Christmas Eve Meditation

  • I want you to think about your favorite song tonight.
    • Might be a Christmas carol
    • Might be a “church song” – hymn or choir piece or contemporary song
    • Might be anything else
    • Think about how you feel when you hear that song.
      • Emotions song brings up –> Joy? Love? Healing? Peace? Fun?
      • How it takes you back –> Tunes and melodies can be powerful memory triggers for us.
        • Where were you when you last heard it? Who were you with? What were you doing? What was your life like?
      • Has that song (or any other favorite song) ever inspired you to do something?
        • Reach out someone you haven’t spoken to in a while
        • Take that leap that you’ve been considering/worrying about
        • Even something simple and silly – jump up out of your seat and dance
      • Take just a moment to sit with that song – all the emotions, all the inspiration, hum a few bars if you want to (or if you’re like me and you probably can’t help yourself!)
  • Okay, now take all those feelings that are wrapped up with your favorite song – all the comfort, all the joy, all the inspiration – and multiply it. Multiply it by ten. Multiply it by a hundred. Multiply it by a thousand or ten thousand or a million! This will get you just a little bit closer to experiencing the song that the angels sang for the shepherds that night so many years ago.
    • From what Scripture tells us, wasn’t a particularly complicated song – Lk: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among all whom he favors![1] –> One of the things that I like to do when I’m looking at a passage of Scripture for the week is look at the original Greek or Hebrew to see what kind of little nuances can be found in the language – a slightly different meaning here or there that can deepen our understanding of a text. So I tried to do that with this text this week. And do you know what I found? Nothing.
      • All words used are exactly as they say
        • Glory = glory
        • God = God
        • Peace = peace
      • So I looked at a number of different translations of the Bible side by side to see how the various “pros” treated this text. And again … they all say almost the same thing.
        • NRSV (our text): Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among all whom he favors!
        • King James version: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
        • The Message: Glory to God in the heavenly heights. Peace to all men and women on earth who please [God].
        • While the wording differs ever so slightly, the message in them remains the same: Glory to God! Peace on earth! God finds delight in human kind.
      • And you know, I think that consistency is comforting. The news that the angels brought to the shepherds that night was so important that the words they used were plain. They wanted to make sure they were understood. They wanted to get the point across. And at the same time, the news that the angels had to deliver was so wonderful, so stirring, so awe-inspiring, that it led them to burst out in song!
        • Head Angel to shepherds: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.[2]
        • In this, the angel is saying: God loves you so much that God has come to be with you in the flesh – to live as you live, to feel as you feel, to love as you love. And in taking this step, God is welcoming you home. –> message for those shepherds thousands of years ago, message for everyone down through the ages
          • And this is the power of God’s message: that through the birth of this Christ-child – through this miracle about which the angels sing – we are given grace upon grace. This beautiful little baby boy whom we celebrate tonight will grow up to be Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. He will teach people about God’s Word. He will echo God’s love in all that he does and all that he says. He will bear the sins of the whole world, covering them for us with God’s exceptional grace and giving us a way to turn back to God in faith.
  • And you never know when God is going to burst into your life with that message.
    • See this in shepherds –> a bunch of guys out in the fields minding their own business
      • This was their life. This was their livelihood. Historians tell us that the shepherds more than likely didn’t live somewhere else and commute in to work every day. They ate out there. They slept out there. They spent all their time out there with the sheep.
      • In the middle of their ordinary, every day lives –> BAM! Angels singing! Proclaiming good news! Bathing them in heavenly splendor!
      • And what effect did this magnificent event have on the shepherds? When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”[3] –> The shepherds said to each other, “We’ve got to go now. This message that God has shared with us is so important, that we’ve got to drop everything. This song that the angels have sung to us is so inspiring that we cannot wait another minute.”
  • Sometimes, God’s entrance into our lives is quiet. It’s subtle. It’s a private, sacred moment between us and the Holy One. But there are other times when the work that God has for us to do is so important, so pressing, so special that it requires God bursting into our lives with angels and songs and every ounce of holy splendor that the Creator can muster!
    • Poem from Ann Weems in the bulletin – “Godburst”[4]
    • Tonight, as we celebrate the birth of that Holy Child into our faith, into our lives, and into our hearts, let’s let that Godburst so inspire us that we find ourselves running through the streets to share God’s love and our own joy with as much angel-exuberance and Spirit-joy as we can muster. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Joy to the world, the Savior reigns! Amen.
Godburst by Ann Weems

When the Holy Child is born into our hearts

    there is a rain of stars

       a rushing of angels

           a blaze of candles

   this God burst into our lives.

Love is running through the streets.

[1] Lk 2:14.

[2] Lk 2:10b-11.

[3] Lk 2:15.

[4] Ann Weems. “Godburst” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poems for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 29.

Christmas Eve Advent Reading



Scripture – Isaiah 9:2-7

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.


Advent Reading – “This Year” by Ann Weems[1]

I wonder if God comes to the edge of heaven each Advent

   and flings the Star into the December sky,

      laughing with joy as it lights the darkness of the earth;

   and the angels, hearing the laughter of God,

      begin to congregate in some celestial chamber

         to practice their alleluias.

I wonder if there’s some ordering of rank among the angels

   as they move into procession,

      the seraphim bumping the cherubim from top spot,

      the new inhabitants of heaven standing the back

         until they get the knack of it.

(After all, treading air over a stable and annunciating at the

      same time can’t be all that easy!)

Or is everybody – that is, every “soul” – free to fly

   wherever the spirit moves?

Or do they even think about it?

Perhaps when God calls, perhaps they just come,

   this multitude of heavenly hosts.

Perhaps they come,

   winging through the winds of time

      full of expectancy

      full of hope

   that this year

      perhaps this year


   the earth will fall to its knees

      in a whisper of “Peace.”


