(Reminder: Caroling will start about 20 minutes before our 5pm Christmas Eve service. Please come early and help us sing our favorite Christmas carols.)
ADVENT IV - C- 15 LUKE 1.39-45 (46-55)
On this final Sunday of Advent the characters and the scene both change dramatically. We go backwards in time before the birth of Christ and of John Baptist. We began the season, you may recall, with Jesus warning his disciples, and all those within earshot, of the last days and the cosmic events that would serve as “signs” of His coming again in power to judge.
For the last two weeks our focus has been on John Baptist as the forerunner of Christ and his message of repentance. Those who responded to his message were baptized by John in the Jordan River as means of preparing for the coming of the Messiah.
Today the focus in on the Blessed Virgin Mary as the one God has chosen to be the mother of His Son, and the Savior of the world.
The scene is up and away from the muddy banks of the Jordan River into the dusty and rocky Judean hill country. More specifically, to the home of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, and the soon to be mother of John Baptist. Following the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will become the mother of God, and that her cousin Elizabeth was soon to give birth in her old age, Mary makes the 80 mile journey from Galilee to Judea to be with Elizabeth until the child is born.
Upon her arrival, Mary hears the same greeting from Elizabeth she received from the angel. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth realizes that Mary is blessed in more than one way. God has chosen her to be the mother of His Only Son, Jesus, and Mary has said “yes” to God’s invitation to participate in the divine drama.
Here the conversation between the two women ends as Mary responds to Elizabeth’s revelation by magnifying the Lord in a most beautiful and poetic song we call the Magnificat. N.T. Wright says, “the Magnificat is one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It has been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, recited in small churches by evening candlelight, and set to music with trumpets and kettledrums by Bach.”
Almost every word is a biblical quotation such as Mary would have known from childhood. Much of it echoes the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, the song which celebrates the birth of Samuel and all that God was going to do through him. Now these two mothers-to-be celebrate together what God is going to do through their sons, John and Jesus.
Underneath it all is a celebration of God. God has taken the initiative. God is the ultimate reason to celebrate.
Mary is the focus today because of her “yes” to God. She is the model for all of us in terms of how we are to respond to God’s invitation. It has been said that the only legitimate attitude of man to God is represented in her “yes.” What Mary has done by her “yes” to God is similar to what the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus himself has done. He has come into the world to do God’s will.
Just last week, down at the Jordan, those who came out to see and hear the Baptist asked “what should they do?” It was a question of doing God’s will, of seeking God’s will, as a means of demonstrating to the world that they were sincere in their striving to turn their lives around and to live a life worthy of their calling.
The true prayer offered by every Christian is the constant striving to respond to God’s will - to give our “yes” to God. This is what makes us “blessed.”
We are reminded of just how “blessed” we are in the weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, whether we realize it or not, when the invitation is given to come forward and receive the “gifts of God.” To participate in the Eucharist is a constant reminder that the Lord has come to meet us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood and to make us a people of God despite of all our differences.
The Holy Eucharist reminds us that Jesus is our way of doing God’s will by His example of self-sacrificing love. Even now, as our Advent journey draws to a close and we approach the crèche to ponder once again Christ’ Holy Incarnation, we know that it leads to the cross, where He offered his life for the life of the world.
It is His offering of himself that is life-giving, and His offering of himself that is at the very center of what we do in each and every Eucharist that we celebrate. Underneath it all is a celebration of the Love of God manifested in His Son, Jesus. God has taken the initiative by sending His Son into the world to save us from sin and death and to invite us, through His Son, to become heirs of His kingdom.
The 4th Sunday of Advent brings us to this familiar scene of the Visitation to Elizabeth and to the hearing of Mary’s song; a song of joy and praise to God who has chosen her to be the bearer of good news. It is a scene that takes us back to a time before the birth of Christ or that of John Baptist; one that brings us to the very threshold of another very familiar scene, the one we have anticipated throughout our Advent journey, and with a cast of characters we know so well.
Are we ready once again to accept God’s invitation to receive Him as our Lord and King? Are we prepared to “magnify” the Lord in all that we do and say as a demonstration of our “yes” to God in Thanksgiving for His coming into our world? Our Advent joy is only as real as we make our self-offering of love to God in our daily lives following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The offering of self to the will of God is an act of sacrificial love that demonstrates to a world shrouded in fear and darkness that we know that we are indeed “blessed” - blessed for God having chosen us to receive the good news and blessed by God’s invitation, in the name of His Incarnate Son, to participate in the on-going divine drama by sharing it. AMEN+