Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sermon; Advent 4B; Luke 1:39-55 (oops)

So . . . I made a mistake and prepped a sermon for Advent 4C . . . of YEAR C . . . not for Advent 4 of Year B.  In the immortal words of Agent 86, “Missed it by THAT much.”

So while we heard the story of the Annunciation today, I'll be preaching on the story of the Visitation; the time when Mary runs off to see Elizabeth who is pregnant with John.  In that story we hear of the difficult situation both Mary and Elizabeth were in, and we also get the Magnificat, that great song of protest and equality that has as its roots the Song of Hannah from 1 Samuel.  But within that very difficult situation, we also get joy.

Have you ever been in a difficult situation where you thought you were all alone?  For whatever reason we are placed in a situation where we think we are the first people in the history of the world to ever be in that situation, and we are lonely and afraid.

Certain jobs may fit that description.  Some jobs, even though surrounded by people, can best be described as isolated and lonely.  When I lived in Spokane, my bishop was part of a group called The Octet.  It consisted of himself, the Roman Catholic and United Methodist bishops, I think an Orthodox bishop, a Jewish leader of equal rank and I can't remember who all else.  They never really talked theology, but gathered because those eight knew what it was like to be in that particular position.  They could vent and share and support.  And in that group there was joy in a common understanding.

Mary is in need of that understanding.  She is technically an unmarried woman who finds herself pregnant.  She's not supposed to be pregnant.  She's probably afraid of being ostracized by the community.  She might be afraid for her life since she had apparently committed a capital offense.  And I’m willing to bet that she is most certainly feeling alone.

Elizabeth is also pregnant.  She's not supposed to be pregnant, because she was “getting on in years.”  She has been ostracized by the community for being barren.  Childbirth is hard on women, so she might be afraid for her life.  Her husband has been rendered mute.  She may be afraid, and she is probably feeling alone.

When Mary is told of the situation by Gabriel, she immediately goes to visit Elizabeth.  In this visit there is understanding between the two women.  There is acceptance.  There is relief that they are not alone.  There is a shared experience and there is joy.

Mary, in the Eastern Church, is given the title Theotokos, or God-bearer.  She is carrying not only her son, but God's Son.  The Divine has become incarnate.  After this miraculous event is announced by Gabriel, she goes to visit Elizabeth, who also received news of her pregnancy through Gabriel (second-hand, actually, as Gabriel visited Zechariah).

Elizabeth's pregnancy is no-less miraculous.  And while she doesn't bear God incarnate, she does bear the last of the great prophets.  Her child will grow up to fulfill the words of Isaiah and will prepare the way of the Lord.  He will call attention to what is wrong with the system and get people to open their eyes to God doing a new thing.  He will be big news, and then fade away like Pete Best or John Curulewski.  He has one essential purpose in life – announce the coming of the Messiah.

Have you ever been in a particular place and time where everything and everyone was blanketed by the presence of God?  It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it is a powerful moment.

The Visitation was one such moment.  Two women, one past child-bearing age and one just entering that phase of her life, both carrying an unexpected, unusual and holy child, come together to share the experience  And because of the power of this moment, because this holy moment extends right down into the DNA, the unborn John leaps for joy at the presence of the unborn Jesus.

We are faced with a variety of circumstances throughout our lives that may be difficult and/or unpleasant.  Or we find ourselves in situations of loneliness.  A priest becomes a bishop and is faced with a lonely and difficult job.  An old woman becomes pregnant and is uncertain of her immediate future.  A young, unmarried woman becomes pregnant and is scared enough to run away for three months.

We face difficult periods all the time – if life is a bowl of cherries, why am I in the pits?  And sometimes those difficult times can overwhelm us.  From school shootings to terrorist attacks, from one war to another, from addictions to cancer, sometimes life seems like a steamroller and we are the asphalt.

Talking about joy in those circumstances can be difficult.  If we aren't careful, we will fill the air with pious platitudes promising nothing more than pie in the sky by and by.

But I am convinced that, while important to recognize difficulties, pain and suffering, it is vitally important to look for the joy in life.  A bishop found joy in relationships with other people in similar positions.  Two women, one older and one younger, found understanding and joy in a shared experience.  An unborn baby destined for a difficult life and violent death found joy in the presence of the unborn Christ.

Life can be hard.  We need to look for unexpected moments of joy in our lives on a regular basis.  If we don't, if we only focus on the difficult, then we might just end up like me, focusing on the wrong things and muttering those immortal words of Agent 86: Missed it by THAT much.


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