Advent 4C, 2018, December 23, 2018
Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:46-55, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-45
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Chinook and Naselle Lutheran Churches, WA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a Christmas song that is very popular these days. I’m sure that you’ve all heard it, and enjoyed it, because it is beautiful and, (unlike most modern Christmas songs) actually talks about Christ and what he means.
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you?
If you’ve ever heard this song and wondered if Mary knew, well, the Gospel of Luke is quite clear. She did. The angel spelled out for her who and what her infant son was going to be, and then she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was filled with the Holy Spirit and confirmed that the baby was going to be special, and Mary responded with the Magnificat, the Song of Praise, which we used as a psalm today. And then even after Jesus was born, when they took him to the temple, two separate people, Anna and Simeon, prophesied about the baby Jesus and what he was going to grow up to do. So, yes, Mary knew. She might not have had everything spelled out with each individual miracle listed, but she knew the general gist of what Jesus was going to come to do. She knew that Jesus was going to continue God’s saving actions. She knew he was going to scatter the proud, the greedy rich who let others starve, the powerful who gained power by oppressing others, while at the same time lifting up the lowly, the downtrodden, the hungry, caring for them and making sure they had what they needed to live abundant lives. She might not have known specifically that he was going to walk on water, but she knew that he was going to save the world by turning it upside down and doing incredible things.
But a lot of the time, simply knowing isn’t enough. We may know the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean we’ll do it. We may know that something hard and difficult is going to be worth it in the end, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy about the hard and difficult bits. How often do we put off or try to avoid something because, much as we might desire the end result, we really do NOT want to have to go through the process of getting there? Mary knew who Jesus was going to be and what he was going to do, because the angel told her; but that doesn’t mean she was happy about it or looking forward to it. I don’t know how she felt about it, but I imagine she was in a lot of shock. And also, she was probably worried, considering that she wasn’t married and having a child out of wedlock was a huge deal that would change her life and probably make it measurably worse. And, sure, she probably trusted that God would take care of her and provide what she needed to do the task he had given her … but that doesn’t mean she was happy about it, or looking forward to it. Knowing isn’t enough. Most of the time, we need something further to help put knowledge into action.
For Mary, that something was a visit to her cousin Elizabeth. When the Angel told Mary what was going to happen, she accepted it, but that’s all. The angel gave its message, Mary said okay, the angel left. Then she went off to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also expecting a child under unusual circumstances. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were both elderly, and they’d been unable to have children. Now, past the age of childbearing, they had given up hope. But an angel had come to Zechariah and told them that they would have a child, who would grow up to become a prophet—you know him as John the Baptist. That’s who Elizabeth was pregnant with when Mary came to visit.
Elizabeth’s baby jumped for joy in her womb, and Elizabeth was blessed with knowledge of who Mary was going to be, and who her child was going to become. And Elizabeth was thrilled. She affirmed what the angel had said, and blessed Mary. And here is where we get Mary’s reaction, her song of praise, in response to the news the angel brought. Here. Not while the angel was there, not when she received her call to become the mother of God. Here, with her cousin. Who had just finished showering her with love and support.
Human beings aren’t created to be alone. God did not make us to be solitary creatures. That’s one of the first things we learn about humans in the Bible … God creates the first human, calls it very good, and then says, “but it is not good for the human to be alone.” And then God creates the second human being. Because humans need companionship, and support, and love. And we get that from God, but we also need it from our fellow human beings.
God was asking Mary to do a hard thing, by asking her to bear and raise Jesus Christ, God-become-flesh. Partly, that was hard because pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing are hard. But a lot of it was that people would gossip about her, and shame her, and treat her badly for bearing a child out of wedlock. It doesn’t matter how much she told them the child was God’s Son and God’s will, they would not have believed her. If someone told you that God was the father of their baby, would you believe them? Probably not. So Mary would be ostracized and alienated from her community because of this thing God was asking her to do.
But God provided her with people to support her, even so. By giving a child to her cousin Elizabeth, and then giving Elizabeth enough insight to realize what was really going on, God ensured that Mary would not be alone. No matter what anyone else said, she would have someone in her court, someone who would give her love and support and understanding, which are things all human beings need. And it is at that point, when Mary knows that despite what society is going to think about her, she is going to have at least one person loving her and not judging her, that‘s when the knowledge of what was going to happen overflowed into praise. That’s when she began to sing.
None of us are Mary or Elizabeth. None of us are going to have mystical pregnancies that catapult us into the center of God’s work in the world and redirect our lives with one fell swoop. But we all have callings from God; we all have a place in God’s work in the world, both individuals and as a community of faith. Our callings may be smaller than Mary’s call, but they are still important, and still part of God’s work. Knowing what God is calling us to do is the first step, and without an angelic messenger it usually involves a lot of prayer and study and contemplation. But the second step is not one we can do alone. It’s not private. It’s about coming together as a community to support and encourage one another. As Elizabeth encouraged Mary, so we too are called to encourage one another, to name God’s gifts when we see them and bless one another. And that’s especially important when, as in the case of Mary, God calls us to do things that don’t necessarily fit in well with the larger society. And sometimes what God is calling us to do isn’t necessarily to do the work ourselves, but to support those who do it. To be there for the people who need us. To be the arms of God wrapped in love around those who would otherwise be alone or neglected. May we answer God’s call with joy; may we always have the love and support God desires for us; and may we always share that love and support with those who need it.