This is the sermon I presented for 20 December 2015 – Fourth Sunday in Advent
The readings for this Sunday follow the sermon.
Listen to this sermon here.
Today is the last Sunday in Advent. The candles of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy are lighted today in anticipation.
We are going to have a baby!
We’ve been waiting all month for this blessed event!
The birth of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ!
In our gospel reading we are reminded that there are two unexpected pregnancies in Mary’s extended family. Mary herself, pregnant before her marriage with Joseph, and Mary’s Aunt Elizabeth with an inexplicably, unexpected late in life pregnancy; which when Mary hears of it, she immediately travels to be with her aunt.
Our gospel reading has both Elizabeth and Mary breaking out in poetic songs of praise as they greet each other. Now I rather doubt that Elizabeth and Mary actually spoke to each other in quite so stilted and formal a way. These songs of praise in the gospel of Luke are intended to convey to us the emotions and feelings of these two women who are each experiencing a miracle. The miracle of new life. I think one of our lessons for today is that every child born is a miracle. Every child changes forever the lives of its parents, and as it grows and develops that child changes the world. Every one of us, is part of this mysterious continuing miracle.
We are born into this world,
and if we lucky enough in time, we become parents ourselves.
For all of us who have been parents, isn’t it strange how we acted as if we had discovered parenting for the first time? Just because it was the first time that we had been the parents.
There is another reason the writer of Luke, includes these marvelous, joyous, and triumphant songs to God to announce the births of John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ. In the gospel of Luke, we are being reminded of another mother who proclaimed her thanks to God for the birth of her son. In the book of First Samuel, Hannah the mother of Samuel, is given just this same sort of marvelous, joyous song of praise as she dedicates her son Samuel to God’s service. Hannah as a mother, is similar to Elizabeth, in that Hannah was considered unable to have children before she conceived Samuel. Samuel in his call to service, is similar to Mary, in how he answered God’s call, obedient to the will of God – just as Mary answers the call to become the mother of Jesus.
Samuel was a prophet, the last of the Judges of Israel. The time of Samuel’s birth was a very bad time for the Jewish people. Samuel was raised by the chief priest of the Israelites, Eli. The first prophecy given to Samuel by the Lord was God’s judgment against Eli’s sons. Eli’s sons had followed their father into the priesthood, but unlike their father; they had become terrible, corrupt priests. The sons of Eli had abused their authority as priests, they did not worship God but lorded over the people, and Eli was unable or unwilling to discipline or control them. When Eli’s sons led the Israelite armies against the Philistines, not only did the Israelites lose the battle, but they also allowed the Philistines to capture the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant, the most sacred of relics, the golden box which contained the broken stone tablets upon which God himself had inscribed the ten commandments. When Eli heard the news that his sons had been killed, and the ark of the covenant had been lost, he fell to the ground and died. Samuel become the leader of the Israelites even as his adopted father and mentor Eli died. Samuel led the people of Israel to a great military victory over the Philistines. But the people of Israel were not content, even after the invaders had been driven out of their land. They wanted Samuel to establish kings to rule their country. So Samuel reluctantly anointed Saul as king over them.
Just as in Samuel’s time, the Palestine in which Mary and Elizabeth lived was under the foreign rule and occupation of the Roman empire. The author of Luke is making a point with this comparison between Jesus and Samuel. That Samuel had set free the Israelite people from foreign domination but he could not free them from their own worldly desires. The Israelites wanted to be like the nations around them; they did not appreciate that they were a people set apart by God, that they could be governed differently. If the Philistines and the Amorites are ruled by kings, then that is what the people of Israel wanted for themselves. Samuel established an Israelite kingdom. But like all earthly kingdoms, the kings of the Jewish people caused them as many hardships as any foreign invasion.
With these comparisons with the past, the author of Luke is describing the birth of a new king, a different kind of king and a different kind of kingdom.
This new king, heralded by angels, is not born to rule according to the human customs of this world. The kingdom of Christ Jesus exists everywhere we follow the word and spirit of God our Father and Creator.
When we care for each other.
When we share what we have.
When we recognize Jesus in each other.
When we love each other as Jesus loves every one of us.
This week, as we make our final preparations, in joyous anticipation for the birth of our Lord.
Let us also praise the Lord our God in joyous celebration like Elizabeth, Hannah, and Mary.
Every child is a miracle, created as a child of God, let us make the advent of all children be as anticipated and joyous.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
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.”]