Summary: This message looks at what it means to "carry Christ into Christmas" by looking at the oft-neglected story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel.
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” So cries an exasperated Charlie Brown in the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. Amid the commercialism, the materialism and the general confusion of the holiday, Charlie Brown seeks merely to understand. Understanding has been our goal over the last two weeks. By looking at how the gospel writers prepare for the coming of Christ we are looking for ways to prepare our lives for the Child to be born anew in our lives. In Matthew’s Gospel we pondered the dilemma of Joseph as he was asked by God to open his life to Mary’s infant. And in our pondering we asked whether we were willing to open ourselves up to the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. Last time we considered the appearance of John the Baptist, who like the three spirits in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, urged us to be ready to change our attitudes and actions in light of the prophet’s call to prepare the way of the Lord. Today we turn our attention toward the more familiar account of the Christmas story, that given us by Luke. But our chosen text is not perhaps as familiar a one to us in the Church today.
Nestled between the angel Gabriel’s birth announcement and Mary’s song of praise are seven short verse that are often hurried over as we rush on to shepherds and angels and stars. Somehow the meeting of two relatives doesn’t quite message up to the coming of the Three Wiseman. Yet I am convinced that here lies the heart of the Advent Gospel for Luke. In these few verses we can find the answer to Charlie Brown’s question - What is Christmas really all about?
The text begins: “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah...” Having just received an angelic announcement from Gabriel, Mary cannot wait to share her news with someone. And who can blame her? Its not everyday an angel makes a housecall. So off she goes to see her kinswoman Elizabeth. Why Elizabeth? Because earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Gabriel had spoken to her Husband Zechariah the priest and had given another birth announcement. And since the angel had told this to Mary who better to believe the good news than one who had good news of her own. So seeking encouragement from an older and wiser woman, Mary rushes to find Elizabeth.
Now, the text goes on to say “...where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the babe leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled wit the Holy Spirit...” I have often wondered what did Mary say? What could have elicited such a dramatic response? Many a minister would dearly love to know what words could fill a person with the Spirit of God! But the Scripture doesn’t record Mary’s words, rather Luke expands upon the response of Elizabeth by recording her psalm of praise. “In a loud voice she exclaimed: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”
We come now to verse 43 which seems to me to be the key verse in getting to the heart of Luke’s Advent Gospel. Pay attention to the words here. Elizabeth speaks: “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Let me read that again: “Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” It appears that the thing which elicited the response of leaping joy and praise was not what Mary said when she came - but who she was when she came. What Mary said is unimportant - but who she was is not. For you see Mary is not longer just the girl betrothed to Joseph the carpenter...rather see is now the mother of God’s son! She has been divinely appointed to bear the Savior. She has been chosen to become the human means by which Christ will come to his world. Mary has become literally the Christ- Bearer. The one who brings Christ to the world. This is the key that unlocks the Good News of Luke’s Advent Gospel. Because of what Mary is doing - the baby leaps in Elizabeth’s womb and the Spirit fills her to sing a song of praise.
So what does this mean for us? Is it just a nice stop on the way to the manger? Or is there something deeper to be found for us in this scene? And what is the relevance for us today? One of the Christmas songs we sing during the Advent season is Come O Come Emmanuel. And we know that Emmanuel (as the prophet’s foretold) is the name given to the one who brings the good news that “God is with us.” Advent is the proclamation that Emmanuel has come. That God is now indeed with his people. But too often I feel that we confine this grand in-breaking of God into his world to a single spot in human history. That once upon a time, a long time ago in a far off land, the baby Jesus was born in a stable and a bright star lit up the sky to lead shepherds and kings to the manger. But that attitude is nothing if not wrong! Advent is no once upon a time. Advent/Christmas is not solely a remembrance of things past...or merely a hoping for things to come. Advent is here! Advent is now! In a real and tangible way.