Friday, December 22, 2006

Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 24, 2006, Luke 1:39-45


Advent 4, Dec 24, 2006

St. John’s, Howard, SD

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Have you ever been distracted from something that’s important? Of course, you have. It’s easy to find yourself fiddling with the radio or answering your cell phone while driving the car, or paying more attention to the hot dog vender at a baseball game when the winning home run is knocked out of the park, or glued to the computer when your daughter is trying to tell you all about her day. We are so easily distracted from important things. Our attention spans are growing shorter every year. But I’m not just talking about getting older. How long we pay attention to things is shaped by our love for that glowing box that’s at the center of most of our living rooms. We tend to drift away from anything that doesn’t fight to keep our attention. Life has been programmed into one hour segments.

There are other ways we can be distracted, too. Sometimes we just don’t see the important thing. Sometimes we look right past it. Have you even seen those pictures that you stare at for a few min and a 3D picture pops out at you? I’ve never been able to get them to work. Maybe it’s because I’m too distracted by the unimportant details of the picture, the details that don’t mean anything, they’re not a part of the real picture.

And of course, nothing is more distracting than this time of year. How many trips have you made to go Christmas shopping? How much time have you spent decorating your house, your tree, your car, for Christmas? How many dozens of folks are you cooking for tomorrow? For many families it’s time to get that Christmas letter written, and get all those Christmas Cards sent. There is so much to do to help make the season a joyous season. Oh yeah, don’t forget Advent Services, decorating the church, Madison Master’s concerts, school programs, and Christmas parties, and maybe just if there’s time how about some Christmas caroling. All of these activities are important, all of them are wonderful, and help to make the holiday “bright” (as the song says). But it’s easy to be so involved in all of those things that we loose sight of Christmas itself. It’s easy to be wrapped up in wrapping presents and miss the meaning of the holiday.

So, let’s not do that today. By the time we’re done here they’ll only be a few hours of shopping time left anyway. So let’s pay attention to God’s Word written in the Gospel lesson for today. Let’s focus here and make sure we understand what it’s saying. Let’s not get distracted by all the other things that we’ve got to do, weather you’re making another Christmas shopping trip, preparing a meal, or putting the finishing touches on your travel plans. Let’s look at this text and find what’s important in it.

39In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45 (ESV)

So what’s really important here? Is Elizabeth important? After all, she is the one who is “filled with the Holy Spirit?” She is the mother of St. John the Baptist. That’s an important person to be, don’t you think? After all without Elizabeth there would be no John; without John one preaching on Jordan’s banks, no forerunner to Jesus to prepare the way. And Elizabeth is a good example of faith, too. She believes everything she is told about her son. Her husband Zechariah had doubts and the Angel told him he wouldn’t be able to speak until John was born and named. And Elizabeth believes all the things she learns out about Mary and her Baby. Just look at her acceptance of Mary, who was considerably younger. She is honored by Mary’s visit. “Who am I that I should be favored in this way?” She is humble even though her own child is going to be an important player on God’s world stage. She puts herself below Mary and even more below Mary’s Baby. So, Elizabeth is important. Is she the most important thing in this text? No!

Now I think we can all agree that Mary is very important. Is she the most important thing to think about in this text? We spoke about Elizabeth’s humility and faith. Mary has all that and more. Mary was facing ridicule, in her hometown (even possibly death!) Yet, she wants to see Elizabeth because of the Angel’s message. She rushes out to see her, so that together they can be together with someone who is a part of the wonderful thing that is happening. Mary’s faith is unquestioned. How many teenagers do you know who would say something like this, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In fact, Mary is the first person in Luke’s Gospel to hear, accept and proclaim the important Good News of Jesus. Really, she stands right there where we want to be; maybe right there for all of us as the first person of faith, the first New Testament Christian. What and example to us of faith. There is no doubt that Mary is important.

Now some of you might be getting just a little squeamish here, because you don’t want be accused of being Roman Catholic and holding Mary up to the same level as Jesus. But it is true that without Mary there wouldn’t have been Jesus. She was an important, actually essential, part of God’s plan of salvation. She nurtured the growing baby Jesus in her body. She nurtured the baby Jesus and cared for Him through out His life, in fact. It is Mary that God uses to give Jesus His humanity. It is in her womb that God and man come together in Jesus. And there is no better way to confess the fact that Jesus is true God and true man than to say that Mary is the mother of God. (Theotokos) And don’t forget Elizabeth is honored at her visit. She is clearly an important part of this text. Are Mary and the example she gives the most important thing we can find here? No!

