Advent Beginnings...to be continued
First Reading Micah 5:2-5a
Psalm Psalm 80:1-7
Second Reading Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel Luke 1:39-45(46-55)
"Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved." In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
For the past few weeks, we have been practicing great patience to remain in Advent. We have all been encouraged to lean into the waiting, anticipating, and longing for the coming of Christ. It is a challenge to live in this liminal time, the already but not yet, while the world around us has already fast forwarded to Christmas morning. At best, the focus is on the manger. In reality, the focus is often on ripping open Christmas presents and planning for post holiday shopping.
We are also encouraged in Advent to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the real challenge of Advent. If we are giving ourselves to liturgical living, paying attention to and participating in the nuances of the season, we should come out on the other side changed. On the palpable precipice of the Incarnation of our Lord, I invite you to linger a little longer to discern just how God is calling us to prepare. Who is God calling us to be? What is God calling us to do?
God calls some of the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places to participate in God’s salvation activity. In the time of the prophet Micah, God’s people are expecting a Royal Messiah to conquer the enemies of Israel and deliver on God’s promises of a great nation. Micah suggests salvation will come from Bethlehem. Bethlehem! Bethlehem was a "one camel" town. Bethlehem was a four-way stop where the welcome to and now leaving are on the same sign. Bethlehem was in the wrong zip code, not 90210 or some other seat of popularity or power. But Bethlehem is the same little town where David was anointed king by Samuel. "O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie." But great, powerful, mysterious things are happening in Bethlehem. Micah reminds us that God is loose in the world, busy about the business of salvation. If God can work in a backwater town like Bethlehem, imagine what God can do in middle Georgia.
Micah also announces that the Royal Messiah everyone imagines will be a shepherd king, who comes from a surprising place and rules in an astonishing way. Against the popular notion of powerful rulers, this shepherd will not rule with the sword, yet will bring peace with arbitration, diplomacy, and service. He shall be the One of peace. The insecure world is full of terror, war, poverty, accident, even the ordinary but anguishing events of old age, illness, and death. God promises security and salvation the world cannot provide. How shall we prepare? How shall we participate?
Mary’s visit with Elizabeth is our model for Advent preparation and participation. Mary went with haste to see Elizabeth. Imagine the scene. Two marginalized pregnant women: one young, poor, and unwed, and the other thought to be barren, far beyond a reasonable age to conceive. Yet here they are, two strong women bearing gifts, and bearing secrets. Jesus and John are still in their respective wombs, forming and growing. By amniotic acrobatics, John the Baptist makes a prenatal proclamation, announcing Jesus' arrival even before birth. This is what he was created to do, and what he will continue to do.
Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and demonstrates amazing prophetic insight. She knows Mary has been specially chosen by God, knows Mary is pregnant, and knows Mary's child will have even greater significance than her own. As if by reverse genetics, Elizabeth takes on the role of her unborn child and announces the coming of Jesus by greeting Mary, the “mother of my Lord.” What are we to learn from the example of Elizabeth? We are called to recognize the in-breaking of the kingdom, understand our role and participate, and praise God.
Mary responds with the Magnificat, her song of praise. Mary is blessed by God. Mary is blessed because she believes. She recognizes God as "Lord" and "Savior" and "Holy." Mary's praise for what God has done for her widens to include what God does for "all who fear him" throughout the ages, generation to generation. God looks with favor on His servant Mary, and that favor expands to all of humanity. This allows all of us to share in her blessedness. What are we to learn from the example of Mary? We are blessed by the love of God. From our lowliness, God can accomplish great things, beyond our wildest imaginations. We are called to recognize God’s sovereign will for the world and for our lives and respond with an unconditional, uncompromising YES! Here I am, Lord, send me! Mary voices the song of the Magnificat; it is our song to sing for all generations.
Our final Advent lesson is one of community and connection as the people of God. Two devoted, faithful servants praise God together. They recognize their roles and serve obediently. Elizabeth and Mary play a role in salvation history, each in their own way. We are called to prepare the way of the Lord and participate in the coming of God’s kingdom, here and now. Jesus made His sacrifice by coming into the world of humanity, not in some heavenly realm. Our sacrifice is to continue in Christ’s conformity to the will of God in complete obedience, here and now.
Luke clearly links the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. The preparation of Advent leads to the gift of Christmas. We share with Mary in giving birth to the living God in our world. We are to sing praise to God when we are happy and when we are sad; when we experience blessings and when we suffer tragedy and loss. The Magnificat voices our dependence and our faith. The Magnificat proclaims God's promises. The Magnificat bids us to participate. Claim the Magnificat, find your voice, and sing the song God calls you to sing. It is the answer to all our waiting, preparation, longing, and anticipation. Amen.