joys we’ve had. We find that our hope is more tangible—more real—that anything we have ever hoped in before. And that is what we are rejoicing in, along with Mary and Elizabeth, this morning.

Our true hope and joy is not in brightly colored lights and a pile of presents until a decorated tree.  Our true hope and joy is not found in the malls or the stores. Our true hope and joy does not come to us with things that will, a week from now, be a fading memory. Our hope and joy is in that Baby who, as he draws near, causes us to leap up with joy at his very presence.  Our hope and joy is in that almighty and incredible God has send us the Messiah, the anointed One, the One promised in the prophecies of scripture,
in this innocent child, born to a humble teenager in a dusty third world land.  Our hope and joy is in a God who send us this amazing gift—who has sent us LOVE—real and abiding LOVE--with a face like our face and flesh like our flesh.

LOVE embodied.

This is the real reason why we are joyful and hopeful on this beautiful winter morning.  This is why we are feeling within us a strange leaping. This is why we rushing toward God’s very Messiah who has come to visit us in what we once thought was our barrenness.

Let the hope we feel today as Jesus draws close to us stay with us now and always. Let the joy we feel today as Jesus our Friend comes to us in love be the motivating force in how we live our lives throughout this coming year.

God’s Presence is so near our very bodies and souls are rejoicing. Let us greet God’s chosen One with all that we have within us and let us welcome him into the shelter of our hearts. And, with Mary, let us sing to the God who sends Jesus to us with all our hearts,

“My soul glorifies in you, O Lord,
and my spirit truly rejoices in you, O God, my Savior.”


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