The Fourth Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/23/2012)

Lessons:Micah 5:2-5a St. Luke 1:46b-55 (52) or Psalm 80:1-7 (7) Hebrews 10:5-10 St. Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1:39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

[46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”]

St. Luke 1:39-45 [46-55] New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Comfort in a Troubled World

Hardly any of us can read St. Luke 1:46-55 anymore without hearing in our minds, “My soul proclaims your greatness O God, and my spirit rejoices in you…”

The image comes to mind of young, innocent, gentle Mary, filled with hope as her child grows within her, and as she travels to visit with her kinswoman, Elizabeth. It is a time of great anticipation for Mary. This is her firstborn, and she believes that he is God’s Chosen One. We can imagine how her heart sings while she considers what God is about to do.

Mary arrives at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, is greeted with great excitement, and immediately breaks into a song that is both familiar and new. Carrying some of the same themes that we find in the song of her ancestor, Hannah (see 1st Samuel 2:1-10), Mary sings with great joy.

Yet the song she delivers is a surprising one — certainly no lullaby for a baby to be born. After a couple verses of praise to God, she gets to the core of her message. It is the nature of God to act with a great display of strength: scattering the proud, bringing down the mighty and sending the rich away empty. God is also one who lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things, and mercifully comes to the aid of those who believe. Not exactly the song we’d expect from a first-time mother-to-be. There is a tension in this story between the Mary we imagine and these strong prophetic words about God; tension between the hope that God’s people have about the Messiah, and the harsh realities of first century life. It is a tension Mary knows in part already, and will come to know all too well.

We live in that tension too. Christmas carols gently play in shopping malls. We decorate our homes for the holidays. College age daughters and sons begin arriving from school. There is a joyful anticipation of the celebration that will come. At the same time, a nation grieves the deaths of twenty young children and six adults who sought to protect them. As details continue to be revealed about those whose lives ended this past Friday, our sense of horror at what has happened deepens.

So we sing with Mary. Cognizant of the pain that surrounds us in this world, weary from the steady drumbeat of terrible news, we lift our voices to praise God who scatters the proud, who brings down the mighty and who sends the rich away empty; God who lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry, and who mercifully comes to the aid of those who believe. “My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you…”

Amidst the pain of this world, we find great joy in the promises we have received from God; promises that can carry us through the rigors of this life and beyond. We pray that our brothers and sisters in Newtown, Connecticut will be sustained by these promises as well, and in the midst of their grief, that they might come to know the comfort of God who lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry, and mercifully comes to the aid of those who believe.

Rest eternal grant them, merciful God. And may perpetual light shine upon them. May your peace come to all of us this Christmastime. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What filled Mary’s heart with joy in the months before Jesus was born?
  2. What painful realities were most likely part of her life?
  3. How must she have taken comfort from the story of Hannah and Samuel?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What provides joy in my life today?
  2. What grief am I carrying these days?
  3. How does God’s presence in my life speak to these realities?