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Leaping for Joy
Theodore Baker translated the lyrics from a 15th century
carol. His German to English translation
is just what we sung.
“Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
from tender stem hath sprung!
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the
Rose I have in mind;
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.
Sure this is not as Christmasy as you may have liked on
this Fourth Sunday of Advent and maybe Holy Night was more of what you were
hoping for this Sunday. But it isn’t
Christmas yet. Tomorrow night we will
celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and then for 12 days we keep celebrating
it. Next week in worship we will walk
through the Old Testament and New Testament texts to hear of the promise of the
Messiah and then the Messiah’s arrival.
We will listen to 9 scripture lessons and we will sing 9 Christmas
Carols. All the good ones.
But not today, today we are still in preparation mode. We are making that last ditch effort to ready
ourselves, ready our souls, ready our hearts for the gift that comes on
Christmas morn, or as they hymn put it, “when half spent was the night.” So instead of ringing Christmas fully in this
Sunday, we get this simple and nice text about two relatives coming together
celebrating the fact that they are both pregnant.
I am sure, since they were family, they had discussions
in the past about Elizabeth not being able to conceive. As the women would gather at any family
function, talk would happen and although Mary was still young and not married
she would be invited into those conversations because soon she would be. Mary probably understood the pain and
disappointment that Elizabeth, a preacher’s wife, couldn’t conceive
children. In every synagogue all the
members simply wanted to see Elizabeth pregnant as much as possible. A pregnant preacher’s wife is like catnip to
church ladies. I am sure the rumors of
why she couldn’t were being placed back upon Zachariah. But now they had been visited by angels and
Zack still had his doubts. So the Angel Gabriel
strikes him mute until their baby is born.
Can you imagine that parsonage; a mute rabbi and a pregnant rabbi’s wife
expecting their first child in their older years.
Meanwhile in Nazareth, the Lord’s angel also appears to a
virgin named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph. She was probably just a teenager when the
angel came and told her that God had picked her to bear his Son. It was in her womb that the Christ Child, the
God-man, would be born. She is taking
this all in, trying to understand her, when the angel tells her that her
Elizabeth is pregnant as well. After the
angel leaves Mary runs off to the mountains to spend time with Elizabeth and
make sense of all that is happening.
Growing up with three sisters there is only one thing
that comes to mind when two pregnant women of the same family get together for the
first time. I have seen it happen with
my own eyes. I have seen it when sorority
sisters see each other for the first time in a while. Or best friends who have been gone forever
come back to see each other. They all
use that high pitched scream they used to have anytime they saw a picture of teen
heartthrob. It starts off a normal human
pitch, but still loud, and eventually it moves into a noise that only dogs can
hear. Somehow that is all I can think of
when Mary shows up at Elizabeth’s house, both pregnant, both visited by angels,
both told of the great thing their sons will do for this world. All I can picture is…AHHHHHH, OHHH MY
YAHWEH!!!!!! Yes this is the small gift
here on Christmas Adam, a sorority sister yell.
As they meet for the first time the baby inside Elizabeth
gives a wallop of a kick. Even John the
Baptist in utero understands the wonderful thing that is happening in this
moment. The one who is to pave the way
is in one belly, while the one who is to come, is still an embryo in the other. The holy moment of confirmation of God’s plan
to save the world was understood by all of those involved.
When Alycia was pregnant with Dean two of our friends
were also pregnant and due the same time.
All three of their due dates were only days apart. So they would chat on the phone here and
there and compare where they were in the process of baking a human. They would compare doctor check-ups, progress
reports, different pains and cravings.
They would talk about the inability to sleep, swelling in places that
never were swollen. The list would go on
and on. I say this as the husband and
the father of the soon-to-be born. As a
man I don’t understand what it is like to hold life inside me. I thought, after a bad burrito, I was close,
but I was soon told differently. My ears
would go deaf to some of those things that Alycia and her pregnant friends
would discuss but I could not relate.
But all three of them could because they were going through the same
thing at the same time.
