(Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38) J G White
4th Sunday of Advent, Dec 24, 2017, UBC Digby
Here we are on the cusp of Christmas. The excited anticipation is at its peak. Even adults have been counting how many ‘sleeps’ until Christmas morning; I think this is about get-togethers, gifts and food; don’t you? We are waiting for the mysteries to be revealed. What’s in that big parcel, that long narrow gift, that decorated envelope.
That first Christmas was quite different, but it was definitely about mysteries being revealed. Good News! Young Mary is to have a baby. This is a big favour from God. But it takes some time for Mary and her family to come to terms with this. Well, they have nine months, we could say. We retell this story because of its power.
Christmas eve is just hours away for us, but this morning, we take up the story nine months before. When the news is brand new to Mary. Good News sometimes begins with just one person. But then, you know of someone you can go to. Someone who also will understand God is involved.
Sharon and I were at lunch on Friday at St. Pat’s Soup Kitchen. And I thought about the weekly free meal on Thursdays at Windsor Baptist Church. It has been going on for years, since Y2K, perhaps. Each Thursday, a team of folks brings in food and prepares it for 20 or 30 or 40 people to share. They all eat in the BIG kitchen together. It’s called the House of Hospitality.
It began in a small way, years ago. A retired nurse named Betty and the associate Pastor named Marlene got talking. They had a vision, just the two of them, a vision for this beautiful weekly luncheon. It took time to get others on board to work with them. It took time for people in the community to start coming to the lunch – years. Now, the House of Hospitality has been a wonderful thing, for more than fifteen years.
It takes time to come to terms with Big News. Mary, at first, was perplexed. Yes, she surely had many different feelings and thoughts as her pregnancy went along.
In the events as Luke tells them, the next part has Mary travel to visit her older relative, Elizabeth, who is also – unexpectedly – expecting! Christy Thomas, who blogs as The Thoughtful Pastor, explored the many feelings of these women as she retells the story…
Mary, mother of Jesus, hears the words of the angel. She will bear a special child. Almost immediately she sets out to see her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, at least a five day and often dangerous, walk. Why? Because the angel also told her that Elizabeth was six months into a pregnancy.
One can only guess at Mary’s state of mind. Terror, certainly. A strange vision, an awareness that something was happening to her body, the horror of possibly being pregnant in a world where a non-married pregnant woman would likely be stoned to death . . . let us not turn our eyes away from her predicament.
Picture her arrival at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. She would come unannounced, of course. No email or text zaps to prepare her hosts. She’d show up and seek entrance, only to hear that Elizabeth was in total seclusion, refusing all visitors.
Elizabeth, seriously past child-bearing age, carried the stigma of barrenness. Barrenness: the sign of God’s displeasure. When the land . . . or a woman . . . did not produce or reproduce, everyone suffered.
Now this elderly woman must cope with an unexpected pregnancy. She will take no chances. Will see no one. Her sole companions: her silenced husband and her private, quietly silenced fears that her pregnancy was not going well.
Mary insists that she be permitted to see Elizabeth. She quietly enters the dark room, only one tiny window offering light.
After her eyes adjust, she observes Elizabeth, sitting in utter stillness, her hands resting on her swollen belly. Signs of worry, perhaps even tears, emphasize her aged-lined features. The life inside her womb has stilled. She feels no movement. She fears an imminent stillbirth.
Mary softly greets her cousin. Suddenly, Elizabeth opens her eyes, her face alight with hope again. For upon hearing Mary’s voice, the child inside Elizabeth’s body begins to move with energetic vigor.
The old woman, face now awash in tears of joy, embraces her young, terrified cousin. Then, looking at her straight in the eyes, Elizabeth confirms Mary’s pregnancy and the hope that her baby will bring to the world.
Finally, Mary, fear temporarily set aside, rejoices in her own pregnancy.
‘Nothing will be impossible with God,’ said Gabriel to Mary. And that is what we seek from God too, hoping against hope for the impossible, from time to time. The physical or mental healing we want to see in someone dear. That reconciliation with someone in the family. A step in the right direction for the person we know who has been taking all the wrong steps. We wait for a miracle, sometimes with great hope, sometimes with great fear that it just ain’t going to happen. Jesus will come into the world, and what will he do? We take time to be hopeful, doubtful, positive, confused, enthusiastic, depressed, and anything else. The journey of faith takes time.
Mary also decided to let it be. Let herself be. Be pregnant. Be the mother of this chosen Child. Be of service to God, whatever that would mean. And when she has that visit with Elizabeth, Mary sings, her soul sings out! She rejoices in God her Saviour. The impossible does happen, at last. Not just a young girl having a holy Child, not just an old woman expecting her first child, but for the whole people the long-awaited Messiah is finally arriving. There will be a Saviour.
Sharon and I happened to go to a cinema this past week to see the newest Star Wars film. Spectacular science fiction, and like so many action adventure stories, it is, what I call, “How many times can you escape certain death?” You know, the heroes – and some of the villains – have not hope of survival… and they do survive, yet again.
Our Bible adventures are filled with suspense too. Over and over, people get to the end of the rope. But then there is a new hope. And we see this in our living today. We dream the impossible dream, fight the unbeatable foe, bear with unbearable sorrow, and go where the brave dare not go.
A mystery is revealed. There is more good at work in the world than we see. The journey can be hard. The Mystery is how God comes in and rescues, how God reunites with us. How life wins over death, and good wins over evil. This all gets revealed in a birth in Bethlehem, and a cross near Jerusalem.