Summary: This Christmas may be your last together. Make it a day of memory.
Fourth Sunday of Advent 2018
The geo-political situation was grim. The population was divided. The current leader of the nation was so very different from the former one, who had catered to the desires of the masses and permitted very perverse practices to weaken worship of the true God and shatter family harmony. He had made alliances with foreign powers that many distrusted, and had weakened the military.
The new leader was entirely different, and had alienated many with his nationalism and traditional religious practice. He had torn up or torn down many of the institutions put in place by his predecessor. He had begun rebuilding walls to defend his nation against what many called a foreign invasion. But he did so without the unanimous consent of his people, especially the rich and the elite. Thus the people were politically, religiously and culturally alienated as much as they had ever been in their history.
This is the situation that faced the prophets Isaiah and Micah over three thousand years ago. The former king, Ahaz, had made alliances with the most bloodthirsty nation in history, Assyria. He had even offered his firstborn son as a sacrifice to pagan gods. He persecuted those who were faithful to the God of Abraham and Moses. God rescued him, however, even though he didn’t deserve rescue, and gave him a new son, now the king, Hezekiah. Hezekiah became one of the handful of good kings in the land of Judah, but he led a divided people, many of whom missed the good old days when they could worship the gods made by their hands, worship in their own way with perverse practices I can’t describe in a sermon.
The faithful minority prayed, and were heartened by the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, who speaks to us today. God would act, but not through the rich, the powerful, the famous. He would not be seen as the God of Jerusalem, the big city. No, he would act in the same way he acted hundreds of years before when he sent the prophet-priest Samuel off to the hill country, to the region of the Ephrathah clan, to a nowhere village called Bethlehem. There Samuel had anointed the runt of Jesse’s family, a red-headed boy named David, who became the second, and greatest king of his people. God would act in a similar manner in the time of His choosing, when a woman would give birth to another anointed who would bring together God’s people and be great all the way to the ends of the earth. This ruler would be unlike David, who was a great sinner, or all the other merely human kings of Israel and Judah. He would be a sinless man born of a sinless mother. He would have only one goal–to do the will of God the Father, God His father. By His will, one with the will of God, we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, whose body we will share in communion. Only the God-man, Jesus Christ, could save us from sin and bring us all together to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.
So, as we have heard several times this Advent, in the fullness of time, when every political maneuver had been tried by the people of the Old Covenant, when the only peace known was a kind of oppressive stability imposed under the boot of Roman legions, God took on a weak human nature. He did so by sending His messenger to a teenage virgin in the nothing village of Nazareth, an young maiden named Mary. She would be the mother of the Messiah, the mother of the Redeemer, the promised Second Eve. She would be the Queen Mother of Israel, the woman beloved of God, and, because of the life and death and Resurrection of her Son, the Mother of Mercy and of Grace. She would have a dignity beyond that of any other woman, blessed among women.
And so what does she immediately do? The angel had told her that her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, thought to be unable to have children, was already in her sixth month of pregnancy. So she arose and went “with haste” to Elizabeth’s hamlet. Now it wasn’t just down the road a mile or two. It was about a week away by foot, down the Jordan valley and up a barren stretch called the “valley of death.” So she probably joined a caravan for protection, and arrived, footsore and weary and newly pregnant, to hear Elizabeth prophetically call her “the mother of my Lord” and her tiny embryonic child “the blessed fruit of thy womb.” Even John the Baptist, growing inside his mother Elizabeth, did a little dance of joy. And then Mary intoned the song that many of us say daily in our evening prayer, “My soul magnifies the Lord. . .for He has looked on the lowliness of His servant. . .all generations shall call me blessed.”