Luke 1:39-45 – Sermon – Leaping for Joy

Luke 1:39-45
Leaping for Joy
12-23-12

Theodore Baker translated the lyrics from a 15th century carol.  His German to English translation is just what we sung. 
 
“Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

Sure this is not as Christmasy as you may have liked on this Fourth Sunday of Advent and maybe Holy Night was more of what you were hoping for this Sunday.  But it isn’t Christmas yet.  Tomorrow night we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and then for 12 days we keep celebrating it.  Next week in worship we will walk through the Old Testament and New Testament texts to hear of the promise of the Messiah and then the Messiah’s arrival.  We will listen to 9 scripture lessons and we will sing 9 Christmas Carols.  All the good ones.

But not today, today we are still in preparation mode.  We are making that last ditch effort to ready ourselves, ready our souls, ready our hearts for the gift that comes on Christmas morn, or as they hymn put it, “when half spent was the night.”  So instead of ringing Christmas fully in this Sunday, we get this simple and nice text about two relatives coming together celebrating the fact that they are both pregnant.

 

I am sure, since they were family, they had discussions in the past about Elizabeth not being able to conceive.  As the women would gather at any family function, talk would happen and although Mary was still young and not married she would be invited into those conversations because soon she would be.  Mary probably understood the pain and disappointment that Elizabeth, a preacher’s wife, couldn’t conceive children.  In every synagogue all the members simply wanted to see Elizabeth pregnant as much as possible.  A pregnant preacher’s wife is like catnip to church ladies.  I am sure the rumors of why she couldn’t were being placed back upon Zachariah.  But now they had been visited by angels and Zack still had his doubts.  So the Angel Gabriel strikes him mute until their baby is born.  Can you imagine that parsonage; a mute rabbi and a pregnant rabbi’s wife expecting their first child in their older years.

Meanwhile in Nazareth, the Lord’s angel also appears to a virgin named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.  She was probably just a teenager when the angel came and told her that God had picked her to bear his Son.  It was in her womb that the Christ Child, the God-man, would be born.  She is taking this all in, trying to understand her, when the angel tells her that her Elizabeth is pregnant as well.  After the angel leaves Mary runs off to the mountains to spend time with Elizabeth and make sense of all that is happening.

Growing up with three sisters there is only one thing that comes to mind when two pregnant women of the same family get together for the first time.  I have seen it happen with my own eyes.  I have seen it when sorority sisters see each other for the first time in a while.  Or best friends who have been gone forever come back to see each other.  They all use that high pitched scream they used to have anytime they saw a picture of teen heartthrob.  It starts off a normal human pitch, but still loud, and eventually it moves into a noise that only dogs can hear.  Somehow that is all I can think of when Mary shows up at Elizabeth’s house, both pregnant, both visited by angels, both told of the great thing their sons will do for this world.  All I can picture is…AHHHHHH, OHHH MY YAHWEH!!!!!!  Yes this is the small gift here on Christmas Adam, a sorority sister yell.

As they meet for the first time the baby inside Elizabeth gives a wallop of a kick.  Even John the Baptist in utero understands the wonderful thing that is happening in this moment.  The one who is to pave the way is in one belly, while the one who is to come, is still an embryo in the other.  The holy moment of confirmation of God’s plan to save the world was understood by all of those involved.

When Alycia was pregnant with Dean two of our friends were also pregnant and due the same time.  All three of their due dates were only days apart.  So they would chat on the phone here and there and compare where they were in the process of baking a human.  They would compare doctor check-ups, progress reports, different pains and cravings.  They would talk about the inability to sleep, swelling in places that never were swollen.  The list would go on and on.  I say this as the husband and the father of the soon-to-be born.  As a man I don’t understand what it is like to hold life inside me.  I thought, after a bad burrito, I was close, but I was soon told differently.  My ears would go deaf to some of those things that Alycia and her pregnant friends would discuss but I could not relate.  But all three of them could because they were going through the same thing at the same time.

Mary and Elizabeth get together and they have three months of this shared experience.  Mary can see into her future and prepare for what life will be like at 9 months pregnant.  The scripture says that when she came to visit Elizabeth was six months pregnant and Mary visited for three months.  She left in the final weeks before birth.  I wonder if she did because that is how pregnant she would be when she would be wandering the streets of Bethlehem looking for a place to give birth to her son?  Mary gained first hand experience on what was awaiting her and it was a vital connection she probably needed.

