Summary: Focusing on the relative obscurity of Mary and Elizabeth in their historical contexts, this sermon encourages Christians who are "out in the boondocks" in any sense to take courage that God is pleased to do His work through them.
Second Sunday in Advent,
Comparison shopping is a fairly standard technique for shoppers these days. The internet has made it really easy to do. Many websites have a standard format for describing the various features of a product, and you can select a number of different brands of a product – say for example, a printer, or an automobile, or anything similar – and you can see on your screen a line by line comparison and contrast of all the different brands.
This feature of internet shopping came to mind as I was thinking about the gospel lesson for today. Luke’s gospel is not trying to let us do comparison shopping, like those internet sites. But, the organization of the opening chapters of his gospel remind me of the way those shopping sites are sometimes organized – the way two things are laid side by side, so that we can most easily note the comparisons and contrasts, what is the same in both of them, and what is different.
The first chapter of Luke’s gospel first takes up the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, and after that the announcement of the birth of Jesus. After that, Luke recounts to us events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, and then the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.
In last week’s gospel lesson, we read about the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, and this week we have just heard about the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. And, since both accounts are reasonably fresh in our minds, I want to do what I think Luke wanted us to do – to view both accounts together and to note what is the same about both of them, and what is different.
Let’s first note what is the same in both accounts. Several obvious similarities jump out at us.
Both episodes record the announcement of a the birth of a son. In both announcements, it is not only a son whose birth is announced, but we’re also told the name these sons are to bear – John, and Jesus. With today’s technology, neither of these are particularly remarkable, because parents can routinely discover the sex of their children in the womb and then spend several months figuring out what to call them. Back then, of course, these birth announcements weren’t taking place in an obstetrician’s office as he used a sonogram. Matters were a tad more unusual. For, you see, neither of these births were going to proceed by ordinary pregnancies. In fact, these pregnancies were so unusual, that we’re correct in naming them miracles.
In keeping with the miraculous nature of the pregnancies themselves, we have the appearance of an angel, and a most high and lofty angel at that. Gabriel is the angel who appeared to the Prophet Daniel and helped him to understand the visions of the future he was seeing. Jewish legend has Gabriel destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and the hosts of Sennacharib. Jews thought that it was Gabriel who buried Moses. In the Christian tradition, it was Gabriel who appeared to Joseph, Mary’s husband. And, early Christians related that it was Gabriel who strengthened the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane.