The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 1:39-55

 


WOMEN OFTEN SEEM TO BE OVERLOOKED IN THE SCRIPTURES, BUT NOT IN OUR GOSPEL FOR TODAY. THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL ACCOUNT BY LUKE OF THE MEETING OF TWO WOMEN, AND THEIR VOICES ARE ALL THAT WE HEAR. ONE IS A PREGNANT UNMARRIED TEEN AGE GIRL, AND THE OTHER IS A WOMAN WELL PAST HER CHILDBEARING YEARS. IN BOTH CASES, THE WOMEN WOULD HAVE BEEN LOOKED DOWN UPON BY THE SOCIETY IN WHICH THEY LIVED. THE TEEN AGED GIRL WOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED AN OPEN SINNER, WHILE THE ELDER WOMEN WOULD HAVE BEEN THOUGHT TO HAVE BEEN PUNISHED BY GOD BY NOT HAVING CHILDREN BECAUSE OF SOMETHING SHE MUST HAVE DONE TO ANGER HIM. YET THE MEETING OF THESE TWO PREGNANT WOMEN IS A WONDERFUL TALE OF THE BLESSING AND REDEMPTION OF GOD, AS WELL AS A PROPHECY OF THAT WHICH IS TO COME. IN ADDITION, THIS LITTLE STORY IS PACKED WITH THE PROMISE OF GOD FOR US NOW AND IN THE FUTURE.

WE NEED TO HAVE A LOOK AT THE BACK STORY TO APPRECIATE THE FULLNESS OF THIS PASSAGE. THE ANGEL GABRIEL, WHOSE NAME MEANS “MAN OF GOD,” COMES TO THE PRIEST, ZECHARIAH, WHOSE NAME MEANS, “YAH REMEMBERS,” TO TELL HIM THAT HIS WIFE WILL HAVE A CHILD, WHICH HE DOESN’T BELIEVE SO IS STRUCK DUMB UNTIL THE BIRTH OF HIS SON. ELIZABETH, A VARIATION OF THE NAME OF AARON’S MOTHER, AND THUS THE MOTHER OF ALL PRIESTS, BECOMES PREGNANT IN HER OLD AGE, AND HER HUSBAND CAN’T EVEN SPEAK TO HER TO SHARE HER JOY. MARY, NAMED AFTER THE SISTER OF MOSES AND THUS THE MOTHER OF THE NATION, AS SOON AS SHE IS TOLD BY GABRIEL THAT SHE IS PREGNANT, RUSHES TO THE HILL COUNTRY OF JUDAH TO HER COUSIN ELIZABETH IN THE TINY TOWN OF EIN KARIM. HERE, IN THIS NOTHING OF A TOWN A SHORT WALK FROM JERUSALEM, MARY ENTERS THE HOME OF ELIZABETH AND CALLS HER NAME.

AT THIS POINT, NO ONE COULD TELL THAT MARY IS PREGNANT, YET, ELIZABETH, FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT DOES THE MOST WONDERFUL THING. OVERJOYED AT WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR HER, WHEN SHE SEES MARY, THE CHILD, WHOSE NAME WILL BE JOHN – JOHANNON, OR YAHWEH HAS BEEN GRACIOUS, LEAPS IN HER WOMB, RECOGNIZING EVEN BEFORE HIS BIRTH, THE ONE WHO MARY CARRIES IN HER WOMB; YEHSHUA – YAHWEH SAVES. ALREADY, JOHN POINTS TO JESUS. ELIZABETH ALSO KNOWS WHO IT IS THAT MARY CARRIES IN HER WOMB, AND SUBORDINATES HERSELF TO HER YOUNGER COUSIN. “BLESSED ARE YOU,” SHE SAYS, “AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF YOUR WOMB. AND WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED TO ME, THAT THE MOTHER OF MY LORD SHOULD COME TO ME?” AS MUCH AS SHE WAS BLESSED BY GOD IN BEARING HER OWN CHILD, SHE IS MUCH MORE BLESSED AND HONORED THAT MARY WOULD COME TO HER. THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS OPENED HER TO THE WHOLE STORY OF MARY, AND WHAT THIS ALL MEANS TO MARY AND TO THE WORLD. THIS IS WHY SHE SAYS, “AND BLESSED IS SHE WHO BELIEVED THAT THERE WOULD BE A FULFILLMENT OF WHAT WAS SPOKEN TO HER BY THE LORD.”