Lighting the Candle


Prayer: Newborn God, tonight, we rejoice with the angels. We hear your laughter, we feel your joy, and we want to add our “Alleluia!” to the eternal chorus. We fall into rank with all those throughout the ages who have sung your praise, all those since the beginning of time who have anxiously awaited the birth of a Savior – of grace and glory and redemption all wrapped up together in swaddling clothes. On this holy night, God, we find ourselves full of expectancy. We find ourselves full of hope. Fill us with your peace so that we may walk in your light and extend your hand of mercy to a world in need. Amen.

[1] Ann Weems. “This Year” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 41.

Fourth Advent Reading



Scripture – Isaiah 11:1-6

1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.


Advent Reading – “Unexpected” by Ann Weems[1]

Even now we simply do not expect

         to find a deity in a stable.

Somehow the setting is all wrong:

      the swaddling clothes too plain,

      the manger too common for the likes of a Savior,

      the straw inelegant,

      the animals, reeking and noisy,

      the whole scene too ordinary for our taste.

And the cast of characters is no better.                       

With the possible exception of the kings,

         who among them is fit for this night?

      the shepherds? certainly too crude,

      the carpenter too rough,

      the girl too young.

And the baby!

Whoever expected a baby?

Whoever expected the advent of God in a helpless child?

Had the Messiah arrived in the blazing light of the glory

         of a legion of angels wielding golden swords,

      the whole world could have been conquered for Christ

         right then and there

      and we in the church – to say nothing of the world! –

         wouldn’t have so much trouble today.

Even now we simply do not expect

         the face the world armed with love.


Lighting the Candle


Prayer: Surprising God, sometimes we find ourselves in a comfortable rut. We hunker down in our rut, doing what we’ve always done because we’re comfortable … because we can … because we don’t really know what else to do. Shake up our routine, Holy One. Speak to us in the unexpected. Lead us in the unexpected. Remind us that nothing was more unexpected than ultimate power in a tiny baby. Nothing is more unexpected than salvation in a criminal’s death on a cross. Help us to embrace the unexpected instead of fearing it. Help us to look for you in those unexpected moments – your grace, your love, and your triumphant glory. Amen.

[1] Ann Weems. “Unexpected” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 47.

