Advent 3: The World Is About To Turn
December 14, 2014
As we continue our journey to Bethlehem this Advent,
today we look at another small town,
the town of Ein Karem.
Ein Karem is just outside of Bethlehem,
and it is known traditionally as the hometown
of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah.
Two weeks ago we heard about Mary’s hometown of Nazareth
and the announcement Gabriel gave her that she was to have a child.
Last week we heard from Joseph who was living in his hometown of Bethlehem,
when he received the news and then had a dream
where an angel reassured him who this child was to be.
Well, today we move back to Mary.
The last words we heard Mary say were,
“Let it be according to your word.”
And then Gabriel leaves.
I don’t know about you, but if I were Mary,
I’d want Gabriel to stick around for awhile…
but he doesn’t.
So Mary is now unmarried, pregnant, and alone.
She starts to wonder if she’s just imagined the whole thing…
And then the depth of what has happened to her begins to sink in.
She knows whom she needs to talk to…
Gabriel had said that there was another sign…
Her cousin Elizabeth who was beyond menopause…
Gabriel said she’s pregnant too!
She decides quickly that she has to go to Elizabeth.
(“with haste” Luke says)
When you have important news.
When you need to talk to someone who will believe in you and not judge you.
When you need someone to listen…to whom do you go?
For Mary, that person was Elizabeth.
We don’t know what she tells her family
about making the trip.
Maybe she tells them she’s gone to help Elizabeth
in the last months of her pregnancy.
In all likelihood, she joins a group of travelers already heading south.
It’s not an easy journey.
3 mountain ranges.
Nine days is a long time to travel.
I often travel alone and I usually enjoy it.
It gives me time to think.
When you’re not having your own conversations,
it’s unavoidable that you can hear the conversations of other travelers around you –
and it strikes me that people often talk about the same things.
The last time I travelled alone was early November when I went to Disney World.
Standing in line, I was struck by the conversations around me –
they were the same ones that I’ve had many times with my family:
- strategies about the best time to go Splash Mountain
- complaints about the line
- arguments over where to eat lunch
- and by the end of the day, tears indicating the younger ones had had enough
The only time I don’t like to travel alone
is when something is weighing on my mind.
When there’s something that’s bothering me, worrying me,
inevitably when I’m left to my own thoughts,
I make it a thousand times worse.
For Mary, nine days alone,
is a long time to think.
It’s a long time to worry.
A long time to second-guess herself.
When Mary finally reaches Ein Karem
she enters the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
The older woman Elizabeth
immediately embraces Mary and says,
not, “Shame on you!…”
or, “What were you thinking?…”
or, “What trouble did you get yourself into?”
Elizabeth, immediately, filled with the Holy Spirit
(like what happens only to prophets and kings in the Old Testament!)
filled with the Holy Spirit, she says,
“Blessed are you Mary, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
And Mary takes a huge sigh of relief.
After nine days of worry, she can breathe again.
“Blessed are you Mary,”
Let’s look at this word, “blessed,” for a moment.
Elizabeth actually uses it 3 times in this passage:
“Blessed are you among women,”
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” and
“Blessed is she who believed.”
I’m not sure that Mary is feeling very blessed at the moment.
In one of my favorite lines from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Tevye who has a running commentary with God says,
“I know, I know,
We are your chosen people.
But, once in awhile, can’t you choose someone else?”
There were probably many, many times in her life when Mary thought,
“I know, I know,
I am blessed.
But once in awhile, can’t you bless someone else?”
In the Bible,
when someone is blessed by God,
it often doesn’t feel like a blessing at the time.
Abraham was blessed by God,
Genesis chapter 12 says.
He was blessed –
and then led away from his family and homeland
to a new land – not knowing where it would be.
Later in the gospel of Luke,
Jesus tells us who is blessed:
Blessed are the poor, he says;
blessed are the hungry
blessed are those who weep,
blessed are those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed.
Bible commentator William Barclay
calls this the ‘paradox of blessedness.’
When God blesses someone,
“God does not choose a person for ease and comfort…
but for a task that will take all that head and heart and hand can bring to it.”[i]
Blessed are you Mary.
You have been called to a task.
It will take all that you can bring to it.
Something good will come out of it…but you may never see it yourself.
Blessed are you.
Mary accepts the task
and even as a young girl in her teens,
she recognizes that the task she has accepted
will turn the world upside down.
God chooses her to bear God’s son,
an unmarried girl from a town no one had ever bothered to put on a map,
- the whole world is about to turn.
And Mary knows it.
She sings that
Kings will be toppled;
the poor will be raised;
the hungry will be filled;
the rich will be empty.
Mary’s song is so revolutionary
that during the 1980’s in Guatemala
the reading of her song,
was banned from public worship.[ii]
Today as we hear Mary’s song,
we celebrate the paradox of blessedness.
God blesses us – God does not call us into a life of ease and comfort
but calls us to the task of using every bit of ourselves
to become part of the change that Jesus brought.
The world is about to turn!
This morning I read a story from Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster, PA.
Yesterday was their 5th annual “Shop with a Cop” event.
40 local police officers paired up with children.
All these children had ties to the criminal justice system.
Together they were given $100 to shop together at Walmart for Christmas.
There was one 7 year old boy who paired up with Officer Will Smith.
The boy picked out a bike and a monster truck for himself,
and then he found a board game and a doll for his sister.
When it came time to pay at the register,
Officer Smith himself picked up the tab for
a helmet for the boy for when he rode his new bike.[iii]
Relationships were slowly being formed.
As Mary sings,
The world is about to turn.
The world can turn!