Here, each Sunday of the Advent season, we have been attentive to and intentional about being on the lookout for any and all signs of hope, peace, and joy emerging in our world and in our midst.
This morning, with the celebration of Christmas and the birth of God in a tiny, vulnerable baby in the most unexpected places looming on the horizon, we add to the mix, our need to attend to God’s holy love about to be born in our midst once more.
The good news is that our time of watching and waiting, of anticipation and preparation will soon be over.
Ready or not, Christmas will be soon be upon us!
But first, we have these two stories from Luke’s gospel.
Here, starting at the 39th verse of Chapter One, we encounter two of the most unlikely of women chosen by God to become bearers of God’s love through motherhood.
By all accounts, neither of them was prepared for or expecting this surprising reversal of fortunes-not only of this coming of God into their midst, but also their own roles in that emergence.
Both women, as it happens, turn out however, to be a quick study.
First, we meet the older woman, Elizabeth, wife to the priest Zechariah.
Now five months’ pregnant, Elizabeth is living proof that nothing is impossible with God.
Just as she has been about the hard work of adjusting to this surprising turn of events, our story tells us that her young cousin, Mary, newly pregnant herself, arrives for a visit.
The very moment Mary crosses the threshold, Elizabeth, filled up with the presence of the Holy Spirit, recognizes what is happening and joyfully proclaims to her young cousin: “Blessed are you among women” and “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to her by her Lord.” (Harper Collins Study Bible, p. 1957)
No sooner have these words been uttered however than the young girl, Mary, herself offers her own witness to what God is doing in and through her.
Like her female faith ancestor Hannah and mother to be of Samuel, Mary sings praise to a God of saving grace-one whom she declares will scatter the proud, de-throne the powerful, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry, and send the rich away empty.
Magnifying a reversal of fortunes that cannot be subdued or muted, Mary sings praise and thanksgiving to a God who will birth through her a change agent of unimaginable proportions.
To be clear, Mary is not crooning a soft lullaby that will soothe our listening ear.
Indeed, no, the song Mary sings of what God is doing in and through her is more reminiscent of “We Shall Overcome” than “Rock-a-bye Baby”.
So two women, two different responses to God’s goodness being born within and between them.
In Elizabeth’s case, we have blessing and naming what she sees.
In Mary’s case, we have a testimony magnifying how God’s goodness being born in her will change the world.
Ultimately, we know that Mary and Elizabeth’s courage and faith in saying ‘yes’ to God’s goodness will also bring them great angst and pain.
Their sons, John the Baptist, and Jesus, both men, Messenger and Message, will pay dearly for speaking truth to power and for their own saying ‘yes’ to God’s goodness.
But those stories are stories for a different season in the church year.
This morning, as we celebrate the last Sunday of the season of Advent, our overarching theme is God’s goodness and God’s choice of the most unlikely of people to bring about the in-breaking of God’s vision of Shalom.
All this is in keeping with the author of the gospel of Luke’s need to show God’s preferential option for the poor and for God’s naming and claiming ones we might least expect God to notice.
While there’s lots more to the back stories leading up to this morning’s story of blessing and proclamation found in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, I found myself wrestling with just what a good ‘take away’ from this morning’s text might be.
Caught up as we are in the many distractions of the festive season, I wonder what digestible bite can we take away for further reflection between now and tomorrow night when we celebrate the Christmas story?
To put it another way, what good news is there to be had for those among us who might feel ourselves long past the time for parenting, parenthood, or even grandparenthood ‘nothing being impossible with God’ notwithstanding?
What good news is there to be had for those among us for whom traditional parenting, parenthood, or grandparenthood has limited appeal, again ‘nothing being impossible with God’ notwithstanding?
Here, this morning, it seems to me that the older woman, Elizabeth’s ability to articulate what she sees happening in her young cousin, Mary provides us with a telling model for saying ‘yes’ to God in a myriad of ways.
The metaphor of new life being seeded in us can happen at any stage of our life’s journey.
Such new life might have very little, in fact, to do with diapers and feedings and all that we associate with infants and infant care.
The metaphor of welcoming new life being seeded in us might have more to do with our longing for fulfillment, for change, for a different way of using our creative gifts.
The metaphor of welcoming new life being seeded in us might have more to do with finding new outlets in retirement.
The metaphor of welcoming the seeding of new life in our own lives might be more about discovering and embracing a new purpose for being alive.
The metaphor of leaning into welcoming new expressions of ministry, even new ministry relationships embodying God’s goodness might be this morning’s take-away, this morning’s nugget, or food for thought.
When, the older woman, Elizabeth in our story from Luke’s gospel recognizes God doing a new thing in her young cousin, Mary, she joyfully acknowledges and names it.
I wonder, then, in our own lives, in whom do we see God doing a new thing?
In whom do we see God’s goodness being born?
Do we see it in our family members?
In our friends?
In our neighbours?
Perhaps, God’s goodness is being seeded in our own lives and we carry on unawares because but there’s no time, no space, no room to be attentive to that good news.
My encouragement to you is this: Make space, make room, be attentive to how God’s goodness might be being born in your life.
Be mindful of what matters most to you.
Acknowledge it in yourself and in others.
When you see God’s goodness growing in one another, name that good news! Share it!
Who knows what could happen?
Like the older woman, Elizabeth, you might discover a yearning or a longing that is about to be fulfilled.
You might even find yourself saying ‘yes’ to something that will not only birth God’s goodness in your life but will ripple out in concentric circles touching the lives of your family, friends, and neighbours.
Just as Elizabeth and Mary’s saying ‘yes’ to God seeding new life in theirs, just as their saying ‘yes’ changed their own life and the lives of their loved ones, and in so doing the world as they knew was changed forever, saying ‘yes’ in our own lives has the capacity to do the very same.
Our task as followers in the way of Jesus is to show up to what God is birthing in our own and one another’s lives, to notice it and of course, to say ‘yes’ and to affirming and share that good news in ourselves and with one another.
For all of this and more, as the season of watching and waiting on the birth of the Holy in our midst at Christmas looming on the horizon, I say, God bless you in your naming and in your blessing one another.
God bless you in your proclaiming and in your magnifying God’s holy love at Advent, Christmas and always.
May it be so, amen!
Rev. Elizabeth Bowyer reserves all rights © 2018.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
Some resources informing this morning’s reflection include:
asermonforeverysunday.com/C-04-the-fourth-Sunday-in-Advent, Year-c-2018, a sermon attributed to Mary Ann McKibben Dara
https://www.cnn.com>2018/12/16 Greta Thunberg accuses world leaders at COP24 of stealing kids’ futures-CNN. Teen tells climate negotiators they aren’t mature enough, by John Sutter and Lawrence Davidson, CNN
THE MESSAGE, THE BIBLE IN CONTEMPORARY LANGUAGE, Introduction to Luke, NavPress, Copyright Eugene Peterson, 2004, p. 1394
FEASTING on the WORD, LITURGIES FOR YEAR C, VOLUME 1, ADVENT THROUGH PENTECOST, WORSHIP COMPANION, KIMBERLY BRACKEN LONG, editor, copyright 2012 John Knox Press, p.19