Sunday’s Sermon: Let Justice Shine

  • I came across a really powerful video this week.
  • “First-World Problems Anthem”[1] –> Now, for those who aren’t familiar with this fairly new term, “first-world problems” encompass all those trivial issues that we complain about in our daily lives simply because we have nothing better to complain about.
    • Term has become popular, especially on social media sites (facebook, Twitter, etc.)
      • Way for people to recognize ridiculous nature of their own complaints
      • Way for other people to help you come to that realization
      • Often used in self-deprecating manner –> making fun of the things we whine about
    • But this video shines a whole different light on the idea of first-world problems. In the video, 11 of those “problems” are rattled off one after the other – things like “I hate it when my house is so big I need 2 wireless routers,” “I hate it when my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold,” and “I hate it when I go to the bathroom and forget my phone.” But instead of being uttered by the privileged people who posted them on Twitter in the first place, these first-world problems are read by third-world people – more specifically, people in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there in 2010.
      • Like I said, shines whole different light – harsh and exposing – on our lives and our attitudes
      • Purpose of video: raise funds for an organization whose goal is to provide fresh drinking water for everyone
      • But the video also brings into focus one of the most important things that we’re waiting for during this season of Advent – justice. You see, with the birth of the Savior come both God’s love and God’s justice.
        • 2 promises that can’t be separated –> God’s love is a love that encourages and forgives and is also the great equalizer
          • Wants the same good for everyone
          • Offers the same acceptance to everyone
          • Same love for each and every person, no matter their status, bank account balance, geographic location, or any other factor –> God’s love will always be God’s love.
          • And God’s justice will always be God’s justice. – not talking about “first-world problems” justice –> talking about real justice
            • Freedom for those who are oppressed
            • Food for those who are hungry
            • Shelter for those who are homeless
            • Inclusion for those who have been shoved to the side their whole lives
  • See this promise of God’s compassionate justice in Scripture reading
    • First of four sections in Is referred to as “Servant Songs”
      • All speak of how this unnamed “Servant” will serve God among the people –> embody God’s love and work for God’s justice
      • Much debate among scholars over who “servant” really is
    • First proposal – “Servant” = Christ
      • Certainly recognize this – Is: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.[2] –> sounds like Jesus’ baptism
        • Mt: When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[3]
      • Also a declaration in today’s text that sounds like God speaking of the coming Savior: I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations[4]
        • Jesus own description of himself in John: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.[5]
      • And then there’s the general spirit of this Servant. This Scripture speaks of how the Servant will bring about God’s eternal justice through dedication, faith, and perseverance. It speaks of how the Servant will be one who is compassionate, humble, and wholly selfless. Again, these sound like Jesus.
        • Paul in Phil: [Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.[6]
        • Jesus own words (Mk): For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.[7]
  • Now, all that being said, there are also scholars who argue that the identity of the Servant has been left intentionally ambiguous because that enables the role to be fulfilled by any number of different people in different situations.
    • Scholar: Israel received from [the] prophet Isaiah what the church received from its Christ, and that is what the church testifies to the world – the revelation that the God who creates is a just God, who restores sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, and grants strength to those who serve.[8] –> So Isaiah spoke the Servant’s words of compassion while crying out for justice. Jesus lived a life of compassion and embodied God’s justice whenever he could. And we have the chance to continue to convey God’s message of love while we work for justice in this imperfect world in which we live.
    • Different “Servants” played that part à recent history
      • Nelson Mandela
        • Could’ve had easy power – been chief of local tribe
        • Became lawyer instead –> firsthand witness to injustice of apartheid in South Africa
        • Arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison for leading groups opposed to apartheid
        • Spent 27 years in prison
          • Could’ve used those 27 to grow angry, bitter
          • Instead lifted others’ spirits and maintained integrity of his political beliefs
      • Deitrich Bonhoeffer
        • Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany
        • Helped form “Confessing Church” – church in Germany that refused to cowtow to Nazi party or compromise their faith to align with Hitler’s demands
          • Opposite of “German Christians” – combined Christianity with Nazi party beliefs
        • Arrested for helping Jews escape in 1943
        • Spent 2 year in concentration camps before being killed by Nazis in 1945 –> inspire other prisoners as well as guards/other Nazi camp workers up until the moment of his death
    • And these are just a few examples. Countless people throughout history have been that Servant for God – that voice for justice in the face of oppression, that call for peace and equality, that bringer of hope for those who are threatened and those who feel broken down and left behind.
  • So what does the work of the Servant look like? –> Is description of Servant’s mission: He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.[9]
    • In terms of Jesus as Servant: Think of Jesus’ mission here on earth – to bring God’s grace and forgiveness, to share God’s love with everyone, and to welcome the marginalized back into the fold from which they had been excluded for so long. Like Isaiah’s “Servant,” Jesus did this …
      • Without fanfare – without crying or lifting up his voice or trumpeting his deeds in the streets.
      • With fervent determination – He lived his mission to the very end, even through the pain and humiliation of the cross, without growing faint or being crushed by the weight of such a momentous task.
      • With a heart for those who had already suffered too much – Is: a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench –> Here, Isaiah is talking about those who have been left battered and bruised by life, those who feel so weary and worn-down that the flame of their passion, the flame of their faith, maybe even the flame of their life is barely flickering.
        • See this in Heb. – “dimly burning” = connotations of being utterly depleted (dull, colorless, even fearful) à When simple justices – basic human decencies – are denied, this is how people are made to feel.
          • Dull, colorless, fearful
          • Rejected, worthless, afraid
        • Isaiah’s assurance was that God would send a Servant to “faithfully bring forth justice” for all those who felt like bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks – for all those who still feel beat-down and overloaded and demoralized. And it’s this Servant-Christ – this Emmanuel, this Prince of Peace, this Christ-child – that we encounter in our hymn for today, too: Come, O Long-Expected Jesus.
          • Come, O long-expected Jesus, born to set all people free … Born all people to deliver … By your own eternal Spirit, come to claim us as your own.[10] –> conveys that waiting that the world been doing
            • Waiting for a deliverer
            • Waiting for hope
            • Waiting for justice
    • Work of the Servant in our own lives:
      • Important element = active waiting, not passive waiting à Bonhoeffer: We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.
        • We cannot sit idly by and watch one injustice after another chip away at God’s creation. God came to earth in the form of a tiny, vulnerable child in order to both truly feel the sting of that injustice and to fight it with everything that God had … and that includes us.
      • Sometimes, it’s hard to be the one seeking justice! It could mean recognizing things about ourselves that we don’t want to see – prejudices, misinterpretations, even fears. It could mean speaking up when we’d feel more comfortable staying silent or stepping out when it would be so much easier to stay rooted in anonymity. It could mean giving up some of our own comforts so we can make sure our brothers and sisters in Christ don’t go without.
        • “First-World Problems Anthem” –> To watch people in such impoverished circumstances voicing those dumb little things that we whine about every day is chastening to say the least.
        • Remember Is description of Servant’s mission: [The Servant] will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.[11] –> Nothing about this promises that striving for justice – the role of the Servant – will be fun or easy or comfortable. But it does convey what a truly crucial role this is.
  • Nelson Mandela once said, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it lowest ones.” I think we should say the same about the church, and I think we should say the same about ourselves. We should not be judged by how we treat those who have enough, but those who have nothing at all. Friends, we have brothers and sisters out there who are hurting, who are struggling, who are afraid and desperate and have nowhere to turn. As we wait for the Christ-child this Advent season, how can we shine God’s light of both love and justice on those who need it most? Amen.

[1] “First World Problems Anthem” by “Water is Life” (non-profit), Feb. 2013.

[2] Is 42:1.

[3] Mt 3:16-17.

[4] Is 42:6b.

[5] Jn 8:12.

[6] Phil 2:7.

[7] Mk 10:45.

[8] Richard F. Ward. “Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday After the Epiphany) – Isaiah 42:1-9 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 223.

[9] Is 42:2-4.

[10] Charles Wesley. “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus” in The New Century Hymnal. (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Publishing, 1995), 122.

[11] Is 42:2-4.

Third Advent Reading


Scripture – James 5:7-11

7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.


Advent Reading – “The Coming of God” by Ann Weems[1]

Our God is the One who comes to us

      in a burning bush,

         in an angel’s song,

            in a newborn child.

Our God is the One who cannot be found

      locked in the church,

      not even in the sanctuary.

Our God will be where God will be

      with no constraints,

      no predictability.

Our God lives where our God lives,

      and destruction has no power

         and even death cannot stop

            the living.

Our God will be born where God will be born,

   but there is no place to look for the One who comes to us.

When God is ready

      God will come

         even to a godforsaken place

            like a stable in Bethlehem.

Watch …

      for you know not when

         God comes.

Watch, that you might be found



            God comes.


Lighting the Candle


Prayer: God of many faces, we pray that you will open our eyes during this Advent season. Open our eyes to the many ways you appear in our days – in the faces of those we love, in the faces of those we find it hard to love, in the faces of the strangers in line at the grocery store and the person on the corner holding a cardboard sign that asks for help. Open our hearts to the ways that you stir us to move with you – in the sound of a ringing bell, in the words of the carol that we’ve heard a hundred times before, in the silent spaces. Keep our hearts, our minds, and our souls watchful, God, for the whenever and wherever moments. Amen.