Someone once asked me what to expect when you have children.  I told them that what they should do is write down what their life looks like now on a piece of paper.  Write down what you and your spouse love to do and what your favorite hobbies are.  Write down the moments of joy you have in life to.  Then get in your car and drive down a highway you can get up to at least 70 miles an hour on.  Then when you are cruising at 70 miles an hour, take that piece of paper and ball it up and chuck it out the window.  That is what is like when you have a baby.  It changes absolutely everything but what is so amazing is that you never truly want that piece of paper back because what you have now is so much better.

I am sure there were moments with all of you who were expecting your first child that you needed to get ready for it.  I am sure they are different for everyone, both mothers and fathers.  What moment was it for you?  Was it when the nursery was finally all painted and all the furniture was in?  Was it when you had to child proof your house and you realized it would take you a second or two to get into any drawer or toilet in your house?  Was it when you had to install that car seat for the first time and you wondered what deranged person invented such a horribly complicated device? 

I think we witness Mary’s moment right here in the scripture.  Elizabeth is so happy to see Mary and so elated about how her baby jumps when she comes that she says this to Mary, “With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.  Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”  I love the last part of that verse, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” 

With this Mary breaks out into song, which is referred to as the Magnificat.  This song of praise starts with Mary, moves up to God’s people, then the rest of the world and then to God.  It is a song of praise and thanks giving that seems just to erupt from Mary’s soul.  The honor, the joy, the hope, the peace, the love that will be coming from her body, her baby, is overwhelming.  Here is what she says;

Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
55     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

We don’t know much about the rest of their pregnancies.  This is the only peek we get into the both Mary and Elizabeth’s baking process.   For the other six months they are isolated from connection for all we know, but for these three months they spend it with each other.  This is their big connection to community, to ready themselves for what is to come.

Why are you here this morning?  Why did you feel that today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of winter, was a good day to come to church?  Are you here because you were hoping to get a sense of Christmas?  Are you here because of the darkness that invades your life this time of year and you needed some light?  Are you here because this time of year you desperately seek some sort of connection to make sense of it all?  What brings you here this morning?

My hope is this is not the last time we will worship together before Christmas morning.  I truly hope you will come to one of the Christmas Eve services in order for us to truly celebrate the birth of Christ.  It isn’t Christmas yet, but it is right there.  We can almost feel the birth pains starting.  The baby’s kicks are getting harder and we can tell there isn’t much room in the womb.  God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Elizabeth tells Mary, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”  God’s promise will be fulfilled.  This Christmas seems darker than others.  Maybe it is just me, maybe it is just darker in my own eyes.  All I know is I cannot wait to see the light. 

Our final hymn today is another Christmas Carol but it is still dark and somber.  In the Bleak Midwinter was written by Christina Rossetti as a Christmas poem for an American magazine in 1872.  She imagined the Nativity in a snowy Northern landscape and what it would have been like if Christ came into the world she knew.  In the early 1900s it was put to the familiar music that we know it by.  I love this carol but what I love is that in the somber tune, the quiet melody there is a hope and joy.  It feels distant.  It still feels far off but it is there.  Listen to the words of the second verse,

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

The light is coming and tomorrow night we will welcome him.  But today, this morning we celebrate the fact that we are happy because we believe that Lord will fulfill his promise.  God will live up to what God says.  Light will come to eradicate the darkness.  This is why we gather together on this fourth Sunday of Advent, on this last day of preparation.  We come to ready ourselves, remind ourselves, in the midst of this community we love that we will find the hope, peace, joy and love in the babe in Mary’s womb.

And all God’s people said.  Amen.