Well, then it must be John. If this text is about anything, it’s about John. We all know about him, that camel haired, locust eating, desert dweller, who made as many enemies as friends. We sing a great Advent hymn that’s all about John. “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist cries!” For lots of people John the most important part of Advent. If Elizabeth is important as John’s mother, then surely John is important! John is out there telling everyone that they had better be ready because God is coming! John is very important! He’s out there preaching the Good News before anyone. John is joyful about Jesus coming even before he is born. “…the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Isn’t this one of those texts we use to support infant baptism, proving the infants (even unborn infants) can have faith? And Jesus even calls John the greatest prophet! Clearly, this text is about John. He’s active here, as he is all his life, telling us of the Coming Christ. So, is John the most important thing we see in this text? No!

Well, if it’s not Elizabeth, it’s not Mary, and it’s not John, there’s only one thing left, there’s only one person left and that’s Jesus. But, wait as second, Jesus isn’t really even mentioned. No name, no Baby in the womb, nothing. How can this text be about Jesus if He’s not even written about?

Well, just think about it. What is Elizabeth excited about? Mary’s visit? Exactly where is Elizabeth putting her faith, in Mary? No, Elizabeth hasn’t missed the point. She says it very plainly, as a matter of fact. “Why am I so favored that the mother of MY LORD, should visit me.” She’s glad to see Mary, all right, but only because of Mary’s status as Jesus mother. Only because lying in Mary’s womb is Elizabeth’s Lord. There in the womb of Mary is the Savior of the world. Even her own pregnancy, blessed as it was, was not as important as that baby Mary brought to her was. Elizabeth is focused on Jesus.

And that’s exactly where Mary is focused, too. She rushes to Elizabeth, not for a place to hide out, (it seems too early for that) but to bring the Good News about the child, and in fact, the Child himself to Elizabeth to see and feel. It’s Mary’s way of saying, “Look! It’s all true, God is bringing forgiveness to us, and it’s all right here inside me!” Mary is focused on Jesus.

But as much as everyone is focused on Jesus, no one is more focused than John was. I don’t think there ever was a person as well in tune with his calling in life as John was. Just look at how he is focused on Jesus. He leaps for joy just to know that Jesus was near him. John is so anxious to tell the Good News; he is so joyful that he leaps for joy while still in his mother’s womb. You see, John too is focused on Jesus.

In fact, I looked at some Renaissance art on this very subject. And one painting in particular struck me as very telling. Elizabeth and Mary are standing close together. Elizabeth has her hand place over the child in Mary; and Mary is looking on intently. But the most fascinating thing about the picture is the artist’s depiction of John and Jesus. Right there painted as if the viewers had X-ray glasses, you can see two little infants. And the infant John isn’t curled up, as we would expect, instead he is kneeling with his hands folded in front of him; kneeling facing Jesus recognizing what everyone in the picture knows. Jesus is the center of the picture. Jesus is the most important thing that going on.

The funny thing is I could spend a lot of time telling you, “Be focused on Jesus like Elizabeth, Mary and John.” But, the truth is you know how often you’ll fail. There are many important things to attend to and Jesus is left out of your life more than you’d ever want to admit. And as for Elizabeth, Mary and John, though they are good examples here they aren’t perfect. There were times in there lives they weren’t good disciples either. There were many times, as many as you have, that they were focused on other things besides Jesus. So telling you to focus on Jesus as they did isn’t going to help you much. And besides if we say be like Elizabeth, Mary and John we’d be taking the focus off Jesus again! Forgetting what He came in Mary’s womb to do.

So, the story here isn’t that Elizabeth and Mary and John were focused on Jesus. They aren’t the most important things there. Jesus is. And He’s not the focus because He’s our example of how to live. He’s the focus because He came to do what you can’t do. Even though you can’t always focus on Him, He is always focused on you. That little unborn infant came the way He came for you. He was conceived there in Mary for you. He was born in that cold dark stable for you. He lived a perfect human life for you. In fact, He is so focused on you that He even died on the cross to pay the punishment for your sin. Because your focus falls short, He focuses on you. He did what you can’t do. He lived the way you can’t live. His focus was on our death. He came to die in your place and mine, and for Elizabeth, Mary and John. God’s love and focus are so much on you that Jesus gave up His perfect life for your imperfect, unfocused one. And with your punishment paid, He rose again to bring you a new and re-focused life. That’s the real joy of the season.

Now, there are many important things to do before Christmas. You may have some shopping to do. You may have some presents to wrap, and maybe even a party yet to attend. Those things are great; they are an important part of the season. It’s very important to get together with your family and have a wonderful time together. And don’t forget that it is important to remember other people, even people you don’t know at this time of year. It’s great time to give food to the food bank, buy a toy for toys-for-tots. Take a plate of Christmas cookies to your neighbor. But, in the middle of all of those important things, don’t forget the most important thing about Christmas. Don’t forget the baby in Mary’s womb. Don’t forget how He was born, lived, and died for you. Don’t forget Jesus’ focus on you. Don’t forget that it’s Jesus who makes all those important things important. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

No comments: