Sunday, December 22, 2018

Biblical times were kind of quirky times. Here is what I mean: In all of our writings in the bible…in our entire scriptures there is only one book named after a woman. Guess what it is? Ruth. Most other books, if they are associated with a name, are named after men. Men seemed to be the ones in power. Sure, they held the titles of ruler, Governor, Emperor, Head of the house. Men were the total dominant sex at the time. Everything was geared toward the male perspective. I will give you a second for the men to “thump your chest,” if you want (don’t worry ladies, it won’t last long).
Yet, Lutheran Theologian Karoline Lewis, states that “if we are looking for models of ministry in our modern times, Mary and Elizabeth should come to mind.” She suggests this based on their actions and words in our reading today. Last week, I spoke of not necessarily being in the “Christmas mood.” I would suggest to you that these two women…these two “mothers-to-be” are excited about the anticipation of the birth of their children. They are not excited about the gifts or the Music that we hear. They are anxiously awaiting the birth of the prophet who is to announce the coming of a mighty one and the birth of the one who is going to save us (as Gabriel told her 9 short months ago).
These two women meet and there is this gift of the Holy Spirit that lifts them and causes them great excitement for what Gabriel has promised. When they come together there is leaping by John the Baptist while in the womb and Elizabeth’s words, “blessed are you among women…” Elizbeth knows that Mary, the mother of our Savior to be born has been blessed and she knows what the child will do; before even being born. They know that the birth of these children, especially Mary’s Son, will turn the world upside-down!
I think it is important that we remind ourselves about who these two women are. Elizabeth was married to Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest who was on in years and Elizabeth was getting older. They didn’t have children. The angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him all about John and what John would do. God had blessed them with the coming of this child who helps turn people toward Israel and God. It was highly unusual for a woman of Elizabeth’s age to be with child. Some in society looked down upon her because of this.
Then we have Mary. She is now with child and is not even married (how scandalous!). There was no way that society was going to accept this kind of behavior from an unmarried woman. There is no doubt that she was going to be the scorn of the neighborhood, object of rumors, ridicule, and bullying to say the least. That wasn’t the worst of her problems. Do you know what the penalty for this kind of behavior was? Stoning, if she was lucky and did not get stoned, she would be disowned by her family! Women could not own property, have bank accounts, or anything to fall back on. In those days there was very little choice but to abandon the child and hope that some MAN would find her respectable, again. I cannot imagine what it must have been like. When it comes right down to it, Mary’s very life was at stake.
So, here are these two women whom society would definitely ignore, shame, and cast out of the neighborhood, AND, possibly killed… and what are they doing? They are PRAISING GOD! They are giving thanks to God for all they blessings they have received. They understand the implications of what is about to happen. After all, Gabriel tells them what is going to happen and they are prepared for what is about to come! They give thanks and they give God the glory. I would even say they go a little further than that.
Because God is blessing these two who might be considered outcasts, Mary, as Karoline Lewis writes, will lift up the poor, lowly, marginalized, and all those that society will cast out. That makes sense, because she has had to walk that path for the last 9 months! As Lewis states, “Advent helps us recognize that our response to Christmas cannot wait.” Meaning, these two beloved women respond to the news of the pregnancies with the attitude of “it’s going to happen, the Lord has chosen me, and so I will do whatever God asks; AND, I will give thanks to God and be your servant.” There response is to serve God with all their heart and soul, mind and body.
Now, I said last week that it felt like there was not this joy and celebration that has been felt in the past at this coming of Good News in the form of Jesus Christ’s birth. I did not say to not celebrate this birth. In fact, I said there are different ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It might be in a loud way with gongs, cymbals, songs; or it might be in the silence of a silent night, a pondering in the heart of what this birth now means. No matter what way, I argue that it is something that cannot be ignored…we cannot let it fall by the wayside!
The secular world sometimes feels like it would rather let this Advent time and Christmas pass. Meaning, the songs start playing (depending where you are) after Halloween now. Store decorations go up, Christmas ads start playing, and there is this big build up. If you notice, it is all about sales (“Now’s the right time to buy!”). How many times have you heard the word ADVENT on television, on the news, your favorite show? How many times have you heard it explained? How many times have shows or news really explained the birth of Jesus, let alone talked openly about it?
The example that Elizabeth and Mary provide for us in modern times is to live like it has already happened…and in some ways it has. Meaning, throughout this pregnancy both are lifting up the rich blessings that God has given to them. Their commitment to God has been reinforced and re-energized in that they lift up God before the babies are even born. I think it is fair to suggest that they spent their time (after finding out that they were found in favor with God) doing all that they could to praise God in all that they did. Not saying there might not have been struggles but their faith was strengthened.
How would they be such good models of ministry for us? There is no way around it, Jesus is coming! In two days, the world will be changed forever…just as it is every year. We know it before it is going to happen. How are we going to live out the love that God is bringing into our world? Are we willing to share with friends what Advent means with others? If you don’t know how, do you want to learn how to explain it? Are we willing to become comfortable with openly saying and showing how our soul magnifies the Lord? Because, we have found favor with God because of the birth and belief in Jesus Christ and all that Jesus will do with us and for us: AMEN!