December 23, 2018

THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
4th Sunday of Advent

Micah 5: 2-5a
Psalm 80
Luke 1: 39-55

Listen to this sermon

God of Love

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary[b] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

In this morning’s Gospel story (in this relatively simple story of a visit between relatives, just prior to Christmas) we have three stories of active love to help us along our Advent journey this morning.

Just before we dig into these three stories, let’s quickly recap the text that we’ve just heard from Luke’s Gospel:

Luke starts into the action of this story right away: “39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”

As soon as Elizabeth hears that Mary has arrived at her home, three things happen in quick succession:

  • The child within her—that is: John the Baptist—leapt with joy
  • Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and
  • Elizabeth began to proclaim loudly to Mary:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

The final movement in this story is Mary’s response, which takes the form of a Psalm and is known as The Magnificat.

As I have said, within this relatively short and simple story of a visit between relatives at Christmas, we have three stories of active Love to guide us in our Advent of Love this morning.

The first story is written on the surfaceIt is a story about family and about nation.  It is the story of Mary and Elizabeth, of the leaping unborn baby John, and the Holy Spirit that gives words to each of the women in this story.

This story, which takes place a short time before the miracle of the first Christmas morning is a story about active love; active love between two relatives; two women pregnant with children; two women who are about to begin the whole story of the Gospel.  Indeed, two women who show us that the Gospel story begins even before Jesus and John were born.

The story begins with Mary, already pregnant with the baby Jesus, making a journey to visit and celebrate with her relative Elizabeth.

Now – I’ve never been pregnant – but I suspect that it is not so easy for someone who is pregnant to walk on foot, from one town to the other, alone.

In the course of researching this suspicion, I was told that “there must have been a darn good for Mary reason to go, and Joseph must have had an even better reason not to have been there to help!”

Why does Mary go?

Mary goes because she has just heard the words of the Angel Gabriel announcing to her the good news about the births of Jesus and John, as we heard last week.

(Why does Mary go?)

I think we can be confident in concluding that:

Mary goes to share in the good news with Elizabeth!

Mary goes to witness Elizabeth’s miracle for herself!

Mary goes because Elizabeth is family, and this is the kind of thing we do for family just before Christmas.

This is the family story.

But there is another story written on the surface of the text and that is a story about nation.

Within these verses is Israel’s first act of celebration at welcoming the Messiah into the world:

Luke tells us that “41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.”

According to Luke, John the Baptist cannot even wait to be born before celebrating the arrival of the Son of Man.

John is so excited to welcome his relative, his cousin, his Lord, that he cannot sit still even within his mother’s womb.

Giving words to this same excitement, this same blessing of the Nation Israel, Mary gives praise in her Magnificat:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

By these words, these people/these relatives know that what has taken place in this room and in these wombs is not just good news for their family!

It’s good news for all of Israel!  The Messiah is coming!  The Lord is coming!  These are no ordinary children; they are John the Baptist and Jesus Christ; the Baptizer and the one in whose name we have been baptized!  Thanks be to God!

And please let me say again: there’s nothing passive about the love shared in this story.

It’s a story of active love that draws family together, that brings the Holy Spirit close, that celebrates with all of Israel, that finally their saviour (and ours) is close!

That’s the first story…the surface story.

The second story, written in the same words of the same Gospel is not about the words written on the surface of the page, but rather those written in the hearts and the lives of those people who have read them through time.  And this includes the hearts and lives of us gathered here this morning.

The second story is our story, which reflects the Gospel story.

This is the story that has taken place in your own life when you felt a little like Mary, reeling with unexpected news that caused you to make haste to the home of someone who would listen compassionately.

This is the story from your own life when you felt a little like Elizabeth, faced with a joy or a challenge later in life than you thought possible.

This is a story from your own life when you felt a little like poor Zachariah,  opening the door to a relative of your spouse only to have them run past you and begin speaking what sounded like total nonsense to your partner.

The second story of this text is—for us this morning—written at least as many ways as there are people in this room.

Maybe for you it’s about a new job and not a pregnancy.

Maybe for you it’s about close friends and not about family.

Maybe for you it’s just about the experience of hearing the Mary and Elizabeth story; it rings true of an experience in your life that comes back strongly when you hear this story even though you don’t know why.

Maybe it makes you smile, or maybe it makes you cry.