Mary and Elizabeth get together and they have three
months of this shared experience. Mary
can see into her future and prepare for what life will be like at 9 months
pregnant. The scripture says that when
she came to visit Elizabeth was six months pregnant and Mary visited for three
months. She left in the final weeks
before birth. I wonder if she did
because that is how pregnant she would be when she would be wandering the
streets of Bethlehem looking for a place to give birth to her son? Mary gained first hand experience on what was
awaiting her and it was a vital connection she probably needed.
Someone once asked me what to expect when you have
children. I told them that what they
should do is write down what their life looks like now on a piece of
paper. Write down what you and your
spouse love to do and what your favorite hobbies are. Write down the moments of joy you have in
life to. Then get in your car and drive
down a highway you can get up to at least 70 miles an hour on. Then when you are cruising at 70 miles an
hour, take that piece of paper and ball it up and chuck it out the window. That is what is like when you have a baby. It changes absolutely everything but what is
so amazing is that you never truly want that piece of paper back because what
you have now is so much better.
I am sure there were moments with all of you who were
expecting your first child that you needed to get ready for it. I am sure they are different for everyone,
both mothers and fathers. What moment
was it for you? Was it when the nursery
was finally all painted and all the furniture was in? Was it when you had to child proof your house
and you realized it would take you a second or two to get into any drawer or
toilet in your house? Was it when you
had to install that car seat for the first time and you wondered what deranged
person invented such a horribly complicated device?
I think we witness Mary’s moment right here in the
scripture. Elizabeth is so happy to see
Mary and so elated about how her baby jumps when she comes that she says this
to Mary, “With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all
women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this
honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I
heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is
she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” I love the last part of that verse, “Happy is
she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”
With this Mary breaks out into song, which is referred to
as the Magnificat. This song of praise
starts with Mary, moves up to God’s people, then the rest of the world and then
to God. It is a song of praise and
thanks giving that seems just to erupt from Mary’s soul. The honor, the joy, the hope, the peace, the
love that will be coming from her body, her baby, is overwhelming. Here is what she says;
“With all my
heart I glorify the Lord!
47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his
From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
55 just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
We don’t know much about the rest of
their pregnancies. This is the only peek
we get into the both Mary and Elizabeth’s baking process. For the other six months they are isolated
from connection for all we know, but for these three months they spend it with
each other. This is their big connection
to community, to ready themselves for what is to come.
Why are you here this morning? Why did you feel that today, the fourth Sunday
of Advent, the first Sunday of winter, was a good day to come to church? Are you here because you were hoping to get a
sense of Christmas? Are you here because
of the darkness that invades your life this time of year and you needed some
light? Are you here because this time of
year you desperately seek some sort of connection to make sense of it all? What brings you here this morning?
My hope is this is not the last time we
will worship together before Christmas morning.
I truly hope you will come to one of the Christmas Eve services in order
for us to truly celebrate the birth of Christ.
It isn’t Christmas yet, but it is right there. We can almost feel the birth pains
starting. The baby’s kicks are getting
harder and we can tell there isn’t much room in the womb. God’s promise will be fulfilled.
Elizabeth tells Mary, “Happy is
she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.” God’s promise will be fulfilled. This Christmas seems darker than others. Maybe it is just me, maybe it is just darker
in my own eyes. All I know is I cannot
wait to see the light.
Our final hymn today is another Christmas Carol but it is
still dark and somber. In the Bleak
Midwinter was written by Christina Rossetti as a Christmas poem for an American
magazine in 1872. She imagined the
Nativity in a snowy Northern landscape and what it would have been like if
Christ came into the world she knew. In the
early 1900s it was put to the familiar music that we know it by. I love this carol but what I love is that in
the somber tune, the quiet melody there is a hope and joy. It feels distant. It still feels far off but it is there. Listen to the words of the second verse,
Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
The light is coming and tomorrow night we will welcome
him. But today, this morning we
celebrate the fact that we are happy because we believe that Lord will fulfill
his promise. God will live up to what God
says. Light will come to eradicate the
darkness. This is why we gather together
on this fourth Sunday of Advent, on this last day of preparation. We come to ready ourselves, remind ourselves,
in the midst of this community we love that we will find the hope, peace, joy
and love in the babe in Mary’s womb.
And all God’s people said. Amen.