In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, Amen
The news of a pregnancy and pending birth of a child can stir many emotions in people, generally emotions of excitement and hopeful expectation, but there are also moments of concern, of doubt, moments that are not always pure joy. For Mary this was a perplexing time. She has been witness to a visitation by Gabriel the angel, telling her not to be afraid for she has found favor with God and will conceive the son of God. Imagine the shock of hearing this, being a poor, not yet married 12-14 year old Jewish girl, knowing the stigma that would follow, being betrothed, but not yet married to Joseph. And yet Mary responds this situation, and to Gabriel with unabashed faith; “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be according to your word.” Mary also has heard that her cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant. She knows of Elizabeth’s story, and of her troubles conceiving… and then this more surprising news, news of joy and anticipation. Elizabeth and Mary are both examples of deep faith; they trust in God’s word. They both respond with an understanding that God has looked favorably upon them. He fulfills his promise to them that they will be part of something special, and that he will do great things with them.
Todays Gospel continues with the story of Mary. She is traveling in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The haste described here is not one of panic, but one of anticipation and excitement. We sense that both women are excited, not only because of their pregnancies, but because they both are deeply aware of something of significance thats going to come with the birth of their children. There is great joy in their meeting and not only in theirs, but between their two sons. John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb upon Mary’s arrival and Elizabeth cries out “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” She knew of the specialness of Mary’s child, that joy is palpable in our story. We also this morning hear Mary’s beautiful song of praise. We only have small glimpses into Mary’s state of mind in scripture, and here in the passage often called “the Magnificat,” Mary reveals to us her faith and her expectation of God’s greater plan. She is humbled to be included, but she cannot contain her joy either. She realizes that there are great blessings here and that God has chosen her to be near the center of them. She lifts her prayer of thanksgiving, offering praise to God for His mighty acts. She knows that God brings down the proud, but has exalted the lowly. She feels that she is not worthy of such blessing, but understands that future generations will tell her story. God turns worldly standards upside down: the rich and the powerful will be turned away, but the poor, the abused, and the outcast will find healing and love.
Both Mary and Elizabeth already anticipate the joy of God’s presence and salvation unfolding before them. This beautiful meeting leads us into the meaning of Advent, the prayerful anticipation we all feel, of something special about to happen and a realization of that mystery which is already among us.
As we approach Christmas, I believe we are called to imitate Elizabeth who recognized and rejoiced in the humble presence of Christ in Mary’s womb, not yet born, and I believe we are also called to be like Mary; in her obedience of faith and her openness to God. For me, this season not only helps me prepare in joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth, but also allows me moments of watchful anticipation, the joy of watching the change I see happen in other people as they begin to become aware of what Advent is offering them. I thrill in watching the look of joy come over people as they approach the challenge of ridding themselves, if even only for a day or two, from the baggage and stress and tiredness of the world. I watch in anticipation with joy and wonder as people begin to open themselves up to others and offer a smile and greeting to strangers in stores and on the street. I see the life our world is called into and challenged to reach. We are constantly challenged in our faith to take Christ to others as Mary did, so that Christ who is secretly present in us may touch the lives of others, and we get to see it in action this time of year so much more than other times.
We live in a time when Christians have preached the Gospel for almost two thousand years, and yet there are still so many times and places of fear, of loss and tragedy and of separation from God in our society today We at times go our own ways and lose sight of what God wants for us and fall prey to the temptation of thinking that the only thing that is real is what is immediately in front of us. People become materialistic, seeking only to accumulate more wealth and power for themselves. We at times no longer live in expectation of something greater than ourselves. This past weeks tragic scene of horror in Newtown and the death of so many young children and their teachers shows how callous humanity can be towards one another, and will remain etched in our minds and hearts forever. We live in isolated tiny worlds, yet like every day of our life, and as a reminder during this season of Advent, God continues to reach out to us, calling us in love, out of such empty lives and into a greater and fuller life of meaning. One that opens us to unlimited possibility and hope even in the most tragic of times.
This season reminds us of that great love has for us, God sent a Son into the world to call us back, and we find the answer to the hunger that has always been in us, but we have not always recognized or responded to. We learn to live again in expectation of the great plans and purposes that God has not only for the world as a whole but for each of us as individuals. In the story of Mary and Elizabeth we see examples to follow. God chose Mary for a crucial role, blessing her with the gift of his son. And we understand that her son Christ, has given us the task of sharing that same blessing with the world around us while we wait his return. In this season of Advent, we are given time, time to slow down despite all the clamor and stress Christmas and all its preparation can bring. We’re given time to reflect on the people in our lives and how they’ve given something to us thats much more precious than a wrapped gift. We’re given an opportunity to wait in joyful anticipation like Mary so long ago.
We are Advent people, and as such we wait this season, we wait for the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the Savior. This waiting is at the heart of who we are called to be, people who live in excited expectation of the one who comes to bring us joy. We experience that childlike excitement of expectation; of the waiting for the gift we receive in a few days, through the comforting satisfaction and knowledge of our adult lenses; knowing that the gift soon to be seen will change the world in amazing ways. That’s Advent, thats the joy of Mary and our faith and the gift God gives us. Hopefully, if we have waited and prepared ourselves well, if we choose to follow Mary and Elizabeth’s lead, perhaps something inside us will also leap for joy this Christmas. Amen