The second story of Mary and Elizabeth is your story.  Your personal story.  Woven in whatever way it happens to be in your life.  No less real to you than Mary’s or Elizabeth’s experiences were to them.

And I would wager that, for many of you, it too is a story of active Love.

A story that reminds you how close God is in your life.

A story that reminds you how close your family or your friends are.

A story that, for reasons unexplainable, makes God feel very close indeed.  That perhaps makes you thankful that he travelled all the way from that first Advent Season to your pew this morning to dwell close in your heart.

These are the first two stories:

  • The story written on the surface, the story about Mary and Elizabeth and John and Jesus.
  • The story written in our own lives, the one that is personal and meaningful to us.

Now, there is, I believe, a third story written into these same verses.

And that is the story that collapses the divide between the first and second.

 

 

So far we have spoken about:

The first story: the one that took place a long time ago in the lives of a woman named Mary and a woman named Elizabeth.

We’ve also spoken about the second story: that one that takes place within our own lives.

But there is a third story…

The third story is often the most difficult to believe in because it requires us to think of ourselves and those around us as just as beloved as the people in the first story.

But how can this be?

How can any of us be as much beloved as Mary or as much beloved as Elizabeth?

You may say: I’m not the mother of John the Baptist!  I’m not the mother of Jesus of Nazareth!  How can this be true?

Each of us is loved by God as much as Mary or Elizabeth, it’s just that we spend an awful lot of time and energy rejecting this love.

God’s love is infinite. We know this. We have been told this time and time again throughout our lives of faith. God’s love does not diminish as it is shared, but rather, it GROWS! God has enough infinite love to love Mary and Elizabeth and you and me, all in equal infinite measure. We know this. But do we believe it?

Do we believe that God loves our poor, hungry, sick, and downtrodden neighbor as much as His own Son? And do we take the time to tell our neighbor this?

Do we believe that God loved Mary, an unwed pregnant youth, so much that He chose HER to be the vessel of the greatest gift that humanity would ever receive?

The third story collapses the divide between the biblical story and our story because it reminds us that within every such life: every frightened pregnant youth, every bewildered husband, every moment of Holy Spirit inspiration, the love of God is as much present here as there.   That the love of God is as much present now as then.

The Good News of the Christmas Story is that God dwelt among us. God took on human flesh and was born a human birth in order to come as close to us as possible.

God did all of this for us!

Not just the Christmas story! Not just Advent! Not even just the words of the whole Bible!

BUT all of this great, beautiful creation!  Every day of your blessed life!  Every day of your neighbor’s blessed life!  God did all of this for you and for them!

God’s active love for YOU is written in bold print across all three stories:

God gave you the Scriptures, including the story of Mary and Elizabeth that you might know Him and receive His love!

God gave you your experiences, your memories, your joys and your tears that you would know Him in your very own life!

And—as often as we allow Him to—God interrupts us to remind us that there really is not so much difference between the text and our lives.

Mary may be a specific woman in a specific time and place, written into a specific text but there is a reason God’s people have read this story for two-thousand years: because she is still with us!

There are still women around us pregnant and afraid who are as much beloved by God as Mary.

There are still children born into poverty who are as much beloved as God’s only Son!

If we believe, even for a moment, that these things are still true, how shall we respond?

How do we respond to the active love of God that draws all nearer to Him and His Son?

How do we respond to the active love of God that comforts the afflicted and gives peace to those with none?

How do we respond to the active love of God at Advent that promises that, yes, this year, as every year, Jesus Christ is about to born again into our world to cast out the darkness and give light to those who need it the most?

How do we respond?

Friends, I suggest we respond with active love of our own.

Active love that we have already begun, or, are free to begin:

Active love that serves meals to the hungry

Active love that gives gifts to those without family this Christmas

Active love that sings carols to those without a song in their hearts

Active love that cares for the Marys and Elizabeths of our time and place

Active love that looks outward and shares the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love we have found with everyone we meet

Active love that looks inwards, love that looks at the person not just on the street, but the person in the mirror and says “And you too…God loves you with an infinite measure too.”

Friends, tomorrow night Jesus Christ will be born into our world once again.  Born into an imperfect world with perfect love: the same God who came close in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, the same God who comes close in our own lives, the same God who interrupts us, as often as He can, to remind us that we are His children and we are greatly loved.

Let us greet him with open arms; with Hope, Peace, Joy, and (above all) Love.

Amen.

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