[1] Ann Weems. “The Coming of God” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 15.

Second Advent Reading


Scripture – Isaiah 12:2-6

2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.


Advent Reading – “This Year Will Be Different” by Ann Weems[1]

Who among us does not have dreams

      that this year will be different?

Who among us does not intend to go

      peacefully, leisurely, carefully toward Bethlehem,

   for who among us likes to cope with the

      commercialism of Christmas

   which lures us to tinsel not only the tree

      but also our hearts?

Who among us intends to get caught up in tearing around

      and wearing down?

Who among us does not long for:

   gifts that give love?

   shopping in serenity?

   cards and presents sent off early?

   long evenings by the fireside with those we love?

   (the trimming devoid of any arguing about

      who’s going to hang what where,

   the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg mingling

      with the pine scent of the tree,

   and carols gently playing over our idyllic scene)

   and the children! the children cheerfully talking about

      giving instead of getting?

Who among us does not yearn for

   time for our hearts to ponder the Word of God?

   moments of kneeling and bursts of song?

   the peace of quite calm for our spirit’s journey?

This year we intend to follow the Star

      instead of the crowd.

But, of course, we always do

      intend the best.

(And sometimes best intentions tend to get the best of us!)

This year, when we find ourselves off the path again

      (and we invariably will!),

   let’s not add yet another stress to our Advent days,

      that of “trying to do Christmas correctly”!

Instead, let’s approach the birth of our Lord

      with joyful abandon!

And this year

   let’s do what Mary did and rejoice in God,

   let’s do what Joseph did and listen to our dreams,

   let’s do what the Wise Men did and go to worship,

   let’s do what the shepherds did and praise

         and glorify God

      for all we’ve seen and heard!

As for the Advent frantic pace, we don’t have time for that.

We’ll be too busy singing!

This year will be different!


Lighting the Candle


Prayer: God of joy, help us to lose this year. Help us to lose our obsession with getting things perfect – setting the perfect table, finding the perfect gifts, decorating the perfect house and the perfect tree. Help us lose our preoccupations with shopping lists and over-packed schedules. Help us lose all of those distractions that pull our attention away from the approaching stable. God, help us get lost this year. Help us get lost in the overwhelming love of a mother for her extra-special child. Help us get lost in the faith of three sages who traveled so far on just a star and a prayer. Help us get lost in the wild abandon of angels singing joyful praise to a tiny baby. This is the year, God … this is the year. Amen.


[1] Ann Weems. “This Year Will Be Different” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 71.

First Advent Reading

I realize it’s a little late, but I decided to post the Advent readings that we’ve been using in our worship services. Thank God for the beautiful, stirring, challenging poetry of Ann Weems!


Scripture – Romans 13:11-14

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


Advent Reading – “The World Still Knows” by Ann Weems[1]

The night is still dark

    and a procession of Herod still terrorizes the earth,

        killing the children to stay in power.

The world still knows its Herods,

    but it also still knows men and women

        who pack their dreams safely in their hearts

    and set off toward Bethlehem,

        faithful against all odds,

            undeterred by fatigue or rejection,

                                                               to kneel to a child.

And the world still knows those persons

    wise enough

        to follow a star,

    those who do not consider themselves too intelligent

        too powerful

            too wealthy

                                                                to kneel to a child.

And the world still knows those hearts so humble

    that they’re ready

        to hear the word of a song

            and to leave what they have, to go

                                                                to kneel to a child.

The night is still dark,

    but by the light of the star,

        even today

            we can still see

                                                                to kneel to a child.

Lighting the Candle

Prayer: God of light and life, as we enter into this Advent season, wake us up. The birth of salvation is on the horizon – the coming of the One and Only who can bring light into the darkness. Brighten our days and our nights alike with the light that will lead us to that Child. Help us to pause so that we can remember your peace again. Help us to be still so that we can experience your grace anew. In our hearts, we know that all the rushing around isn’t what’s important, but when we forget, teach us once again to kneel to a child … to The Child. In the name of The Child – that Jesus-Child – we pray. Amen.

[1] Ann Weems. “The World Still Knows” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 59.

