Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 19, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some of the most cherished and precious memories of my life are from when my wife was carrying our unborn children. I remember the first time our first son kicked in the womb. It was at a Mariners game after Amy had eaten a half-order of garlic fries. I guess he liked them! I remember with our second son lying on the couch in the parsonage in Winlock and Amy picking up my hand and resting it on her belly, right on the place where our son was kicking. I remember with our third son going to a performance of the Seattle Symphony with my wife, late in her pregnancy. She was wearing a little black dress, proudly protruding with seven months worth of baby underneath. She was gorgeous and radiant. And this wasn’t just me being a doting husband either – she cut through the crowd like a rock star or a queen. People were pointing at her and smiling. Part of the concert was a performance of Bach’s Magnificat, so people were already excited about pregnant ladies, and they were all thrilled to see one in real life! Amy was the star of the intermission.
These are some of my most precious memories and my greatest blessings in life. Yes, having children is risky and scary and expensive, and I worried about all those things in those days. I still do. But it also brings incredible joy and blessing.
What we have in our gospel reading for this morning are some of the most cherished memories of the Christian church. Many of the world’s most respected Biblical scholars believe that Saint Luke, who set about to write an orderly account of the life of Jesus based on eyewitness testimony, wrote the verses we hear today based on conversations he had with Mary herself as she shared her cherished memories with him. And these memories are full of blessings! And these blessings are not only for Mary. These memories are full of blessings for all of us!
After learning that she would bear a child, Mary went to visit her aunt Elizabeth, who was herself six months along with a miraculous pregnancy, having conceived in her old age. When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s home in the hill country of Judea, the unborn prophet John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb! John was already doing his job of pointing to Jesus! This led Elizabeth to proclaim the first of three blessings: “Blessed are you among women!” she said to Mary.
Now think about this. Mary was not wealthy. She was not powerful. She was a poor girl from a small village. If she had an Instagram account, she wouldn’t have much to post about with the hashtag “blessed!” In fact, being pregnant before being married put her in a scandalous and even dangerous situation, which might be why she made haste to go visit her aunt! And yet, Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women.” Now Mary is unique in the way she is blessed. We’ll hear more about that in a minute. But this memory is a blessing for all of us, because it tells us that God chooses people who are not the most obvious candidates for blessing. God calls those who are not necessarily wealthy or powerful. God notices and loves people who are not “influencers.” God blesses people even as they find themselves in less-than-ideal circumstances. And so, God’s blessing falls upon us as well! Our struggling, often unnoticed lives are not unimportant to God! God blesses us too! God blesses you.
And here is how God blesses you: he has come to you in Mary’s child. For the second blessing proclaimed by Elizabeth to Mary is, “And blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth knew who Mary was carrying! She said so in no uncertain terms! “Why has this happened to me,” she continues, “that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Mary was carrying the Lord. She was carrying the Lord God himself! That is what this term Elizabeth uses means! And so Mary is uniquely blessed among women in that she is the mother of God, at least in a sense.
And here is the heart and the scandal and the wonder of Christianity: That the Lord of all creation, the One who established the entire universe, came into it as a cluster of fetal cells in Mary’s womb. The Creator of all that exists came as a human creature, as a baby. God became a human being.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth proclaimed. Blessings, indeed. For by coming into the world in this way, God has become Emmanuel, God with us. In all our humanity, in all our frailty, in all our vulnerability, God has come to be with us.
Elizabeth then said to Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Martin Luther once preached a sermon where he said there were three miracles in this chapter in Luke’s gospel. The first miracle, he said, is that a virgin would conceive. This wasn’t a huge deal, really. After all, God created the world out of nothing! Surely he could have a virgin conceive. The second miracle is that God became a human being. This was a much bigger miracle, no doubt about it. But the third miracle, Luther said, was that Mary believed it, and Luther said that this was the biggest miracle of all! Mary trusted the word of the Lord! Mary had faith! She trusted the promise! “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
This miracle continues to happen today. It is happening right now as God speaks his word to you, stirring you to faith, inviting you to believe, calling you to trust in his promises. What God conceived in Mary’s womb continues to be conceived in your ear and in your heart as God puts his word in there, telling you that he is near to you, nearer than you might think or feel. He has come to you in the Lord Jesus to forgive your sin, to show you his great love for you, and to assure you that you belong to him forever. Blessed are you who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to you by the Lord!
These memories of Mary and Elizabeth are among the most cherished and precious memories of the church. Whether you are young or old, a parent or childless, male or female, these memories are yours to cherish and ponder. They have been handed down to us by Mary and Luke so that we all might delight in them. They are full of blessings for all of us. For they tell us of a God who chooses to work through people you wouldn’t expect – even you and me! They tell us that the Lord himself entered the world through the womb of Mary so that he could come and be with us. They tell us that when we believe this, when we believe the word spoken to us by the Lord, we too are truly blessed.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church