Sermon, Sunday December 21, 2014

Preaching Advent 4 Remember the time and the culture  Of what we hear today
Remember that having a family meant physical protection for it gave hands to plant and harvest, to nurse and care, and  meant favor being shown by God,
for children also meant the family would continue on in the world to be part of the blessing God promised through his chosen people into all the world…
So to not have children meant you could not be part of the blessing,
And meant you were disgraced
And a disgrace…
And remember too
That in that time and culture
To be pregnant without marriage, without proper relationship,
Meant a woman was eligible not just for being turned away
But eligible for death, even death by being stoned.
So remembering those two things
Disgrace for a family, and especially a woman, without children
Yet also disgrace if with child in a way seen illigitmate,
Remembering these, 
hear first the story of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, and her husband Zechariah, from the beginning of Luke Chapter 1:
(bold print is from Scripture)
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order… His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.  But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before GodZechariah was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord … Now at the time … the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to Zechariah an angel of the Lord, …When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice… he will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”
The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary…When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

ah, Elizabeth, disgrace removed; what she had endured undone,
ah Elizabeth, the Lord has looked upon you with favor.
And the son she and Zechariah have       Grows to become
John the Baptizer who as God promised, prepares the way for people to follow their Lord.
Oh, but how did the Gospel of Luke say it again,
About what Elizabeth felt when being pregnant, there in her aging years when she had been so sure all hope was lost? And where does God’s story go from there?
Back to the words from Elizabeth, and then our Gospel for today:

After those days Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said,  “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Luke, Chapter 1: 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. And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
But she was much perplexed, troubled by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel said to her, “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.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

God’s angel messengers here, they come and go.
But God’s message
To Elizabeth, to Zechariah, to Mary
You are favored…
Remains and
God’s message
Through Jesus
To us remains:
You are favored by the Lord.  
Which means we might,
Be troubled, afraid, as was Zechariah, and ask, “how will we know…”
Or feel sweet relief as did Elizabeth
Finding that with God it is never too late
Or we can hope to be like
Who finds a way, in the midst of knowing, surely knowing, as she knew the law of the day
That what will come will take great courage
And say                Here I am, a servant of the Lord;
Let it be with me
According, O God, to your word.
And when the angel left
And the power of the Most High
overshadowed all her fear
and the Holy Spirit conceived for Mary
To carry
The child of God
Mary gave her life into the hands of God
And gave her child
Into the hands of God
Who gave his Son
That we too can know:
in God’s sight
We are looked upon with joy,
And so be freed to do what it takes great courage to do
be with God
in lifting up the lowly
as we are lifted up,
and magnify the Lord
by extending God’s mercy to others
as we rejoice in our Savior
whose mercy is upon us.
Thanks be to God.
(we pause in silence, for reflection)

Let us join in reading Mary's response to God's good news:

Luke 1:46b-55   “The Magnificat”  
All          My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
               my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
Pastor   for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
All        From this day all generations will call me blessed;
            you, the Almighty, have done great  things for me,
            and holy is your name.
Pastor  You have mercy on those who fear you,
      from generation to generation.  
      You have shown strength with your arm;
      and scattered the proud in their conceit,
      casting down the mighty from their thrones
      and lifting up the lowly.
      You have filled the hungry with good things,
      and sent the rich away empty.
      You have come to the aid of your servant Israel,
      to remember the promise of mercy,
      the promise made to our forebears,
      to Abraham and his children, forever.   
A time of silence for reflection follows our reading.

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