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Luke 1:39-45(46-55)

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.”

[And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”]

 

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He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

 

In the name of the father, and of the son and of the holy spirit… Amen

Good morning. As many of you know, we have been approaching a very special day in the lives of Americans and all of humanity.  We have been approaching a time that has the potential to change the course of history and influence so much globally.

Yes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is here and is awesome.  Is there anybody here who has witnessed this breaking in of the Spirit? Anybody who has been preparing for The Force to Awaken in their heart and in their mind… Anybody who is holding a ticket or who has plans to go see it this week? Well, I saw the film and I’m here to tell you that it is going to blow you away. It is better than you can imagine. Spoiler alert, unfortunately, sadly, Han and Chewbacca die and the Millennium Falcon is scrapped for parts to make a mate for R2D2. To the raucous cheers of the audience, Jar Jar Binks makes another appearance and is crowned King of the Galaxy and will be the star for the next two movies.

Of course I’m teasing. I have not yet seen the movie and anybody who spoils it for me will have a hard time finding a priest during Lent that will be willing to offer the rite of reconciliation. Yes, having this story spoiled would be a great tragedy and infringe on the most basic of social agreements. It would indeed be a great disturbance in the force.

This story makes me think of another story.  Another story that in many ways the ending has been spoiled. Advent is a time of waiting… a time of increasing light and a time of remembering the need for the Creator of the Universe to burst into our lives. But it’s difficult to remember that God didn’t need to introduce himself as a living, breathing, screaming baby human on Christmas morning. Our liturgical calendar makes it difficult, and even impossible to forget how the story will end. It makes it difficult to imagine God having any other plan. But, God could have introduced himself as an emperor with power and wealth and that all must answer to and who always gets what he wants. Who rides a giant war horse and who vanquishes his enemies with a sword, or gun or cannon. God could have chosen to be introduced in human form during a different era and in a different place. And we can speculate and dream of what things may have been like had things been moved around. Had God chosen another way… But in the end, we know the story. It is hard to imagine not knowing the end result. A God who chooses weakness and vulnerability over worldly power and might. So, if we aren’t intentional, the story in many ways has been spoiled.

When I first read the gospel for this week, I wished that I had been able to preach on last week’s gospel… I wished I could preach on the grown up John the baptist. With all the camel’s hair, and honey dripping down his beard… living out in the wilderness and spending each and every day living the dream. But as I red and rered this passage, Mary’s Magnificat, I began to fall in love with it for the first time.

First of all I was reminded that part of this story of incarnation includes the lifting up of the voices of women in a culture that often silenced them. Along with this new flipped Kingdom that was coming, the angel silences Zechariah and Joseph is a character that takes a back seat to the most important ones. Zechariah, the ordained priest, refuses to believe what God is doing. The author of the gospel wants to make it clear that because of Elizabeth’s faith, she, despite her circumstances, will in fact have a baby. Not just any baby, a baby that will one day pave the way for God himself.  And because the winds of change are here, the priest is silenced. A new voice is heard. A new kind of priest is born to a righteous woman with faith greater than that of a man.  And what great faith she did have. Think about the dangers of having a baby in that period of history. Think of how it was compounded by Elizabeth’s age. Sure she must have been excited, but she must have also known that there was great personal risk delivering a child.

And, I don’t want to bring Zechariah into this more than needed, but I can certainly sympathize with his fear as well. What would it mean if this angel was right? They had been unable to conceive for many years now. Would there be whispers? Would he lose his wife during childbirth? And, was it in fact “good news” as the angel had said? What would that mean for the life of his son. Zechariah most certainly knew that prophets did not have an easy life. He must have known that John might actually bring shame to him and Elizabeth. Bring shame to a holy and righteous family. What would all of this mean? It isn’t a wonder that Zechariah wants a spoiler of his own to know what will happen. The suspense was not welcome. And they both were well aware that a prophetic voice was a real threat to the Romans.  A threat that could easily be silenced by a gruesome death.

