4th Sunday of Advent

December 19, 2021

Summary

He’s our Lord too!

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him 

from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (Luke 1:39-56 ESV)

I don’t need to tell most of you this – you can’t be half pregnant or a little bit pregnant. You’re either pregnant or you’re not. And if you’re pregnant then unless there is specific action to prevent a birth, a birth is going to happen. The train, as they say, has left the station at conception. Motherhood has begun nine or so months before she gets to hold her little one.

We come to the Fourth Sunday of Advent with the swirl and tapestry of comings around us. There are the Old Testament prophets telling the people that God would send his Anointed and John the Baptist at the Jordan and in prison pointing to the Messiah. There is the elephant in the room with Christmas not far away (often so bright that it bleaches Advent of meaning) as God comes into this world and there is the message also of Jesus’ coming to his people – first on a donkey and then one day in the clouds. But now with advent near ending, our focus is drawn to a pregnant girl who has found out she’s pregnant and goes with haste, I might add, away from family, away from betrothed / fiancé, to a relative in the country. You tell me what is that about?! Though that sort of thing did happen when I was growing up – girls suddenly no longer school – going to the country for some reason … and later the whispers came “she’s pregnant!”.

We know little of Mary’s context – family situation, parents, brothers, sisters, bank balance, etc – but what we do know says to me that Mary’s in trouble – that’s how I read it. The angel Gabriel visits Mary and explains what is happening; she wonders how and accepts Gabriel’s answer of the power of the Holy Spirit and her role as a servant of the Lord though it may cost her her world. Like any mother who is pregnant the world has changed forever and this wasn’t a good prospect for Mary – how could she explain what is happening to her and be believed or supported? Trusting God is one thing – and a good thing to be sure! – but what do you actually do each day while you’re trusting God?

In Mary’s case she heads off in haste to the only person who might be able to do … what? We don’t know! But I wonder whether Mary isn’t looking for affirmation, guidance, and support from a relative, an older woman, Elizabeth, who is also having a rather strange pregnancy – at her age and with her now mute husband Zechariah going on about angels as well. My reading of this situation is that Mary can’t see a way forward in terms of how to actually deal with a divine pregnancy and while she is God’s servant, she also needs help. 

We don’t know where in the hill country of Judah Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. We don’t know how she travelled; how long it took; even what she said to her family – if she said anything – when she left. We can imagine that she is in turmoil and wondering about all the details. How will this happen? What happens if? What do I do when? And so on. We can also imagine Mary scouring her brain for all the Bible stories (our Old Testament) for clues, insights, strategies, support, comfort, guidance. If she can recall this or that story of what God did with his people, perhaps she will find a way forward with this baby coming. She’s on the clock – no time to delay – she’ll be showing soon – baby bulge – no hiding it then – and that’s long before baby appears.

What God does is, of course, very gracious and supportive of Mary. He doesn’t make her squirm as she tries to explain to Elizabeth the almost unexplainable (“I’m a virgin and I’m pregnant but I haven’t had sex”). Instead God gives Mary what she seeks before she’s asked. Inspired by the Holy Spirit and encouraged by a baby leaping for joy within her, it is Elizabeth who tells Mary her situation. Blessed are you Mary of all women; blessed is the child you carry, who is my Lord; blessed are you for trusting God’s word for it will be fulfilled.  Mary doesn’t know the future – not in detail – but Elizabeth affirms Mary’s encounter and experience and also brings God’s Word to Mary which in this case relieves and consoles.

And so relieved, happy, rejoicing, Mary bursts out in praising God. This isn’t a hoax or a bad dream. This is God at work just as he has worked in the past so he is working now and through me. Mary’s song – also known as the Magnificat (from its beginning in Latin) in which Mary praises God – magnifies the Lord continually – as she recalls specific events of the past – the angel’s visit to her is the obvious but Mary also seems to see God’s action with her as part of a long list of actions that God has been doing for his people.

His mercy is from generation to generation – he said so on his mountain. His strong arm and the scattering of the proud draws one’s mind to the exodus from Egypt and the watery grave of the Red Sea upon the Egyptian pursuers. Bringing down mighty thrones and lifting up the humble could be seen in both Israel’s monarchy and its dealings with foreign kingdoms. Filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty brings many links to the prophets and a reminder that God cares about justice. And God keeps being faithful to Israel despite Israel’s unfaithfulness because of the covenant God has cut with Abraham and Isaac and Moses and the people – a covenant that Moses even had to remind God about when God wanted to destroy everyone except Moses. Mary’s song points to God’s actions and gives Mary a trajectory or a landscape in which to live one day at a time.

Mary doesn’t receive the details of her life – how things will work out with Joseph for example – but she is placed in a landscape of God’s Word and comforted and held. Mary’s situation is unique to her – I can’t tell you ‘go thou and do likewise’ and you become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God! However the truth of Mary’s situation – because her baby was born and is our Lord – through his suffering and death and through God’s strong arm lifting Jesus up – pulling down the mighty – filling the hungry even if the meal is a sip and a wafer – and sending away empty handed those who come to Jesus with their hands full of their own importance and so can’t receive the forgiveness and blessings Jesus pours on sinners – can be our truth as well. 

We live in the in-between time because of Mary’s child – he did arrive at Christmas, he did enter his capital in procession, he did sit on his throne wearing a crown while at the same time going out by himself – for only he could fight on our behalf – and he battled sin and death and the Devil – and he did win for his grave is empty and he comes to us today through Word and Sacraments and he will come again one day when time’s up and this world ends. We don’t see the future in detail and there are times when we don’t understand what God might be doing – or allowing to happen – and we might even flee – sadly, too many people flee away from God when times are hard rather than to him – if we flee then let it be to those who help us – for Christians that means to Jesus, the Word made flesh, and to the Bible to read, meditate, and study it – also to those people who will speak God’s Word to us and give us a landscape to see a big picture – and whenever we can see a cross and empty tomb then, like Mary, our only response is praise of God. 

This isn’t delusion getting in the way of reality but reality – truth – giving us a perspective on life – both short term and long term – that even when we don’t know how we will get through what we’re facing, God is with us, coming to help and rescue – not according to our plans but according to his. And when we look at Mary’s child in a manger and on a cross then we encounter again and again the message: God is love. God is good. God is with us. Elizabeth’s and Mary’s Lord is our Lord too.

 

Bible References

  • Luke 1:39 - 56