SERMON Advent 4 C 2018 Luke 1 39 55
The angel Gabriel has just made the baby announcement to Mary: “‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. And now, your Auntie Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God!’ And Mary said, ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let this happen just as you said.’”
I imagine she didn’t sleep a wink that night! And the very next day, Mary packed her bags, kissed her parents goodbye, and tried to explain that somehow she just knew that her Auntie Elizabeth would be needing some help. And Mary, full of Advent anticipation, set off to the Judean hill country. If what the angel said was true, then Elizabeth would be the only person who would understand just how crazy this thing was that happened to her. Elizabeth would be the only person who would rejoice with her. The only person who would protect her from public stoning when her pregnancy began to show. At the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary would be safe from the assuming eyes of her neighbors. Perhaps they would even talk to her parents and figure out how to make this work so that she could return to Nazareth one day. The angel did say that nothing would be impossible for God… and if God could make a virgin conceive, and if God could make her gray haired Auntie conceive, then surely God would keep them safe.
I wonder what Mary was thinking as she traveled? Was she genuinely excited for the adventure? Did she really believe that she’d been visited by an angel or did she question her sanity? Did she spend the whole trip saying, “This is crazy, this is crazy, this can’t be real!”
Did she have her doubts, saying, “I’m gonna get there and she’s just gonna be the same old Elizabeth she’s always been, how can my Auntie be pregnant after all these years? How could any of this be real?”
Did she wonder about the specifics of what was going to happen to her? Did she know she was pregnant at this point or did she assume it would happen sometime in the future? “What does it feel like to be pregnant? Aren’t I supposed to feel nauseous? I just feel like me, nothing feels different. Have I already been overshadowed? What does that even mean anyway? When will it happen? I should have asked more questions.”
As soon as Mary arrived at their house, some of her many questions were answered. She swung open their door with her unexpected visit greeting, “Hello Auntie, it’s me, Mary! How I’ve missed you!” And as soon as Auntie Elizabeth turned around, Mary knew that God was up to something radical! Auntie Elizabeth was obviously with child, proof that God’s promises would happen for Mary as well! And Elizabeth, who had always been so calm and quiet, held her belly and doubled over as her unborn baby did a somersault in her womb. When she looked up, she was not the calm and quiet Auntie that Mary expected to find, Elizabeth was transformed into God’s prophet. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with a message of affirmation for Mary, a message to give her the faith and courage she needed for her new vocation as Mother of God. Without Mary saying so much as “hello,” Elizabeth proclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy! And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Whether she knew it before she swung open that door or not, Elizabeth’s prophecy confirmed that Mary is already carrying the Lord. While this new reality is unexpected and unfamilar, Mary is indeed blessed beyond measure- blessed because she is the Mother of our Lord, and blessed because she believed!
I’m sure Mary had lots of questions on the road to Elizabeth’s house, perhaps she even had some doubts, or questioned her own sanity. But, the most important part of this tiny chunk of scripture is that Mary believed enough to go and see if what the angel said about Elizbeth was true. Mary believed enough to move forward in this faith journey – in this journey of God at work in her life!
She could have woken up the next morning and assured herself that she’d dreamed the whole thing up! Who ever heard of an angel visiting an unimportant girl in a small town like Nazareth? She could have waited around to see if any morning sickness started, or to wait until she started showing before truly believing and travelling to her Auntie’s house. But, Mary believed enough to go with haste to the Judean hill country, immediately. Even with perhaps some questions and doubts, Mary believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.
Through the angel Gabriel’s words and Mary’s faith, God brought these kinswomen together as a gift to one another in their hours of greatest need. God sent Mary to Elizabeth to help her with the challenges of carrying a child through the 3rd trimester and bearing a child in her old age. And God sent Elizabeth’s words of strength and affirmation to Mary to comfort and support her as her life took an unexpected, unfamiliar, and unimaginably blessed turn, as she came to terms with the new reality that she was the mother of the Messiah.
This Christmas season, God may send us to friends and family near or far. We will find ourselves greeting and gathering with many of our loved ones. I pray that their presence is a balm of comfort and support for each and every one of us, and that we in turn offer love and support to all of those we gather with this season, for like Mary we carry Christ with us wherever we go.
As the Church, we are pregnant with our Lord Christ right now.
Even though we can’t see him, we feel his presence within us. We see ourselves growing and changing. We see the stretch marks his new life within us has caused, our badges of honor for a life transformed. We see how he makes us glow with love and joy and peace.
We know that our lives will never be the same because of this Christ that we carry.
We know that our calling now is to carry him, love him, laugh with him, and cry with him all the days of our lives.
The Church is heavy with child. We groan under the weight of the responsibility we bear, and yet, we set to work nesting for him. We get our house in order –tidying up that which is a mess within ourselves, making right that which is wrong- as we prepare to welcome Christ when he comes.
We do not know the day nor the hour, nor even the ballpark estimate of the due date! We have no idea when he will arrive. But we do know that we cannot wait to hold him, to look into his eyes of love, and to hear his precious voice. We do not know when to expect him, so we must be ready now.
Our hospital bag sits packed and ready at the door in eager anticipation! For the day of our deliverance draws near!
Christ IS coming!
He will be born for us, to relieve us of all groaning and strife, and to replace our pain with relief and joy.
Christ will be born every year at Christmas time, and Christ will one day come again for us –this body which has so faithfully and lovingly carried him all these years. Amen.