Advent 3 December 15, 2019 – Sermon

Advent 3 December 15, 2019 Ps 113, Isaiah 35, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:39-56

Long after the United Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon a thousand years earlier – long after Israel the Northern Kingdom and Judah the Southern Kingdom were divided by civil war and foreign conquests – long after the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple and exile in Babylon – then six long centuries of colonization by Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome – long after many, many years of waiting for a Messiah-King like David of old to restore Israel to its former glory…

In a humble hill country home… God’s revolution begins to be revealed…
Having said yes to the angel Gabriel’s promise of a son to be born to her by the Holy Spirit, Mary has journeyed in haste to the home of Zechariah where his wife Elizabeth, her relative, greets her. We’re not told the details of their kinship. Maybe it’s aunt Beth and niece Mary; perhaps it’s second cousins twice removed Liz and Mary. But here’s where we begin to see the outline of God’s heavenly revolution… From below…

No bombs bursting in air, no parades of conquering armies. All is quiet, as Zechariah, man of the house, is having a sabbatical of silence. Yet the house is pulsing with heavenly energies, as Mary enters and greets Elizabeth – and it’s as if live wires have been crossed – as Elizabeth’s baby leaps for joy in her womb as he hears Mary’s voice. And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries, “Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb… Blessed is she who believed there would be fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord!”
A not-very subtle reference to her husband Zechariah – who, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him in the Jerusalem temple (two weeks ago our time) – forgot to trust God’s promises – flubbed his lines – and was struck speechless by the angel. But Elizabeth believed enough for both of them – and the one who was thought to be barren is now in her sixth month of pregnancy.
Then the same angel Gabriel appeared to young Mary – engaged, not yet married – in the far North Country province of Galilee. And Mary said “Let it be with me, according to your word.” And Mary, pregnant now by the Holy Spirit, arrives for a visit with Elizabeth.

St Luke offers no explanation of how young Mary made the seventy-miles-long and at least three day journey from Nazareth to the hill country near Jerusalem. But somehow Mary and Elizabeth are together now.
Zechariah’s somewhere in the house, but unable to speak. We don’t see or hear any words from Mary’s fiancee Joseph, or know where he is. We don’t know if Mary’s visit comes before or after Joseph’s dream in which the angel persuades him to change his mind about breaking up with Mary. Perhaps he’s traveled with Mary, then gone back to work. But our focus isn’t on who’s not here – but on who is here – as baby John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb, and the Holy Spirit sings through Mary. And I imagine baby Jesus in her womb singing with her…
This revolution won’t be televised or live-streamed… But God’s revolution has begun – as Mary sings of what God has done, already – even before the Savior is born. Pregnant with the Son of God – the son of Mary (her son too) – Mary sings of what God has already done – singing –
He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
The Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name.
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…

God has already, on one level, overthrown the world order – without a shot fired, or any public display of force. God’s quiet revolution, almost unseen and unheard, is first made known in this quiet household of women bearing babes in their wombs – welcoming each other with joy into beloved community.
I imagine Mary and Elizabeth having tea and muffins together, often, all through these three months they spend together… Sitting together in Elizabeth’s kitchen, which I envision as snug and cozy, like a womb, warm and nurturing. Humble simple space, where it’s safe to sing bold love songs to God… or sit quietly… without saying a word.

There will be a time for looking up into the heavens to glimpse the bright star the Magi follow. But as the reformation leader Martin Luther said – So often “We don’t see Jesus… Because we don’t look low enough..”
Martin Luther was a German Augustinian monk for many years before he left the monastery, got married, started a family, and founded the Lutheran wing of the Protestant movement. Luther said he learned more about the gospel changing his children’s dirty diapers than in all his hours of study and prayer in the monastery.
After leaving the monastery Luther still prayed at least two hours a day and studied many more hours. Yet even with all his commitment to learning and prayer, he came to believe: Children are our best teachers of God’s good news.

Children have an instinct for holy community. Baby John the Baptist in his mother’s womb is already excited about Jesus. Children have an instinct for God, as long as we don’t train them out of it.
Mary’s song that begins with – My soul magnifies the Lord – models childlike faith. Faith that starts with what God has done for me – then goes on to include what God is doing, and will do, for all God’s people everywhere. Faith is about holy community – growing, like an infant, in the womb of God’s people.

Biblical faith is about beloved community. Part of the miracle of the incarnation, God-with-us, born-in-human-flesh – is God’s love and Mary’s love for this one unique child – connecting us all now with God’s love for every child. (For God so loved the world…)
Reminding us – biblical faith is about our personal salvation (yes) – but even more about God’s love remaking the world. And in Mary’s holy song of justice, mercy, and joy mixed-together, we’re both warned and promised – God is turning everything upside-down and downside-up. Be ready.

Mary’s song is the theme statement, preface, and preview for all Luke’s gospel that follows – where the powerful are always being dethroned, the poor uplifted; the hungry fed while the rich take a number and wait. The weak, the meek, the afflicted, the oppressed, the stranger, the outcast – widows, widowers, elders, refugees – orphans, vulnerable children and families – all now come to center stage in the gospel story – while those who’ve been at the center of religious, economic and political power are now brought low.
And how, again, is all this revolutionary change accomplished?
I’m no systematic theologian – and no two pregnancies are alike. But I keep remembering my wife Reah’s cravings for unusual foods when she was pregnant with our Rohi. Her sister Nizzi, living with us at the time, would tell me, “Tim, in our Filipina culture, if a pregnant woman has a craving for any kind of food — the husband better go find it. Even if it’s middle of the night, go! Otherwise baby will grow up unfulfilled – and beware! That child will get back at you later in life.”
So I’d go out and buy watermelons, cantaloupe, nuts, kiwi, berries, ice cream, meat, whatever… And we still remember Rohi’s first kick; then the kicking every night. And always, the slow, steady swelling as Reah grew rounder. But what I remember best is how pregnancy changed everything in our lives – took over – and took priority over everything else.

And yes, this is a parable, but–the revolution of Jesus Christ is accomplished a lot like pregnancy. It’s a process – highly individualized – often a little strange even a little weird – and highly dependent on beloved community.

I remember Reah saying she understood Mary traveling a long way to see Elizabeth. She too, often had the urge to talk with other women about the changes she was going through. She’d call her aunt, a neonatal nurse, with questions. She’d call her mother, my mother, our sisters and friends… Hearing and receiving encouragement and words of blessing is a vital part of the birthing process.
We need community. Especially when we’re giving birth to nothing less than Jesus Christ – in our midst – for this generation. We need to remember –

Faith is a lot like giving birth. It takes the whole nine months of pregnancy and preparation – changing routines, altering habits, learning to see in new ways – so that when new life emerges – even if we’re still not all-the-way ready – we’re readier than we were.

Of course there’s always plenty of things we can and should do to get as ready as we possibly can… I remember Reah and I taking childbirth classes, and she’d do many stretching and breathing exercises – learning all we could about the care and nurture of the child on the way.

So too with our spiritual birth. We need to practice listening closely for the Holy Spirit’s instructions… for each of us… and for all of us… We need more quiet time with God. We need more time together in Christ’s beloved community.
When we worship, pray, sing, praise God together – when we study the word, serve God and neighbor together – when we, like Mary and Elizabeth, seek each other’s help and support in our walk with God – the new birth of Jesus is already happening – As we come to recognize, more and more, the presence of God among us – Preparing us for God’s world made-new in Jesus –

Which is such a very lot to prepare for… there’s no time to waste.