But the fear and darkness that Elizabeth may have felt was driven out by the light of possibility and blessing of being God’s chosen servant. She was able to set any fears aside and to be honored by the great responsibility that had arisen. She knew things would not be easy. She wasn’t naive… she chose joy over her fear. She chose light over darkness.  

And in Elizabeth’s seclusion, Mary arrives at the house of Zechariah. And, as she enters the house, John does a flip inside of Elizabeth. She is filled with the spirit and miraculously knows Mary’s story and that she is pregnant with God’s son. And we come to Mary’s song. And what a song it is. In her song, she declares an end to oppression and injustice. She frames the ministry of Jesus and gives us our first vision, or spoiler, of how God has decided to change the world forever.

 

She sings:

His mercy is for those who fear him

  from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

  he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

  and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

  and sent the rich away empty.

 

What a powerful response to the news that she was carrying God’s child. Most were hoping for a King who would stroll in, in purple, the color of royalty… ready to overthrow the Romans and to reinstate god’s people to their chosen place which they belonged. No more slavery. No more injustice. No more separation or oppression. The baby inside of Mary was most definitely not wanted because he was not what the people thought they needed. But Mary believed and trusted that God had goodness planned. That God would make something great out of his child who was born out of wedlock. She didn’t need a spoiler. She may have had questions, but she appreciated the surprise. she welcomed it and the dreams that came with this exciting news. She was living in the moment and finally had somebody, Elizabeth, who could appreciate what was happening. She would no longer be shamed by those who couldn’t understand.  who wouldn’t understand… She, like Elizabeth, was willing to choose joy over darkness and fear.  She chose to wrap her arms around this new life surprise even though it was not how she had planned things out.

I’d like to finish by telling a story of a friend of mine. This summer I was on lake Michigan when I heard this incredible story. The owner of the boat I was on, who is now a friend, told me that he and his wife had tried to have a baby for years and that after such a long time they had kind of unintentionally stopped really paying attention. They just kind of went about their day to day lives and thought less and less about the possibility of a child. Maybe this is the same story for Zechariah and Elizabeth. But my friends wife had been having some medical problems that caused some severe pain. During these flare ups, she couldn’t work and a few times needed to go to the ER. My friend, was preparing for work one day when his wife let him know she wasn’t feeling well. I think instead of going to work, you’re going to need to take me to the ER she said. As they arrived at Holland  hospital, right across the street from Grace,  and went through the barrage of questions and tests, they saw this trip, as one more intrusion into their life that kept them from work and social functions. Another costly trip to the hospital without a lot of answers. Another vacation day burned up by unanswered medical problems. They were frustrated to say the least.

The doctor entered their room with the test results and asked her when the last time was that she had seen her doctor. It seemed like an odd question and that’s when the doctor, let them know that she was in fact, going to have a baby. Wow they thought!  What great news. In the blink of an eye their dreams of working on painting the nursery and picking out the perfect crib flashed. “Great news Doc” said my friend. “When can we go home and get started on the preparation?”  

No, he said. You don’t understand. You are having a baby right now. tonight!  You folks are in labor!  

Talk about a surprise. They had no spoilers. They didn’t have many of the signs that would lead to the awareness of this pregnancy. They went in to the doctor to have some tests, and returned with a not-so-tiny, baby human being. There was no time for them to fear what was coming. The light wasn’t gradual as it usually is. There weren’t 4 weeks of advent to get ready. Bam!  You now have a baby.

The truth is, for many of us that Advent is a time of chaos. A time of darkness with no time to prepare for the coming of God. No time to get ready. In fact, many of us see December as a time of estrangement and loneliness. A time in which we miss loved ones who are no longer with us or we miss relationships that we wish were healthier and tighter. Maybe we spend time feeling shame or guilt about those relationships. My friends, the good news is that God is coming and that God is good. We need not fear that baby breaking into our lives. That unwanted child of God. Because of God’s goodness, he is reaching out to us… reaching into us to heal all that is broken and all that is chaos. And, spoiler alert, The joy of God, is already among us and all around us.

Amen