Sunday’s Sermon: Promises by the Bundle

  • Waiting is something with which we are all too familiar.
    • “Little waiting”
      • Waiting in line (grocery store, bank, library, etc.)
      • Waiting for the traffic light to change
      • Waiting for the commercials to be over (TV, radio, online)
    • “Big waiting”
      • Waiting for the birth of a child (or two!)
      • Waiting to head out on your big vacation
      • Waiting for retirement
    • And whether it’s “big waiting” or “little waiting,” it can be really hard to wait. But there are some things can make waiting a little more bearable
      • Story: waiting for Christmas as a little kid – “countdown to Christmas” calendar –> Now, in that instance, the waiting was made easier by the distraction of the chocolates in those little pockets and by the fact that we were counting down to something. There was a definite end to the waiting, and we knew when that would be: December 25, Christmas morning!
    • And here we are this morning in the season of Advent – the season of waiting.
      • Often looked at like our mouse calendar – Advent = countdown to Christmas
        • Count down as we light one Advent candle after another
      • Distractions of all our holiday activities make it easier to wait
        • Christmas cookies? Check.
        • House/tree decorated? Check.
        • Gifts bought and wrapped? Check.
      • But there is a deeper, more profound side to the waiting that we do during Advent, too. We have to remember that we’re waiting for more than just December 25. We’re waiting for the birth of the Messiah – “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[1] There is a deep-rootedness to this waiting. It is a waiting that has been handed down through the ages, waiting for a hope that was spoken of time and again in the promises of the Old Testament in the words of prophets and storytellers alike. It is this ancient anticipation that Zechariah sings about in our passage for this morning, and it is this same ancient anticipation that we ourselves will sing about in our hymn following the sermon – “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Because in the face of all this waiting, God sent a tiny, baby-Savior, Jesus the Christ, to fulfill all those particular promises with his own grace upon grace.
  • First promise Zechariah mentions: promise to send the people a deliverer
    • Text: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.[2]
      • Speaks of promise that we see in Ps 18 – describes God as our fortress, our rock, and our deliverer[3]
      • Also see this in Gr of today’s passage – Zechariah describes the role his son will play: you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins –> Gr. “forgiveness” = cancelling, sending away
        • This is more than God just pretending our sins no longer exist. This is God wiping those sins away permanently, removing them entirely, delivering us through the grace of Jesus Christ.
        • Think of the last time you did something you regretted – something you wished you could take back – and had to wait for someone to forgive you –> It wasn’t an easy wait, was it? It wasn’t a comfortable or a pleasant wait. When we’re waiting for forgiveness, we wait in both hope and fear. We wait in love and in uneasiness. We wait in the knowledge of what we’ve done and the yearning for compassion. And all of this is wrapped up in our Advent waiting as we wait for the coming of that Savior-baby, the One in whom we find ultimate forgiveness.
          • This is why we sing: O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Child of God appear. … O come, O shoot of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny, from depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’er the grave.[4] –> We wait for the Child of God to free us from the loneliness and isolation that are a product of sin. We wait for that forgiveness that can free us, that forgiveness that can only come from our Emmaunel – from God-with-Us.
  • Zechariah’s second promise: king/son of God raised up from David’s lineage
    • Text: He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.[5]
      • Speaks to promise given to King David by prophet Nathan: When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you … and I will establish his kingdom. … I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.[6] –> I hear power in this promise. I hear the kind of power that can overcome any obstacle. I hear the kind of power that can inspire the songs of angels. I hear the kind of power that can draw together the most unlikely band of travelers – shepherds, magi from the east, and a yet-unwed pair of misfits from Nazareth – in a most unlikely place – a grubby, run-down old stable in the small, insignificant down of Bethlehem.
        • Takes this kind of power to bring people together
        • Takes this kind of power to undertake the ministry Jesus did
          • Constantly spending time with those on the margins
          • Consistently butting heads with those in power
          • Takes this kind of power to bring about our salvation
          • Sing of this power in our hymn: O Come, O Key of David, come, and open wide your heavenly home; make safe the path to endless day, to hell’s destruction close the way.[7] –> Only the Son of God, that key raised up from the line of David, could have the power to defy death itself. It is for this power that we wait. And it is this power that we find in the tenderness and vulnerability of a newborn baby.
  • Another promise mentioned by Zechariah: the savior will be God’s message of love for God’s people –> more subtle message
    • Throughout the Old Testament, there are a number of different references to the “horn of salvation.” –> one such reference = Ezekiel: I will cause a horn to sprout up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.[8]
      • It is through this instrument – this Emmanuel, God-with-Us instrument – that God sings that message of essential love both to us and for us.
    • So in our passage for this morning, we have to read between the lines a little bit. You see, Zechariah speaks of God “looking favorably on his people” and says that “by the tender mercy of God, the dawn from on high will break upon us.”[9] In the Greek, we find this message of love.
      • Gr. “looked favorably on” = “God cared for God’s people” – exact same wording that Mary uses in her song when she says God “looked favorably” on her –> This is that hands-on God showing the people how much they are cared for, how much they are loved, how much the mean to God.
      • Zechariah’s “tender mercy” – Gr. “tender” = literally word for “heart/love/affection” –> show how deep God’s love truly goes
        • This is more than just a superficial affection that Zechariah is describing. This is a love that goes straight to the heart of God. It’s a love that God has for us, and it’s a love that God expresses to us by sending God’s only Son to a people who have been waiting for a long, long time.
          • Sing of this love in our hymn: O come, Desire of Nations, bind all people in one heart and mind; make envy, strife, and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.[10] –> This is the strongest kind of love, the most powerful kind of love – a love that can break down walls between people and mend even the most shattered hearts.
            • Saving love
            • Love born of forgiveness and grace
            • Love that we will find in the face of a newborn baby as he peers out from among the swaddling clothes that keep him warm
  • Final promise Zechariah mentions: great light for the people
    • Familiar OT passage (read on Christmas Eve): The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.[11]
    • To this end, Zechariah sings of how the tender mercy of God will break upon us “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”[12]
      • What this afternoon’s Blue Christmas service gets at –> Sometimes, we find ourselves in dark places in our lives.
        • Darkness from things that have happened to us – loss of loved ones, health crises, financial struggles
        • Darkness from things we’ve done to ourselves – broken relationships, our own shortcomings and mistakes
        • And in the midst of this darkness, all we’re waiting for is a light – a glimpse of the dawn, a glimmer of hope, something to show us that things are going to get better.
          • Find this light in God – psalmist: If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.[13]
          • Given this light in Jesus Christ – John: In the beginning was the Word … in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[14]
          • The Light of Christ – this light for which we have waited, this light which we celebrate every time we light another candle on our Advent wreath – this is a light that is brighter than anything we’ve ever known before.
            • Banish the shadows cast on us by sin
            • Banish the shadows cast on us by the judgments of others
            • Banish even that darkest shadow cast on us by death itself
              • Hymn: O come, O Day-spring, come and cheer our spirits by your advent here; love stir within the womb of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.[15]
  • This time leading up to Christmas tends to be a time of activity and visiting and planning and doing. And we’re already more than halfway through it! The hustle and bustle of the season is in full swing, but in the midst of all of that, Zechariah’s song reminds us that we are also in a season of waiting. We are waiting for a deliverer. We are waiting for the light. We are waiting for one with enough power and yet enough love to banish the darkness from our lives and our hearts forevermore. We are waiting with the echoes of God’s most ancient promises still ringing in our ears. Like Zechariah, we are waiting with those promises tugging on our hearts and springing from our lips in song. We are waiting for that precious, vulnerable, almighty God-with-Us child –the Holy One, Emmanuel, who can take all those ancient promises and gather them up into one amazing, saving bundle of grace. We are waiting for Jesus. Amen.

