Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 21, 2003
The Gospel: Luke 1: 39-56
Sermon: "The Experience of Joy, Proclamation and Hope"

The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and 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."  And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."  And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Luke 1: 39-56

The Experience of Joy, Proclamation and Hope

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 21, 2003

When I was reading the lessons I began to wonder if there was a little mistake. The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally Mary's Sunday. Yet, last week's lesson was about John the Baptist. This Sunday concerns Mary. Next to Mary's visit by the angel, this reading is probably the most well known. For in this reading we see joy, proclamation, and hope. 

We might be thinking, "Of course, we see joy. Everyone is joyful when they learn about a pregnancy." I know we are always joyful at the announcement that someone is expecting. However, we have incredible joy in this particular announcement. Remember Elizabeth was barren for many years. Now, she is pregnant. She will be expecting her first child soon. Mary comes to her cousin. When Mary greets her, her baby leaps inside her. The leap is described as one of joy. We might say this is normal. Babies start to move around. In biblical settings the movement of children in the womb was significant. For example Jacob and Esau moved in the womb. The two boys were described as struggling fiercely in Rebekah. Rebekah even says, "If it is to be this way, why do I live?" We know these two boys struggle against each other even as they grow older. 

The leap of joy then is significant in the biblical story. When the baby hears Mary's voice, the baby, who will be John the Baptist, leaps with joy. The baby knows something Elizabeth does not. The baby knows the child Mary is carrying is the Messiah. The baby leaps at the knowledge that the Messiah is coming. This joy goes much deeper than the announcement of a pregnancy. 

As the unborn baby, John, leaps, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. She proclaims God's blessing upon Mary. She proclaims that the child Mary carries is her Lord. She too is filled with joy through the Holy Spirit. As a result she can not be silent. She knows her Lord is coming. She knows the Messiah is near. This knowledge can not be contained. She must proclaim the goodness of the Lord. 

The proclamation does not end here. Mary responds with her own proclamation. She praises God for the blessings she has received. She also praises God for the coming of the Messiah. This praise comes not just because she is the mother and will be blessed forever. This praise is the result of the knowledge that God is coming to save God's people. The people of Israel have been waiting for the Messiah to come. When the Messiah comes the ways of the world will be recognized for what they are, the ways of man. The Messiah will show them the way of God. For when the Messiah comes the hope of the world arrives. 

What is the hope of the world? The hope of the world is that all people will come to know the Lord. The Messiah comes not just for the righteous and the rich. The Messiah comes for the hungry, the poor and the neglected. The Messiah comes and the world sees the powerful removed from their thrones and the poor lifted up in their place. God's mercy for all prevails. 

In this reading we see joy, proclamation and hope. We see these three in relation to the birth of Christ. I submit we see these three today. For the last three weeks we have been preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, the second coming of Christ. In our preparation we should also experience joy, proclamation and hope. For right now we live in an age when the kingdom of God is near. The kingdom of God is near to us. Why would I make such a statement? Jesus told the disciples to go and tell everyone the kingdom of God is near. We are Jesus' disciples today. Jesus has come and conquered sin and death for us. Jesus has restored our relationship with God broken by the sinfulness of humanity. Sin still does exist, but sin does not rule the day. The love of God rules the day. Let me give you an example. A drunk driver gets into a car and causes an accident. The person in the other car dies. The drunk driver has sinned in many ways. The family gives the hospital permission to use the organs from their loved one to help others. As a result, a child who is unable to see can see for the first time. A woman on dialysis is freed from the machine she has been tied to for so many years. A man who could not walk to the mailbox has the ability to work again with a new heart. Even though the drunk driver sinned and caused so much pain, the love of God still rules the day. God's love embraces the person who has died. The family offers the organs out of love for their family member and concern for others. The offering of the organs gives new life and new hope to the recipients. The doctors were given the knowledge and the gifts by God to make the transfer possible. God's love rules the day even when we are faced with tragedy. We live at a time when the kingdom of God is near. When we recognize how near the kingdom is, we experience joy. 

When we experience the joy we can not help but proclaim. Good news is hard to contain. When something good happens we just have to tell somebody. A new job, an unexpected gift, a pregnancy are all examples of times when we proclaim good news. The same proclamation occurs when we recognize that God's kingdom is near. Ellen was telling me of a letter written to her school by a member of the staff who lost her son in an accident. She was thanking them for their love and care. She asked them to do one special thing over the holidays. She asked each person to take the time to look deeply into the eyes of their loved ones. She asked them to take the time to cherish being in their presence. She asked them not to live day by day but moment by moment cherishing each moment of time. This woman has recognized even for this one moment that the kingdom of God is near. As a result she proclaims it through her letter. The kingdom of God is near to us and we are to proclaim, the kingdom is at hand. 

In our joy, and in our proclamation we find hope. Hope in Jesus Christ is what sustains us. We know the end of the story. Jesus is coming again. When he comes again, the kingdom of God is no longer near. When he comes again the kingdom of God is at hand. The fulfillment of all our hopes arrives. We will know the experience of living in the fullness of God's presence. We will be wrapped in the arms of God's love. Our spirits will be filed with God's peace. Pain and suffering will be no more. Joy and love will be our companions. We long for this day. We hope for this day. We pray for this day. We prepare ourselves for this day. 

The story of Mary and Elizabeth is a beautiful story. Their story is an example to us of how we are to live our lives. We live our lives with joy because we know what God has done and is doing for us. We proclaim the joy we have to everyone who will hear. We wait in hope for the coming of Christ again. We wait for Jesus to come, to gather us in his loving arms, and then take us home. AMEN.

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