By Pastor Cherie Johnson
It is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas is on Friday, and finally we have something that indicates a baby is coming. In fact there are two babies coming!
We start with the Angel Gabriel telling Mary that she’s going to have a baby, and not just any baby. He also tells her that her cousin Elizabeth is also having an unusual pregnancy. Perhaps, it’s not surprising that Mary immediately goes to see Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, who after a lifetime of suffering the stigma of being childless, who thought she was too old to have a child, is expecting a baby, who would become John the Baptist.
Here are two women who weren’t supposed to be having children. Elizabeth because of her age. Mary because she was so young, probably a teenager, and unmarried.
No one else may have known yet, but her stigma was coming. Though she accepted the task, the honor, that Gabriel told her about, she didn’t seem particularly happy about it, yet. She knew what people would think. Times may have changed from 2000 years ago, but even today an unmarried teen pregnancy is still a distressing and worrisome proposition.
Mary went to a person who knew stigma and might be able to understand. Elizabeth gave her a welcome that must have been beyond her wildest expectations.
Before Mary had a chance to even tell her, Elizabeth provides the first acknowledgment of Mary’s pregnancy by another person, and it is profoundly positive. Not only that, but she pronounces Mary as blessed!
Contrast that with Matthew’s Gospel when Joseph finds out. He plans to divorce Mary. That was not such an unreasonable thing under the circumstances, until he has his own visit from an angel.
Elizabeth points out the blessing of this child, the one who will be named Jesus, whose name means “the Lord Saves.” How is she clued into this? She felt her baby, John, leap inside of her.
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about John the Baptist, this same John, as a grown up man, as being the one who is “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way for the Lord.'” Here, he is doing it already, before he is even born. This allows Mary to receive the support she needs. God providing one of the people she needs to accomplish the purpose God has for her. God does the same thing for us. God provides the tools, the talents, the abilities, the people that allows us to do what we would otherwise think is impossible.
God chose someone poor and powerless for one of the most important jobs in human history. Why would God do that? We get a clue from 1st Corinthians 1: 27-31:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise: God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’
Basically, it is to show it could only be God. To demonstrate God’s glory. This means we can all be used by God. There is no worthiness threshold any of us have to meet. None of us are worthy, not one. None of us are good enough. It doesn’t matter. When we follow the nudge, or sometimes downright shove, by God, it is an opportunity for God to show God’s glory through you! The question is not whether you are worthy, but will you accept the challenge?
Mary accepted the challenge, and through the power of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth pronounced her blessed. Moreover, she was blessed because she “believed that what the Lord had said to her will be accomplished.”
What if we believed? Or maybe, more to the point, what if we lived like we believe that what the Lord says will be accomplished? Do we live in the space of, “It might be nice if… People didn’t lie, or cheat on their taxes. It might be nice if we loved God most and always put God first and loved our neighbor as ourselves, but you know that might not be convenient. It might not be practical. It might even be dangerous. What if my neighbor tries to hurt me?” Or you may ask the question the lawyer did in Luke 10: 29, “Who is my neighbor?” It’s from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and I encourage you to read it if you’re not familiar with it. The short answer is, everyone is our neighbor, even people we would consider our enemies.
What if we live like we believe that what God says is true, that God’s ways are the best ways, that God is in control, and that at the appointed time, God’s promises will come to fruition?
We can think about how the world would be different, but that could be overwhelming and remote. We may not feel that our actions will have any effect on the world large.
How would your world to be different, your life be impacted, the lives of the people around you be different if for this week you lived like you believed that God’s ways are right, and God keeps God’s promises.
That is what Elizabeth and Mary are really celebrating here. The birth of Jesus is the start of something big, something that God has always promised. Jesus, the Lord Saves. Maybe their long hope has not been in vain.
This is why we even celebrate Christmas at all. It is the hope we have that because Jesus was born, we are saved from our sins. Our relationship with God is restored. His birth was a vital step in the plan, a plan that is incomplete as we anxiously anticipate the Second Advent, the Second Coming or return of Jesus Christ.
However the birth needed to take place first. God is at work behind the scenes, but these two pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth are where we begin to see God fulfill another one of God’s promises. What if we lived like we believe that?
Our next stop is Christmas Eve. What if instead of getting wrapped up in the wrappings and trapping of what our culture says is a Christmas celebration, we actually acknowledged the hope that was born that night? What if we considered what that good news means for our families in our loved ones?
We want the parties, the special foods, the coming together family and friends. It is even biblical from Luke 5:33-35, when the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples art fasting. We have Jesus. It is a time for celebration. As long as we remember why we are celebrating, and it doesn’t get lost in the midst of our parties and personal traditions.
I invite you to join us here on Christmas Eve as we look at the hope we were given when God came down to live among us. Bring your family and your friends. If you are away, find someplace, some way to celebrate the thrill of hope wherever you are!