[1] Lk 2:11 (ESV).

[2] Lk 1:68.

[3] Ps 18:2.

[4] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verses1, 4 in The New Century Hymnal. (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1995), #116.

[5] Lk 1:69.

[6] 2 Sam 7:12-14 (selective).

[7] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 5.

[8] Ezek 29:21.

[9] Lk 1:68, 78.

[10] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 7.

[11] Is 9:2.

[12] Lk 1:79.

[13] Ps 139:11-12.

[14] Jn 1:1, 4-5.

[15] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 6.

Sunday’s Sermon: Chosen to Be Wonderful

  • There’s a great children’s book that came out in 1982 called The Do-Something Day.[1] –> basic storyline
    • Main character = little boy named Bernie
    • Bernie wants to help his mother and his father and his older brother – they’re too busy for him
      • Tries each one individually but gets the same response: Not now, Bernie … I’m busy!
    • Feeling pretty down – Bernie decides to run away!
    • As he walks down the street, he encounters a lot of different people – the baker, the car mechanic, the shoe repairman, and so on. And each of these people do need Bernie’s help with something. It doesn’t take long for Bernie to learn how needed he truly is.
    • And you know, I often wonder if Mary felt like Bernie at the beginning. Our text for today is Mary’s song – the declaration of devotion and praise she makes while she’s with Elizabeth – but these 10 verses are not all we have of Mary’s story.
      • Meet Mary back in Lk 1:26 when the gospel writer tells of her visit from angel Gabriel
        • First see signs of hesitation from Mary
          • Text: The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.[2]
          • Gabriel tells Mary she doesn’t need to be afraid and explains the amazing role for which she has been chosen
          • Mary’s initial response = doubt: How can this be?!
          • Gabriel: Nothing is impossible with God.[3]
          • Mary’s final response: “I am the Lord’s servant. … May it be as you have said.”[4] –> That doesn’t sound overly enthusiastic, does it?
            • Struggle to embrace this role
              • Striking mission
              • Inspiring mission
              • Overwhelming mission
      • But this is why the Son of God was born in the first place – to redeem our doubts, our indecisions, our fears and our sin. It wasn’t until God came to be born into humanity as a tiny baby that we were truly able to actually live into that relationship as children of the Most High God.
        • Scholar makes link with today’s passage: The song of Mary turns to the effects of the Lord’s coming for all God’s people. … These words echo the promises to Israel throughout the generations and declare their fulfillment.[5] –> That fulfillment that the scholar speaks of is Jesus Christ himself.
          • Came to save us from our sin
          • Came to redeem our relationship
          • Remember, we have been chosen as God’s own beloved children.
            • Leviticus: And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.[6]
            • Isaiah: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, and you are mine.[7]
            • Paul in Rom: You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.[8]
            • Even see this in Mary’s words in today’s passage:
              • [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant – Gr. “looked with favor” = considered, cared about –> more hands-on than just “looked on”
                • This sounds like the kind of looking on that parents do when their child is learning something new. They watch. They hover. They let their child do whatever he or she can, but they’re always waiting there in the wings, ready to jump in and lend a hand if necessary.
            • Scholar: [Mary’s] Magnificat stops the action of the Gospel in order to celebrate the greatness and covenant faithfulness of God. … God’s demonstration of power is not merely a show of force, but is intended to remind Israel that they belong to God and can count on their God to help them. God’s power and greatness display God’s goodness.[9]
  • And through this lens – this lens of God’s power being displayed in God’s goodness, by seeing the present through a filter of redemption and grace – it is through this lens that we begin to understand and appreciate Mary’s words all the more this morning. Yes, Mary’s initial reaction at Gabriel’s announcement may have been one of disquiet and concern. But Mary chose to seek out a different understanding. In terms of Bernie’s story, as he walked through his do-something day, it became more and more clear to him just how important he truly was. And as Mary walked through her own days contemplating the words of the angel that had visited her, we can only imagine that it became more and more clear to her what a gift God was giving her.
    • Only a few short verses after Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, we find our verses for today – words of praise and adoration and thanksgiving coming from Mary’s own lips.
      • Praise for God’s action in Mary’s life: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior … Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed.[10]
      • Praise for God’s action in community’s life: [God’s] mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. … He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;[11]
      • In voicing these words, Mary has gone full circle. At this point, not only has Mary been chosen by God for something wonderful, she’s also chosen that wonderfulness for herself. She’s decided to participate with God.
  • So what brought about such a switch? What inspired today’s declaration of praise? One simple word: faith.
    • Remember the final words of Elizabeth’s song last week?: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.[12] –> Blessed is she who believed … blessed is she who had confidence … Blessed is she who had enough faith to trust in this crazy plan of God’s! Blessed is she who had enough faith to offer up her whole self – her life, her future, even her body itself – for God’s work of redemption!
    • One especially important element of Mary’s faith that brings everything together = humility
      • See in text: For [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. … [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.[13]
        • First part = Mary’s own humility (calling herself lowly)
        • Second part speaks to general humility desired by God
          • Gr. “empty” = without any basis or power, without effect –> This “sending the rich away empty” applies to more than just how much is in someone’s wallet. God is reminding those who think they have it all figured out – those who view themselves as rich in power or rich in influence – that they are, in fact, not God. Only when they come to this realization can they offer themselves up to God as Mary did.
  • Once this humble realization has been reached à God can work wonderful things through us
    • Who knows … you may even already have that task. – not always recognizable right away 
      • Do-Something Day – Bernie is given gifts as he helps others with their tasks, doesn’t know at first how important these gifts will be later on
      • In today’s text, we see that Mary had at least some sort of grasp on the significance of the role she was about to play. – text: Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.[14] But at the same time, I wonder if Mary had any idea what she would become to so many people throughout history.
        • E.g.s from today’s hymn[15]:
          • Woman of the promise
          • Vessel of people’s dreams
          • Morning star of justice
          • Model of compassion
          • And there are so many others she’s collected through the years.[16]
            • Mother of mercy
            • Queen of Heaven
            • God-Bearer
            • Seat of Wisdom
          • I can only imagine what she would think of all that – she who called herself simply one of God’s lowly servants.
      • Do-Something Day: As it turns out, all of the things that were given to Bernie in return for his help around the neighborhood were things that his family needed back at home. So even though he didn’t know it throughout the day, Bernie was helping the people he loved most.
    • And we are not so different. God has already chosen each and every one of us as God’s own blessed and cherished children. But it doesn’t end there. Like Mary, like Bernie, we are also each chosen not just to be but to be wonderful.
      • Could be church-related: filling goody bags, caroling, unlocking the church and warming it up on Sun. morning
      • Could be hobby-related: knitting scarves to donate to schools and other organizations around the state and around the world, [playing trumpet for the enjoyment of others], building something for someone else
      • Could be community-related: working at or restocking Food shelf, birthday parties at the nursing home, delivering Meals on Wheels
      • Could be work-related: bringing a smile of joy or understanding to the face of a child in your classroom, easing someone’s stress by helping them navigate their taxes, easing someone’s pain with the gentleness of a nurse’s touch
      • Could be personal: being that shoulder to cry on or that ear to listen for a friend, offering support to a family member in need
      • Might not even be something you recognize but it’s there 
  • You see, when we open ourselves up like Mary to being used by God for good in this world, it’s going to happen. We’re going to brighten someone’s day. We’re going to touch someone’s life. We’re going to create that opportunity for joy and praise because God has chosen us to be wonderful. Amen.

