The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the first chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "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.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Sermon Advent 4
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Amen.
The decorations are out in the stores along with the toys and candy. There are all sorts of Santas and twinkling lights everywhere you look. Gifts have been purchased and wrapped. Most of us have sent the cards and attended the parties already.
But, it’s not Christmas, yet.
Many people are impatient this time of year. They want Christmas to be here already. Kids can be especially excited and impatient because they anticipate all the gifts and excitement.
I know it is almost Christmas. But it’s not Christmas, yet.
Today’s gospel is for the fourth Sunday in Advent, a time when it especially seems like it ought to be Christmas already, but it’s not yet.
Today we hear the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Mary are both pregnant already, but have not yet given birth to John and Jesus.
Being pregnant is definitely an “already, but not yet” state of being.
In a sense, you already “have the baby” but you haven’t “had the baby” yet.
In today’s gospel, Mary and Elizabeth remind us that, even when we are distracted by our impatience for the things that are “not yet,” God is looking on us with love and blessing us.
Luke tells us that, after the angelic visitation, Mary immediately, perhaps impatiently, heads to the hill country to visit her relative Elizabeth.
As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps.
I have been blessed with two children and I know what it feels like when the baby moves inside you. They do flips and turns. They kick you with their little feet and pound you with their little tiny fists. It is very exciting, especially the first time you are pregnant.
Elizabeth is delighted to share the joy of her pregnancy with Mary, and rejoices with Mary over the news that Mary, too, will have a child.
Mary is overwhelmed with joy as well. Seeing for herself that Elizabeth is indeed pregnant confirms for her that the angel’s words are true. She knows that she, too, is blessed by believing what was spoken to her.
In her joyful response, Mary gives us a wonderful hymn known as the magnificat. The church traditionally sings the magnificat at every service of evening prayer. Including hymns and service music, eight songs in Evangelical Lutheran Worship are based on it.
My favorite hymn paraphrase is the one in Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen. We sang it on Wednesday nights this Advent.
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you. You have looked with love on your servant here and blessed me all my life through.”
In her visit with Elizabeth, Mary recognized God’s blessing in her “already, but not yet” time. She knew the blessing came from the God of her ancestors.
In her joy, she sang of the God who is merciful, the God who favors the weak, the God who uses strength to raise the lowly, the God who uses power to feed the hungry.
Mary proclaimed the God of her ancestors as the God of the covenant.
We all know that our sin caused God to put up a flaming sword to guard the way back into Eden and prevent us from eating from the Tree of Life. We have heard the stories of the covenants with Noah and Abraham. We recall the covenant of the Law given to Moses. We have heard the prophecy of Isaiah and the promises given to David.
Mary knew these stories, too. Mary knew that God would keep all these promises.
Mary was very young when she learned she would have a child. She may have been less than half as old as I was when I had my first child. She was probably about the age of some of the students in confirmation class. She was blessed with a child-like faith that trusted the promises of God.
God keeps those promises. Elizabeth and Mary could not have anticipated
everything that would happen when their sons grew up.
We certainly cannot anticipate everything that will happen to us, either. Our lives are pregnant with possibilities whether we are impatient for Christmas to come, or to learn where God is calling us next.
Now is the very time when God looks on us with love and blesses us.
Despite all the challenges and distractions of our every day lives, God blesses us with new relationships and new experiences.
God uses all of it to help us grow stronger in faith. No matter where we go, or what we do, or what those experiences are like, God’s love and blessings will allow us to share our faith with those we meet.
We can share God’s love and blessings with others and they will share God’s love and blessings with us.
Our “already, but not yet” time began with our baptism. In Holy Baptism, God showers us with love and promises to bless us our whole lives through.
Like Mary, we receive the blessing as a gift, with a childlike faith.
Like Mary, we can look forward to the time of Jesus’ birth, as we pray that Christ will be born in us this Christmas.
Today’s gospel tells of the joy of two women who are pregnant.
They both recognize their pregnancies as blessings from God.
Elizabeth’s son John, grew up to preach a baptism of repentance and to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was beheaded by Herod.
Mary’s son Jesus, grew up to preach the coming reign of God, the fulfillment of the promises his mother sang about. He died a horrible death on the cross.
But God remembered the promises. The cross was the very time God looked on the whole world with love and blessed us.
God raised Mary’s son Jesus from the dead. He lives and reigns forever, and of his kingdom, there is no end. Through Jesus, God looks on us with love and blesses us all our lives through.
We proclaim the greatness of God. We rejoice in God our Savior.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.