Posted on Dec 23, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Can you believe it is December 23rd? In talking with folks many have said, I am just not ready for Christmas. In our staff meeting a couple of weeks ago one person said, “You know, it seems like it was Halloween just yesterday and tomorrow we are celebrating Christmas.” So here’s the thing, whether we are ready or not, Christmas is coming.
Now, for most of us, being ready means having all the presents bought and wrapped, having Christmas dinner planned out, having our Christmas cards mailed, having all the decorations set, and the list goes on. I know here at Salem, it means getting the sanctuary decorated, having all the Christmas Eve services planned out, for many of you it means having practiced what you will be doing in the services, and for me it means all of this and making sure I have a sermon ready. There is just so much to do to get ready, and I have to be honest, I would like a few more days, but as I have already said, whether we are ready or not, Christmas is here.
But talk about not being ready for what was about to happen! Our Gospel story is about two women who definitely were not ready for what happened in their lives. Mary was a young poor woman, probably about 13-14 years old, and she definitely was not ready for what was about to happen to her. And, of course, there is Elizabeth, a woman beyond childbearing years whose husband, a priest in the temple, could not tell her what was happening; she, too, was not ready for what was happening to her. In fact, Luke tells us that until Mary came, Elizabeth had stayed in seclusion for five months (Luke 1:24). These two women whose lives seemed so average, so normal, were suddenly thrust into a life in which they would play a part in changing the world.
Just before our story begins today, Luke tells us, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27). Now we know this story. The angel came to Mary to let her know that she was going to have a child and when she wanted to know how she would conceive since she was not yet married, Gabriel said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37).
These two lowly women, nobodies in the eyes of the world around them, were definitely not ready for these things to happen to them, yet, they both embraced God’s call for their lives, ready or not! And who on earth could have then, or now, ever truly been ready for the absurdity of God’s plan. Yes, I said absurd.
The people of Israel were waiting for the Messiah. In fact, they were expecting the Messiah, but they were expecting a messiah that would overthrow the Romans that were occupying their land and ruling over them. They were expecting a messiah that would heal all who were sick. There were excepting a messiah that would provide food and shelter for all in need. They were expecting a messiah that would end poverty. They were expecting someone like King David, but instead, Gabriel comes and shares the story of two baby boys. One will prepare the way for the other, and the other, Luke says, will reign on the throne of David forever (Luke 1:32-33).
To be honest, it is kind of an embarrassing story. If a king was coming, it should have been announced to the rulers of the world, or, at least Gabriel should have gone to the High Priest to share the news. But, instead he goes to two women, one too young, and one too old. How will a baby ever be able to be the Messiah? It will never work!
And, to make matters worse, it is a story that not only seems impossible, but it is a story that is threatening to make huge waves. If what Gabriel says comes true, the calm order will no longer be calm. Things will change and things will get hard because if this Jesus kid does what Gabriel says, the people will have to do things differently and they will have to live differently.
It’s a good thing Gabriel didn’t share this plan with everyone. It’s a good thing only a few people knew about it, because if they had shared this whole story with more people, it probably would have been squelched before it began. But, instead, these two women not only embrace God’s plan, they rejoice that God would come to them and allow them to be part of this crazy, absurd plan. Instead of fearing the unknown, they trust God will lead them and they sing God’s praises.
And today, we here how these two marginalized women came together, and when they do, Mary boldly proclaims one of the most prophetic words in all of scripture. She begins with amazement and praise:
“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." (Luke 1:47-48)
It doesn’t make sense. It’s absurd. She is a teenager. She is poor. She is from a backwater town, and, yet, she sings “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me…”. Great things! She has just been condemned to a life filled with sorrow and fear, and, yet, she trusts that God’s plan will be perfect for her. Yes, she is bearing the child that will scatter the proud, will bring down the powerful, will send the rich away, and that will bring down the mighty from their thrones, but she doesn’t fear this life. She proclaims this subversive message boldly, and instead of running from it, she embraces it.
In her song, we do not hear fear; no, we hear trust and praise. She foretells of a future in which God will change the very social structures that rule the world.
This is a beautiful story, but one in which, all too often, we fail to realize its power and its challenge. Today, we are challenged to sing this song. We are challenged to sing God’s praises, even in the midst of our fears and our doubts about what God might be calling us to do. When we sing this song, we need to be ready for what it means. It is a foolish song. It proclaims the absurd. When we sing this song it means that we realize that God is most likely acting in and through those we do not deem worthy, people like the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the young, woman, minorities… And although this might not make sense because such people usually don’t have the power, or the wisdom, or the experience, or the knowledge we think they need, in God’s kingdom, they are exactly who God needs. This pre-Christmas story is a challenge to all of us to be like Mary and Elizabeth. Today we are challenged to say yes to God’s absurdly impossible plan. Today we are called to sing to the world this beautiful, beautifully absurd plan and trust that God has found favor in us, too, as we proclaim this Good News. Amen.