[1] Joe Lasker. The Do-Something Day. (New York, NY: Viking Press), 1982.

[2] Lk 1:28-29.

[3] Lk 1:37.

[4] Lk 1:38.

[5] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 55.

[6] Lev 26:12.

[7] Is 43:1.

[8] Rom 8:15-16.

[9] Robert Redman. “Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 94, 96.

[10] Lk 1:46-48.

[11] Lk 1:50, 52.

[12] Lk 1:45.

[13] Lk 1:48a, 53.

[14] Lk 1:48b.

[15] Mary Frances Fleischaker. “Mary, Woman of the Promise” in The New Century Hymnal. (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 1995), #123.

Sunday’s Sermon: Baffling Encounters

As we journey through the Advent season together this year, we’ll be taking a look at the songs that lead up to Jesus’ birth in the Scriptures: Elizabeth’s song, Mary’s song, Zechariah’s song, the Servant Song, and the angels’ song. Each Scripture reading is paired with a hymn from our the New Century Hymnal.

This week, we start with Elizabeth’s song in Luke 1:39-45 and the hymn “O How Shall I Receive You?” (#102).

It was a pleasant surprise if ever there was one. Certainly, Elizabeth had been expecting Mary’s arrival. She had also known that Mary was pregnant. That was the whole point of the visit – for the two cousins to spend some time together in the midst of their pregnancies. After all, neither one of them was exactly what society would call a “normal pregnancy.” Mary wasn’t married yet. As her belly swelled and she began to show, disapproving glances and whispered remarks followed her everywhere she went.

“Poor Joseph … I heard the baby isn’t his.”

“Poor Joseph … we thought she was such a nice girl.”

“Poor Joseph … and he’s still marrying her?”

Whispered though they might have been, Mary still heard them. And if she was being honest, the words stung. But Mary had a secret … an absurd, mystifying, wonderful secret.

And Elizabeth … well, Elizabeth certainly wasn’t getting any younger. She had long since given up on having children by now. As her belly swelled and Elizabeth began to show, baffled glances and whispered remarks that followed her through the streets, too.

“How is it possible?”

“But Elizabeth and Zechariah are so old.”

“It’s a blessing … but too bad it didn’t happen sooner.”

Like Mary, Elizabeth heard them. She may not have been young anymore, but her ears still worked just fine. But also like Mary, Elizabeth had an absurd, mystifying, wonderful secret.

And so Elizabeth was thrilled when her cousin, Mary, sent word that she was coming to visit. She was a little bit worried about Mary trekking all the way out to the hill country while she was pregnant. After all, these hills were large and steep, and sometimes, it could be tough going, especially in the rainy season. But in her correspondence, Mary had been insistent. She had to come see Elizabeth and speak with her.

So when she knocked on the door that day, Elizabeth was expecting it. But she wasn’t expecting what happened when she went to answer the door.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”[1]   

I can’t help but wonder what that must have been like for Elizabeth. She opens the door, and there stands Mary, and as soon as Mary says “hello,” the miracle baby that Elizabeth is carrying jumps for joy inside her, and she’s filled with the Holy Spirit.

  • What did it feel like? (Physically? Emotionally?)
  • What did she think? Did she even have time to think?
  • Did the expression on her face reveal to Mary everything that was going on inside her body and her heart?

