Summary: Mary's visitation of Elizabeth is the first great journey of Luke's Gospel; in it God helped her and helps us to get ready for Christmas.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been making preparations for Christmas. We’ve put up Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and Christmas decorations. We’ve listened to Christmas music, bought Christmas presents, and perhaps tried to be a little nicer to others. We’ve said our prayers to God, thanking him for his blessings and petitioning him for things we need and things we think we need. Whether we realize it or not, as we make preparations for Christmas a lot of what we do is based on what we’ve learned and done in the past. Over the years we’ve learned to decorate from watching others and then practicing ourselves. We aren’t just spontaneously doing completely new things. But rather we have traditions, Christmas traditions. Some things we do almost by rote after doing them so many times. Other things are newer, but still adaptations of the old. Through it all we are dependent upon the past. But as we build upon the past, there is a present imperative. And that imperative is Get Ready!
The first thing we can discuss this morning in connection with our sermon theme is the question “Get ready for what?” The short answer for this is God. Most of you here have heard the story of how an angel appeared to Roger and Doris Ishee as they were walking in Bayou View Park in March of 2010, just prior to my arriving here in June of that year. If you haven’t heard this story and want to some time, let me know and I’ll send you the written description of it. At any rate, this angel asked the Ishees if they would pray the Lord’s Prayer three times per day since our country and our world need it. I still try to follow this angel’s prescription, although I don’t always pray the Lord’s Prayer three times per day and don’t always do it very well when I do. But recently in my prayers I have reflected on the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. These three petitions would have been appropriate even if Adam and Eve never would have fallen into sin. Adam and Eve were to hallow God’s name by looking up to him for blessings, they were to participate in the coming of his kingdom as they served each other and increased and multiplied on the earth, and they were to look for God’s will to occur on earth in the sense of worshipping the Son of God and looking for him to finally come and become a man on this earth and lead them to eternal life in heaven. They were to look up to God, live in the Spirit on earth, and follow the Son’s leadership all the way to heaven. Since the fall into sin, we pray these petitions in a different way from one perspective. But from another perspective, God’s will from the beginning still stands. And so when we ask the question at Christmas “What should we get ready for?” the best answer I can give is to get ready for God.
I also think this is the setting of our Gospel text this morning and really the setting of the entirety of the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. In the first chapter of Luke, Mary and Jesus make an appearance to be sure. But they are muted appearances. Mary is innocent and seemingly lacking in resources to deal well with what is happening to her. And Jesus is mainly just quietly conceived in Mary’s womb. The real human actors in the chapter are Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. As I mentioned last week, Luke’s Gospel begins where the Old Testament ended, at the temple with priests serving in it. Luke picks up the story of the Old Testament, even as later on Acts will pick up where the Gospel of Luke leaves off. Luke, as fitting for one writing for a Gentile audience largely unfamiliar with the Old Testament, starts out with recent history, picking up where the Old Testament and even intertestamental literature left off. And then Luke shows the depths of these characters Zechariah and Elizabeth, explaining in great detail how what happened to them fits into the story and theology of the Old Testament. And what Luke clearly teaches in these things is that God was fulfilling his promises to his people. God fulfilling the hopes of those at the end of the Old Testament was ultimately God fulfilling his will from the beginning of the world where he created it. Even Gentiles can look at the angel Gabriel abruptly and powerfully stepping onto the scene and sense that something great is happening, for many of their heroes had legends of miracles accompanying their birth. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s stories teach us all to get ready for God who is fulfilling his will as Creator.