“Blessed are you”
Luke 1: 39-45, December 19thth 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
4th Advent (year C) – 4th candle “Love”
“Our scripture lesson is an accounting of Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, from the gospel according to Luke, chapter one, verses thirty-nine thru forty-five.”
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 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 powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
“Having listened to the grateful words of both Elizabeth and Mary let us consider how we might wish to respond to the wonderful news of the pending birth of the baby Jesus. Also, let us consider its implication within our world today, in our time.”
“Blessed are you”
Our scripture lesson this morning is a beautiful flow of affirmations for God’s blessings, delivered with humble gratitude from the mouth of Elizabeth, and then echoed in response from Mary who bears the birth of the Christ Child. Are our hearts ‘filled with joy’ at the news of Jesus’ birth?! They ought to be! Are we humbled that God has chosen us to receive this news and for those willing to receive the ‘Good News”?! We ought to be! Are we profoundly grateful for the gift of the redemption offered to all who come to believe in the fullness of grace – which comes to us through Christ? May our very hearts shout out a resounding, thank you God! And is it not truly special that scripture has captured this story of two women burdened with the two babes in their very wombs. Furthermore, as they come together, sharing their belief that through the Spirit of God the children they each bear would bring salvation for generations to come! Is this not the most wonderful piece of scripture we have read! And how refreshing the scripture is not concerned about biology or lineage or any other proof text as to their faith. Listen again to the fullness, yet simplicity of what their initial greeting is. And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. /Luke 1: 42/ Two women, burdened with childbirth, receive each other with a blessing! That is so, so beautiful! “Blessed are you, blessed is the child you carry!” The scriptures suggest that these two women were cousins but there is no further information. It is clear, however, that Elizabeth and Mary, bonded together, through their pregnancies and their faith in God’s presence in their unborn children.
Today, this week of course, is all about love. Tis the fourth Sunday of Advent and thus we lit the candle of love. Symbolically linking our conversation and our pending Christmas celebration with the love of God! The Love of an expected birth. The jubilance of the two women spoken of suggest joy, love, and triumphant jubilation. The theologian, David Ewart, encourages us to ask ourselves these questions. “Does anything leap for joy within us? Can we feel the stirring of new life? Of age-old hopes? Of the impossible longing to become possible?” Can you answer these questions for yourself? My heart skips a beat now and then when I see peace, love, and joy in others. When we witness grace or compassion bestowed upon others, this is an opportunity to allow true joy, true love to bubble up in our hearts. It is at those moments we can praise God. How many times did you praise God, thank God, or even acknowledge God’s presence in your life… before you came to worship this morning? I pray most of you are insulted that I would suggest a good church going Christian would forget why they go to church. I pray you are all counting how many times you already said thank you this very day. Dear God, thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your creation today. Please, Merciful God, direct my thoughts that I might pass forward the love you bestow upon me, so that I can offer compassion, kindness, and have the opportunity to be considerate to others. God is all about love; we show our appreciation for that love through our praising and worshiping God – as we strive to pass forward to others – what God has done for us.
Personally, my quest for happiness often involves periods of struggle which lead me to reflect on how much my enjoyment is dependent on my attitude, which is contingent on my relationship with God. My connection with God centers around God’s abundant love for me, for you and for all of God’s children, both near and far and everywhere in-between! When the grace and Spirit of God gently help me release my human emotions that hold me back, it is then that I feel that leap for joy from within; it is then that the love of God flows through me! Ask yourself: When do you feel joy? How do you feel love? When do you allow God’s love to flow to those around you? Is it when you see a splendid sunrise or sunset? God knows we get more than our fair share of these dazzling light shows, with every color in the rainbow displayed for our delight and awe; Creation’s beauty and splendor displayed for all to see. Who can stop the flow of delight and adoration to flow? Why would anyone wish to stop such uplifting emotions?
You and I, we are human. We feel with our emotions, or we allow our emotions to lead us into new feelings. We could discuss which is healthier, yet, for now let us acknowledge it goes both ways. The crucial thing here is that we feel, and we respond to the splendor of Creation all around us. It is important that we express how we feel through our words and our deeds! But it is through our human emotions by which we are thrust into good moments, charitable deeds. Yet conversely, our emotions can also push us back into our shells of low self-esteem, hurt feelings or even into that dark place where we allow resentments, fear and or anger to take root. We see living examples of this every day; either in others or in ourselves. Now here it is – the week leading into Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We want the joy and love of all that Christmas represents to us – to touch our hearts, and – to touch the lives of our loved ones and friends. Prayerfully, we all shall have many, many opportunities to touch the holiness of this time.
Alan Brehm author and theologian, helps us speak of the importance of expressing ourselves through the art of singing. He speaks to us of how we lift our voices in praise to God. “In Advent we sing because we look forward to something better than the violence and suffering and injustice all around us. We look forward to the kindness and generosity and compassion of our God being fulfilled for all the peoples of the world.” Pastor Brehm is helping us acknowledge that there are many harsh realities to life all around us. Just last week we saw the horrific effects of a tornado as it ripped through several states, killing entire families, and destroying communities! The devastation has left a great many homeless and in desperate need, just as the Christmas holiday nears. Yes, we do need to take time to worship and lift our voices in praise as we seek to find balance amid life’s realities, of which we have no control over. Today, as we raise up the Advent candle of Love, we are reminded of God’s love for us through Christ. Surely, we can not leave the Christ child out of our thoughts, especially seeing how Elizabeth and Mary are at the center of our lesson today!
There are several focal points in our lesson. One of course is in the words of Mary as she responds to Elisabeth’s abundant praise and pronouncement of God’s blessings. Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Luther University, speaks to Mary’s words. “Mary’s Psalm announces, ‘No, Christ has come to challenge the structures of sin, death, evil, and oppression. Christ has come in the strength of our God to do what God has always done: lift-up the lowly, free the enslaved, feed the hungry, give justice to the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.'” Professor Jacobson challenges us to see clearly how Jesus, is guided by his heavenly Father, to be a loving yet stern Savior. Likewise, a loving parent shows their compassion and mercy to their offspring by diligently instructing their children in the disparities between right versus wrong, good versus evil. So also, Jesus has been sent to offer us the same. One of the teachings of Jesus, contained in simplicity within the Lord’s prayer reminds us that: as we forgive others… we also shall be forgiven. As we chose how we shall remember this passage of scripture, let us acknowledge our desire to feel the joy, and the love spoken of here, despite the shadows and the harness of life – which lurk all around! Our passage clearly speaks of how these two women cling to their faith as they praise God. This is our challenge for us today! How are we to feel blessed even when things are not going our way; even when health and wealth are not firmly in our grasp?! Are we strong enough in our faith to let go of our selfish concerns and turn more toward helping another? Can we find a balance in this triangulated relationship we have with God’s love, our personal happiness, and the needs of others!?
This coming Friday at six in the evening, just twenty-seven minutes past sunset, we shall celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. We shall read scripture lessons to mark this joyous occasion. We shall praise God with prayer, word, and carols. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and her name was Mary. And the Angel said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” “It came upon the Midnight Clear” And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. “Away in a Manger” And there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel appeared to them, And the angel said to the shepherds, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “Angels we have heard on high” They went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
As Christmas comes, be filled with hope, peace, and joy, as the love of God shall be the Light which shines in the darkness.
Merry Christmas Everyone.