And really, what a truly absurd place for God to show up! Luke tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in the hill country in Judea. To this day, this is rough, rocky country. The hills are steep. The majority of the vegetation is small, scrubby-looking, and tough. It doesn’t exactly scream ‘hospitable.’ And during Elizabeth and Mary’s time, the whole area bordered the Wilderness of Judah, a desert that, because of its lack of water and decent travel routes has been mostly uninhabited throughout history … even up through today. And yet it’s in this remote part of the country that God decided to make such a grand, absurd, and astonishing appearance.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”[2] She just couldn’t hold it in! In that moment, there were so many wonderful things revealed to her. Elizabeth knew in her heart that the baby Mary carried was beyond special. That baby was blessed. That baby was holy. Somehow … in some incredible way … that baby was God. And Elizabeth also knew that Mary had had some sort of amazing experience not unlike her husband, Zechariah’s. There was a glow about Mary and something in her eyes – a tenderness and a spark that only came from an encounter with one of God’s highest messengers. In the face of such sacredness, Elizabeth couldn’t help but cry out in wonder and joy and amazement.

Another absurd place for God to show up – in two women who were at the same time ordinary and extraordinary. You see, while Luke doesn’t tell us exactly how old Elizabeth is, he does tell us earlier in chapter one that she was “barren, and … well along in years.”[3] She wasn’t the daughter of kings or priests or even an official. As far as we know, she wasn’t descended from some historically powerful or blessed ancient lineage. And yet God showed up in Elizabeth’s life. God gave her a child and not just any child. The boy Elizabeth carried would be John the Baptist – the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. The angel Gabriel appeared to her husband, Zechariah, in the temple and told him all about this miraculous son that he and Elizabeth would have and the pivotal role he would play: “And he will go before the Lord … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”[4]

And then we have Mary. She’s poor. She’s young. So young, in fact, that she’s not even married to Joseph yet. Like Elizabeth, she is ordinary – not the daughter of kings, priests, or officials, not the progeny of some sacred line. And yet, she has been visited by the angel Gabriel, and told that the child she is going to bear will be the Son of God. The Son of God! “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”[5]

One scholar points out that “Elizabeth becomes the first human witness to the good news the angel brought Mary in the annunciation. Both women are pregnant with significance, for between them they bear the messenger and the message. … The meeting between these two women is about the confirmation of hope, the fulfillment of a promise.”[6] Doesn’t get much more bafflingly extraordinary than that.

And so Elizabeth quickly ushered Mary inside. They had barely gotten through the door when Mary began to speak. She told Elizabeth that she had been visited by the angel Gabriel and about his proclamation about her pregnancy. In fact, it was even Gabriel who had told Mary of Elizabeth’s own pregnancy. At first, as she spoke of the angel’s visit, Mary was a little hesitant. Elizabeth could tell she believed what she was saying with all her heart, but she could also tell Mary didn’t want Elizabeth to think she was a fool.

But when Elizabeth told Mary about Zechariah’s own visit from the very same angel and about all that Gabriel had foretold for their own son – that he would be named John, that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, that he would be like Elijah, and that he would ultimately prepare the way for the Lord … When Elizabeth told Mary all of this, she could see first relief, then wonder, then a deep peace spread across the young woman’s face. Not only did Elizabeth believe Mary’s story, but her own husband had been visited by Gabriel as well! What a joy! What a blessing! What a profound experience to share with another.

Scholar: “The joy of Mary and Elizabeth is the joy of all who look forward with wonder and thankfulness to the birth of a child. The joining of this wonder with God’s saving work invites us to consider how the experience of expectancy teaches us the ways of God’s gracious work in human experience.”[7]

Both Mary and Elizabeth were expecting miracles – the miracle of a tiny baby, and the miracle of the greatness of God bursting into their lives. And unbelievable though their circumstances may have been, these two women took an incredible leap of faith, placing their trust in God’s gracious hands. Somehow, we have lost the inclination to believe like this. We have come to expect anything but a miracle today. In fact, we swing pretty far in the opposite direction. Anything that is perceived as a miracle is analyzed – scientifically, psychologically, socially, and from every other imaginable angle – until we analyze any ounce of the miraculous right out of it. We explain away those baffling encounters that we have with God because we’re unsure of what it might mean if we call it a God-moment, if we declare it our own miracle.

And so instead of singing a song of uncontainable praise like Elizabeth’s – a song of faith, a song of wonder, a song that gives voice to God’s bafflingly heartfelt nature – we find ourselves wondering how it is that we should look toward the birth of our Savior. Our song begins with questions: O how shall I receive you? How meet you on your way?[8] Surely these could be questions Elizabeth asked herself. They could be questions Mary asked herself. They’re certainly questions we ask ourselves. How are we to receive God – to welcome and make a place for God in our hearts and minds and lives? Where does God fit into it all? Instead of focusing on the questions, we should take our cue from Elizabeth and Mary, raising our voices in a hymn of praise. That’s what today’s hymn does. It speaks of Jesus’ guidance. It speaks of God’s saving love. And it speaks of dedication and faith.

This year, we take the first steps of our Advent journey knowing that there are questions in our hearts but also trusting in the existence of baffling encounters because it is in the midst of the wondrous, the mystical, the inexplicable – in the midst of a meeting between two miraculously pregnant women in the hill country of Judea, in the midst of the small miracles that get us through the day … it is in these baffling encounters that we catch a glimpse of the Christ-child, that tiny and vulnerable Savior of us all. Amen.

[1] Lk 1:41.

[2] Lk 1:42-45.

[3] Lk 1:7.

[4] Lk 1:17.

[5] Lk 1:32-33.

[6] Stephen A. Cooper. “Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 93.

[7] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 56.

[8] Paul Gerhardt, “O How Shall I Receive You,” verse 1. © 1653. In New Century Hymnal, 1995, #102.