Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24, 2006
The Gospel: Luke 1:39-56
Sermon: "To Prepare is to Say Yes"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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.
To Prepare is to Say Yes
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 24, 2006
Today is December 24th. In our world, we see this morning as the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are still in the preparatory mode of the Christian year. We are preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ the King and for the celebration of his birthday. Most people in our community would say it is Christmas Eve. That party is tonight. We aren’t ready for the party.
Look around us. We don't have the decorations up. Joseph and Mary are a long way from the crèche. The collect of the day is still calling for purification. Are we ready for the celebration? Are we ready for the coming of the King? We better get busy getting ready.
Are we feeling anxious? Are we prepared for this evening? Is all the choir music ready? Will the special musicians show up? Is the bread baked and in place? Will we have enough wine? Will the acolytes be prepared? Where is the sermon? These are some of the questions I might have.
What questions might you have? Is everything checked off the Christmas list? Do we have the Christmas goose or the roast beast as Dr. Seuss might say? Will company be late? Do we have gas in the car? All of these questions might flit around in our brains particularly during this sermon.
For just a few minutes I want to take us back to the scene in the Gospel lesson. For the next few moments let's forget about these questions and look at Mary. We come into this lesson after Mary has received the news from the angel. Talk about having questions. Mary must have had a thousand questions to ask the angel Gabriel. He only stuck around long enough to answer a few. She must have had many more.
After all, our best guess is that Mary was a teenager. She probably knew how babies came into the world. She is betrothed to a man, but is not married. She doesn't know what to expect. She doesn't know what will happen. Will Joseph still marry her or will she be cast aside and ostracized by her community? What changes can she expect to happen to her over the next nine months? Can I handle this pregnancy? Can I handle the birth of this child? What kind of mother will I be? I'm only a teenager and I don't know what I can do. Is she ready for all of this responsibility?
Even though she probably has all of these questions, Mary accepts the blessing from God of a child. She willingly accepts God's will and becomes the bearer of the Christ-child. After the angel has left her, Mary sets out to see her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth has also conceived and she is much older. Elizabeth knew from the moment she heard Mary's voice that Mary was pregnant. The two women rejoiced in their blessings. Don't you know that at that very moment, Mary knew everything would be all right. She still had some of her questions. Many things were left unanswered, but she knew everything would be fine. Now, she could begin to prepare herself for the task at hand. Furthermore, she could thank God for the blessing.
After Elizabeth greets her, Mary is overcome with joy. Her joy is proclaimed in her words, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.." Mary gives glory to God for what has happened to her and what will happen to her. She doesn't know what the end result will be. She can't predict the future. She can trust in God. What courage she has. What faith she has. She now sees that God can do anything. Nothing is impossible for God and nothing can separate the faithful from the love of God. She feels truly blessed and honored to be the servant of God.
Her words, her exclamation of faith, are a symbol to us this day. On this day, when everything feels pushed and almost impossible, her words bring peace and hope. They call us to remember that nothing is impossible for God. We, too, can be willing servants of our Lord and Savior. Even if we are not fully ready, God can work with those who will simply say, “Yes”. In fact, God has a habit of coming when we feel we are not fully ready. And yet, God still makes everything work out all right.
The remarkable aspect about God is that we don't have to have it all worked out. We don't have to have everything in perfect order. We don't need to worry about the Christmas list or the Christmas feasts. God is coming anyway. Christmas comes. The Incarnation is real and God in the flesh comes among us. God comes to us and calls us to God's self. All we have to do is say yes, trust in God, and follow.
OK, so the church is not ready. The decorations are not up. The choir still has one more rehearsal. The musicians are not here and the altar is not set for tonight's communion. God is still here and Christmas will still come. God is with all of us. When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we also celebrate the presence of Jesus in our lives, in our hearts, in our minds, in our spirits. Jesus comes to us each and every day. He is our hope and our strength. In him, we find joy. On this day, this Fourth Sunday of preparation, the presence of Christ in our lives is indeed good news. Amen.