(With apologies and thanks from my friend, Chad Bird)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd Peperkorn
Advent 4C (December 23, 2012)
TITLE: “In the Flesh”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for today is from the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter 1.
The old and the new meet together in our Gospel today. Two women, one beyond childbearing years, the other unmarried and by all accounts before childbearing years. Yet our Lord, in His great mercy, cares for them both.
Their positions could hardly be more different. Elizabeth was the wife of a priest, an honorable and respected position and member of the religious establishment. But she and Zechariah had no children. Now today, in a land where children are a choice and not a gift, seeing an elderly couple who didn’t have children, well, it isn’t completely unusual. Not so in Jesus’ day. In our Lord’s day, children were always considered a blessing of the Lord, a gift to be received.
What’s more, Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted children. We hear a little earlier in Luke the following:
“And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:6–7 ESV)
But God had not given them children. And so they waited, and waited, and waited and waited. Like Hannah before them or Sarai before her, their prayers continued for years, decades even. And God heard their cries, and God knew, and God answered their prayers.
Mary, on the other hand, was on the opposite end of the social and family spectrum. She was a young girl, twelve to fourteen years of age or so. She did not come from a prominent family, although she had King David’s blood in her veins. She was betrothed or engaged to Joseph, but that was still some time off. Her life was before her. Potential bursting within, as only the young can have. She lived in a backwater town in Galilee, but that didn’t matter.
When the angel Gabriel announced her pregnancy to her, she received this news with faith and joy. But it doesn’t take a lot to figure that this would be, complicated, for her and for Joseph. Would Joseph believe her? Would she be shamed as an unwed mother, divorced quietly for the sake of propriety? “Let it be to me according to your word,” she said to the angel. Amen, in other words. Whatever the consequences, the messiness of the Lord’s promise to her, she would receive it with joy, and all generations would call her blessed.
So here they are in our reading today, the old and the new. The last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets meets the Messiah in the flesh.
I don’t think we can even fathom how remarkable this meeting must have been. John the Baptist, just a few short months from being born, John is in the womb of Elizabeth. In John we have Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Micah, all of the prophets and their words echoing in his prenatal head. Elizabeth is pregnant with anticipation for what will come forth from her womb. And John is with her.
So when Mary comes to the door and greets her elder cousin, John cannot even contain himself in his joy. It doesn’t matter that this prenatal messiah will cause his death. John leaps in his mother’s womb! In older times when a woman could started to feel the child in her begin to move, it was called the quickening. Certainly Elizabeth had felt John’s movement before, but this, well, this wasn’t just a movement, this was a symphony of joy at the coming Messiah.
Friends, a part of what we have lost in the Church and in our families is the joy that can only come from a child. The joy we celebrate today comes from presents and gifts, toys that break and sugar that’s consumed. But that joy of John comes from knowing what the life of this young cousin of his would mean for the whole world.
This is where the joy in Mary’s song comes from. Mary’s song, often called The Magnificat, is a song not about Mary, but about how God has blessed this young woman. Last week we heard about St. Paul callings us to rejoice always. This week we hear how that joy came to Mary, the young virgin from Nazareth.
Today our Lord calls us to repent of our constant desire to know and understand everything. It doesn’t take long in this life to realize that there are more questions than answers. It doesn’t take long to figure out that we are not able to figure out all of God’s plans. But today we meet two women of different stations and places in their lives, In both of these women we have a remarkable example of faith. In both Elizabeth and Mary we see and hear what it means to receive the blessings of the Lord, in season and out of season.
Our God, you see, always has bigger plans for us. His plans for you truly surpass all understanding. When a ninety year old woman bears a son, and when a virgin bears the very Son of God in her womb, well, the problems and trials that we face begin to take perspective. God can take care of your problems, just as he took care of Elizabeth and Mary, and just as He promises to take care of you.
At the end of the day, this is what we know from the Scriptures: God is with His people. He is with His people today and now. He is with us not as a burning bush or a pillar of cloud. He is not seated between the cherubim or riding a chariot throne. No, God is with His people. He is Immanuel, God with us. This is why Elizabeth exclaims, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
The Mighty One has indeed done great things for us. While we were still sinners, Christ came to justify the ungodly. When we are selfish, He gives of everything He has and is. While we gossip and bite and slice one another apart with our words, He bears His neck to the priestly blade for us and for our salvation. You may drink up your sins so that they might even consume you, but He is the very Sea that swallows up your enemies. He is the Land flowing with milk and honey. He is the judge who has become the accused for us.
He has done great things for us, and holy is His name. Newborn babes in the womb leap in His presence. Let each one of you have that joy, both young and old. Come, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and remove your sandals before the burning bush of Mary’s womb. That pregnant veil is now the Ark which holds your very salvation. But this Ark isn’t made of gold or silver. It is covered with skin and bones. And this Ark of our Lord continues for you even now, hidden under bread and wine, the very manna from heaven which is His flesh and blood.
Great things are afoot, beloved. Rejoice with Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and all the saints and angels in heaven and on earth. For God has come down to you, holy and weak, beloved and in need. Come and see, and let it be to you according to His Word.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, to life everlasting. Amen.