 
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Advent Devotion – Dec. 12

Matthew 1:18-24 ;
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
        And they will call him, Emmanuel.[a]
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife.
To find good husbands these days it is rare.  There are those who love their wives and kids and are very active in their lives.  Then there are those who see their job as the sole income earner and concentrate only on that.  There are those husbands who abuse their wife and children and those who run off and have nothing to do with them.  Husbands run the gambit and we can find all kinds in the bible and in our pews. 
We don’t know much about much about Mary’s fiancé.  We know his name is Joseph and that he was a carpenter.  We know he respected and cared for Mary because he was willing “to call off the engagement quietly.”  That says a lot about his character and his compassion for this young women who was pregnant with God’s son.
Although we don’t know much about Joseph we can still glean some things from how he lived his life in the pieces of information we do have.  We can see that although it was probably socially damning to him, he followed God’s will and kept Mary as his bride-to-be.  He took care of his step-son Jesus and passed down his craft to him.  We can see that he was a loving man of God and who sought first to do what God asks of him in his life.  That is something all men, husbands, fathers, step-fathers can strive for in our own lives.  

Advent Devotion – Dec. 11

Malachi 3:1-4 ;
3 Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
2 Who can endure the day of his coming?
        Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
        He will purify the Levites
            and refine them like gold and silver.
            They will belong to the Lord,
                presenting a righteous offering.
4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.
In our current society the worst thing you can say to people is that they are not perfect.  Many children are growing up today with the ideas that what they are in that moment, what they can do at this time, is all they need to succeed in this world.  While that is a happy thought that may wrap warm fuzzies around some as they nestle into bed, it is a bold face lie.  I’m not saying we should stomp on our children’s self-esteem but reality is if you want to be great at something you have to work really hard at it.
Professionals at all levels work hard to hone their craft.  From professional athletes who push their bodies to the limit during the off season or who take the same shot over and over again to lawyers and preachers who work on the art of rhetoric to improve their skills.  Architects, CEOs, doctors and engineers are always learning new procedures and looking into new ways to do things.  Professional musicians and singers have to practice, practice, practice.  The skills we have as children do not make us great but they are the foundation of greatness that will come with hard work.  We simply cannot stop growing when we are 13 or even 18, we have to continue to process throughout life. 
Here in Malachi we get nervous when we read of being purified or refined.  We think pain and punishment but reality is different.  Instead I think of this as moving us from where we are to greatness or even holiness.  The refining and purifying process removes dirty material, imperfections, and defects and creates something wonderful.  Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit works on all of our hearts to move the dirt, defects and imperfections out in order for us to be made great in Christ.  As we grow as followers of Christ we have to be willing to always be changing, always refined, always purified.  If we are satisfied with where we are, we are merely lukewarm Christians.  We should seek and welcome God’s refining process no matter where we are in our walk.

Advent Devotional – Dec. 10

Matthew 3:1-12 ;
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, 2 “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” 3 He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said:
The voice of one shouting in the wilderness,
        “Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.”[a]
4 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey.
5 People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. 6 As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 7 Many Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized by John. He said to them, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. 9 And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire. 11 I baptize with water those of you who have changed your hearts and lives. The one who is coming after me is stronger than I am. I’m not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.”
Nothing warms the heart more this Advent season then a little a fire and brimstone.  Forget the yule log, this type of rhetoric will keep you warm and cozy for a long time.  Joking aside, how many Christmas cards do we see quoting John the Baptist’s rant against the religious rulers?  This was my first impression until I realized how much I, a religious leader, need to pay attention.
In Luke’s gospel (last Sunday’s lectionary text), John the Baptist goes on a similar rant but it isn’t associate to a certain group of people.  It was simply preached to the crowd that showed up.  But this one, in Matthew’s gospel, is directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees; the religious leaders of that time.  So how do I, as a clergy, deal with what John the Baptist preaches to me this Advent season?
I feel this is a call to action for us clergy this time of year.  Advent is always BUSY beyond belief.  There are all the holiday parties, Christmas preparations, and all the other ‘stuff’ that comes with the season.  But do we priorities what we should be concentrating on this time of year?  For me Advent is a time to do the best worship possible.  Worship in a way that builds up to the Christmas, not just celebrate it for a month at a time.  If we do that, we will be better off and truer to the nature of this time of year.  But reality can be different.  I can get focused on what “I” have to do that forget my job is to get people ready for Jesus.
The holy seasons, Advent and Lent, are not about us, it is about Jesus.  We have to not focus on ourselves and remind ourselves that we are supposed to be about God in everything that we do.  We cannot sit back and rest on our laurels.  Instead we need to be active in the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in this world.