WHEN ELIZABETH SAYS THIS, SHE IMPLICITLY CONTRASTS MARY’S BELIEF IN THE PROMISE OF GOD WITH THE UNBELIEF OF HER HUSBAND, ZECHARIAH. HE, THE RELIGIOUS PROFESSIONAL, WAS SKEPTICAL AND ASKED FOR A SIGN. MARY, THE PEASANT GIRL ASKED FOR AN EXPLANATION, THEN WILLINGLY CONSENTED TO THE WORD OF THE LORD. HER TRUST IN THE LORD OPENED THE WAY FOR THE LORD TO BLESS HER, AND, THROUGH HER, ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. ELIZABETH CELEBRATES MARY’S WILLINGNESS TO SAY “YES” TO GOD.

MARY RESPONDS IN THE WORDS WE HAVE COME TO KNOW AS THE MAGNIFICAT. IF YOU READ IT CLOSELY, YOU WILL SEE THAT MOST OF THE VERBS SHE USES ARE IN THE PAST TENSE. NOT ALL THE THINGS SHE RECOUNTS HAVE YET COME TO PASS, BUT HER TRUST IN THE LORD IS SO SURE, THAT SHE CONSIDERS THE PROMISES OF GOD TO BE OF SUCH CERTAINTY THAT THEY ARE AS GOOD AS FULFILLED. THIS IS FAITH. THIS IS TRUST IN GOD OUR SAVIOR.

ELIZABETH, IN WELCOMING, BLESSING, AND CELEBRATING MARY, OVERTURNS ALL THE SOCIAL CONVENTIONS OF THE TIME. INSTEAD OF SHAMEMING MARY, ELIZABETH TREATS HER AS MORE HONORED THAN HERSELF. THUS THE PREGNANCY THAT MIGHT HAVE BROUGHT SHAME TO MARY, BRINGS JOY AND HONOR AND BLESSING INSTEAD. ELIZABETH WELCOMES HER WITH THE KIND OF INCLUSIVE LOVE THAT MARY’S SON WILL SHOW TO TAX COLLECTORS AND PROSTITUTES; THE KIND OF LOVE HE WILL CALL FOR ALL THOSE WHO FOLLOW HIM TO SHOW TO THE WORLD. ELIZABETH SEES BEYOND THE SHAME OF MARY’S CONDITION TO THE REALITY OF GOD’S LOVE AT WORK IN THE WORLD; EVEN AMONG THOSE SOCIETY MIGHT REJECT AND EXCLUDE.

AS WE PREPARE TO CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF MARY’S CHILD, WE MIGHT WELL REFLECT ON HOW GOD’S LOVE IS AT WORK IN THIS WORLD. HIS HOLY SPIRIT WORKS IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED PLACES AND IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED PEOPLE. LET US BE OPEN TO THE REALITY OF HIS LOVE, WHEN IT SUDDENLY SHOWS UP ON OUR DOORSTEP IN THE FACE OF OUR NEIGHBOR, OR IN THE FACE OF THE ONE WHO ASKS FOR A COAT IN THIS COLD WINTER SEASON. THE REALITY OF GOD’S LOVE MIGHT JUST WORK IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED OF PLACE; OUR OWN HEARTS.

MAY WE ALL HAVE THE FAITH OF MARY AND ELIZABETH, THAT OUR GOD IS SURELY COMING TO SAVE AND FREE US. HE HAS TAKEN AWAY OUR SHAME, AND MADE US HIS CHILDREN, BLESSING AND HONORING US BEYOND MEASURE. LET ALL OUR SOULS MAGNIFY THE LORD, AND OUR SPIRITS REJOICE IN GOD OUR SAVIOR. AMEN