Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon; Advent 4C; Luke 1:39-55

Today we get the story of the Visitation.  It's part of a story we all know very well.  The overall birth narrative in Luke is probably as well-known as any gospel story, or any other story in literature for that matter.  Gabriel meets Zechariah and announces he and his wife will have a child.  Zechariah essentially says, “Prove it,” and is struck dumb.  Gabriel meets Mary and announces she will bear the Son of the Most High.  Mary replies, “Here am I; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary then runs away to see Elizabeth and sings the Magnificat.  John is born and Zechariah sings the Benedictus.  There was a census, a journey, a birth in a stable, angels and shepherds.  We know this story.  We have seen it played out in books, art, movies, and Christmas pageants for as long as we can remember.  And yet . . .

The challenge, I think, is to find something new in a story that we know so well.  The challenge is to hear the story as if we've never heard it, discovering how God might be working in our lives today.  What, then, can we find new in today's story of the Visitation?

Let's recap:  The birth of John is announced to Zechariah who is struck mute for his unbelief.  Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth becomes pregnant and goes into seclusion.  Six months after John is conceived, Gabriel announces to Mary that she also will bear a son.  Mary doesn't doubt, but she does wonder.  And in answering her question, Gabriel informs her that Elizabeth is also pregnant.  With that, Mary submits to God's will and Gabriel departs.  And this is where today's gospel picks up.

After the Annunciation to Mary, she “went with haste” to be with Elizabeth.  When she arrives, Elizabeth feels John jump for joy and Liz blesses Mary – “Blessed are you who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord.”

But for all of the focus on Mary – her spontaneous trip to see Elizabeth, and the song we have come to know as the Magnificat – for all of that, this story of the Visitation is really about Elizabeth.

Notice what Luke tells us of Gabriel.  He delivers the Annunciation of John to Zechariah.  He delivers the Annunciation of Jesus to Mary.  He informs Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant.  One thing he doesn't do is tell Elizabeth that Mary is pregnant; but it is clear from today's reading that she knows.

As soon as Mary enters the house, Elizabeth's child leaps for joy.  As soon as Mary enters the house, Elizabeth pronounces a blessing upon Mary.

One response to this is to understand that Luke's account is not a verbatim, historical account of what happened.  It's more along the lines of, “based on a true story.”  And in his account, he didn't find it necessary to have Gabriel appear a fourth time.

Another response is to understand that this is a verbatim, historical account and Luke doesn't tell us that Gabriel visited Elizabeth because it never happened.

Still a third response is to understand that Luke may have written the story this way because he wanted to illustrate that not everyone needs a divine visitation in order to see God at work in the world around us.  In other words, give credit to Elizabeth for having eyes to see.
For as much as we hold Mary in high esteem (and rightfully so), we need to pay just as much attention to Elizabeth here.  It was Elizabeth who, without any angelic announcement, knew what was going on.

Elizabeth knew from dealing with a mute husband and her own pregnancy that God was doing something new.  She knew that God was active in this world in a way that God had never been active before.  It was this knowledge and this experience that gave her the ability to perceive God in new and different ways.

Advent is a time of preparation, as we prepare to celebrate both what was and what will be.  Advent is also a time of hopeful expectation.  We both hope and expect that God will do a new thing.  We hope and expect that what we do and who we are as disciples will help usher in God's kingdom.

Like Elizabeth, we have not been given the privilege of receiving a direct message from an angel.  Like Elizabeth, we are actively waiting and hopefully expectant of what is to come.  Like Elizabeth, there are signs all around us that God is doing something new.

As we approach the end of Advent and our time of waiting, may we be like Elizabeth.  As we approach the end of Advent, may we open our eyes to the signs of God doing something new.  And when we see God working in new and different ways from what we're used to, may we be like Elizabeth and offer a blessing on this new thing, no matter how scary it may seem to be.



Lady Anne | 9:16 AM, December 22, 2015  


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