Advent Devotion – Dec. 9

Philippians 1:3-11;
3 I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. 4 I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. 5 I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. 6 I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. 7 I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. 8 God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
9 This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. 10 I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. 11 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.
Part of preparing for the arrival of Christ is to realize how active God already is in your life.  It is take a moment and be thankful for what God is already doing.  Most of the time when we pray we think of God as Santa Claus.  He is there to take our wish list and to make them a reality.  But that is not how God works no matter what we think or practice.  God is not an ATM or Holiday catalog.  
Instead we should take a look at how Paul is praying for the Philippians.  He holds these people deep in his heart and gives thanks to God for them.  But he also prays for them to grow, “your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight.”  Our faith is ever evolving and growing.  If we stop learning, stretching our faith, and actively journeying towards a deeper relationship with God, our faith will soon die.
May you, on this Second Sunday of Advent, find time to grow closer to God.  My prayer for you is the prayer of Paul; “This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.”

Advent Devotion – Dec. 6

Isaiah 11:1-9 ;
11 A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
    a branch will sprout from his roots.
2 The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
    a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    a spirit of planning and strength,
    a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
    nor decide by hearsay.
4 He will judge the needy with righteousness,
    and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
    by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
    and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
    the calf and the young lion will feed together,
    and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze.
    Their young will lie down together,
    and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
8 A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
    toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
9 They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
    The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
    just as the water covers the sea.
  
This text is Jesus Christ’ job description.  It is predicted hundreds of years before his arrival on earth.  Even reading it now there is no way I would want to come close to attempting this job.  Churches have been known to have this as the job description for their pastor but let’s face, the job has already been taken by the Son of God.  This is good news to the meek and the poor of the world but it is scary for the rich and powerful.  Judgment is really only scary for the guilty.
Out of all the scary parts of this text and the joyous images of peace, the first verse stands out for me.  “A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots.”  It is promised that out of the line of David will come the Savior of the world.  In Matthew and Luke’s genealogy texts we can see how the line between David.  Built on the back of the great King David comes savior who will bring peace upon the earth, something we all desperately desire. 
The images of this text are interesting and lose some of their flare in our modern reading.  I mean I don’t even know if I could identify a “snake’s hole” if I came upon one.  But the idea of a world at peace, a world where there was no longer any fighting or need to fear, is one we can all relate to.  Thank you God for making that day possible through the one who could live into this promise and bring it into reality.

Advent Devotion – Dec. 5

Mark 1:4-8;
4 John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 5 Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Humility is a hard thing to master.  In an age where all new digital mediums like Twitter and Facebook seem to be about personal promotion, it is hard to see images of humility these days.  One place where humility being shown sticks out in my mind is in the 2010 incident with Jim Joyce.  He is a first base umpire and he called a runner safe when he was definitely out which ruined Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.  It was all over the news and the way that Joyce handled the incident showed great humility.  You can see more by going hereand watching ABC’s report on the incident.  This will give you the background to see what true humility looks like in the weeping and sorrowful eyes of Jim Joyce.
Humility is about understanding where one stands in relation to everyone around them.  At times it is about who has the most power in the room, or the most respect.  But at other times it is coming face to face with someone you have wronged or who is holier than yourself.  When Joyce walks out to the pitcher’s mound the next day, wiping tears from his eyes, he understood where he was and who was standing next to him.  I bet he only felt two inches tall in that moment.  But he was met with grace and understanding (which speaks even more highly of how Galarraga handled the situation as well).  In that moment I bet Joyce didn’t feel even worthy enough to tie up Galarraga’s cleats.
John the Baptist is hitting his stride and height of his popularity in this passage.  He knows who he is there to prepare the way for and he is talking him up the best he can.  People are looking to him and John tells them the one to come is someone he cannot even compare to.  If you would put them side by side, Christ’s holiness would make John feel two inches tall and unworthy to tie his sandals. 
When we stand in God’s presence we will all be struck with that humility, not because of God’s unbearable judgment upon our sins, but because of the love we will feel in that moment.  The overwhelming love God has for each of us will be too much for us to take.  We will all humbly bow and bend our knees.  We will do so because when we look at who we are compared to who God is, we will be instantly humbled.
May we live life with that same humility in our hearts as we meet the people God loves, even in the mirror.