Pastor Sherry’s message for December 19, 2021
Scriptures: Micah 5:2-5a; Lk 1:46b-55; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-43
Two weeks ago, Bonnie chose one of my favorite hymns for Advent: Love Came Down at Christmas, a poem by Christina Rosetti (1874-1948), set to an Irish melody🡪
Love came down at Christmas.
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine.
Love to God and neighbor,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
This hymn reminds us that our God is love! That the way He responds to us is always motivated by His love. That Jesus’ birth and later His death on the Cross for our sakes were both manifestations of God’s great love for us. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is hesed and means God’s faithful, long suffering, loyal love for us. In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent is agapeo.
Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent and we lit the 4th candle of the Advent Wreath, the one that signifies love, God’s hesed, God’s agapeo for us. It is to be expected, then, that our Scriptures today all emphasize different perspectives on God’s love—and they do.
A. Written some 700 years prior to Jesus’ birth, our Old Testament lesson comes from the prophesies of Micah (5:2-5a). God the Father authorized Micah to tell Israel (and us) that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. We recall from the Nativity Narrative that:
1.) Caesar Augustus had authorized an empire-wide census to be taken so as to aid with government taxation.
2.) Everyone was to journey to their birth-place to be counted. I was born in Seattle. I would have had to journey there from N. Florida at my own expense—no per diem for help with meals and accommodations, no money for gas. You can see how onerous a requirement this would have been.
3.) However, this decree accounted for Mary and Joseph’s travels from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. This is a distance today—given paved highways—of about 97.5 miles or 2 hours by car. On foot and by donkey, it probably took 4.5 to 5 days. Mary was then 8.5-9 months pregnant! YIKES! Imagine the discomfort! Mary and Joseph were certainly braver than most of us would have been. But given God’s protection and provision, they completed the journey just before the baby arrived.
Additionally, God declares (v.2) Out of you [Bethlehem] will come for Me One who will be ruler over Israel, Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. This Jesus will arrive from heaven, incarnate, as a dependent baby; nevertheless, as the 2nd person of the Trinity, He has always been and always will be God. It has been said that at His birth, Jesus who was already in existence in heaven, “clothed Himself in humanity.”
Like the Malachi prophesy from 2 weeks ago, Micah foretells the fact that, due to God’s silence for 400 years, (v.3)🡪Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth….
God will (and did) break His silence at the birth of Jesus. Furthermore, when Messiah returns a 2nd time, all of Israel [and all believers in Jesus] will be gathered together. At His 2nd Coming, Jesus (v.4) …will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
What Great Good News! At that time, we will live in safely and security. When I moved to Live Oak, Florida, in 1975, most people left their cars and their back doors unlocked. Car keys were often found on the dash or the car console somewhere. Most felt very secure that no one would steal their vehicle or break into their home. We will return to that state when Christ comes again. Jesus will rule in such a way that He will provide us with everlasting peace. Isn’t this truly a message of God’s love?!
B. Our Gospel lesson, Luke 1:39-43, relates Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s arrival at her home. But first, let’s recall the “backstory” to this event: Back in verse 26, we are told that the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she is to bear God’s Son. She is thought to have been somewhere between 14-18 years old. She was a virgin, betrothed or pledged to Joseph, but not yet having had conjugal relations or living as man and wife (unlike the practices common today).
Gabriel tells her, “Greetings! You who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Those of you from a Roman Catholic background will recognize the first lines of the “Hail Mary Prayer,” Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” We can only surmise that Mary felt some mix of fear, wonder, and confusion. After all, angels are said to be very large and tend to appear suddenly. The angel hastens to reassure her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end”
I am always amazed that her only question was one of mechanics: “How will this be? How can I become pregnant without a man? Or even, “How will the divine mix with the human? God become a baby?” Gabriel replies to her, “Nothing is impossible with God!” We should repeat this daily, “Nothing is impossible with God!” Her beautiful response is one of humility and obedience: “I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said.”
Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. Wouldn’t you have been overwhelmed? “Whoa, what an honor! I’ve been chosen to bear God’s Son!” But then wouldn’t your next immediate thought be, but I’m not married…how will I explain this to…Joseph, the neighbors, my mother and father?!! At that time, the Law said the penalty for fornication (having sex outside of marriage) was the stoning of both parties. Mary was actually in danger, not just of disapproval and gossip, but of being executed. The Earthly Reality looked grim!
But in verse 36, Gabriel tells her that her older cousin Elizabeth is pregnant too, in her 6th month. Gabriel has suggested a reprieve, a time out for her. She can leave town before she starts to show, and soak up on some love and nurturing from someone who will understand and not condemn.
This is the focus of our passage today: Elizabeth is so glad to see her that she proclaims in verse 42, Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! [the second line of the “Hail Mary Prayer,” Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”]. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth immediately affirms that all Gabriel told Mary is true. She will bear the Messiah. As a sign of this, John the Baptist leaps in her womb. No matter the earthly circumstances, the Heavenly Reality is GREAT JOY!!! Consequently, Mary is encouraged and affirmed by someone who shares her awe and delight.
Mary experiences God’s love for her through His choice of her as the theotokis, the God-bearer, and by her cousin’s reassurance, warmth, and faith.
C. The writer to the Hebrews (10:5-10)wants us to clearly realize that Jesus, like his mother Mary—and his step-father Joseph—was an obedient servant of His Heavenly Father. This passage attributes to Jesus the words from Psalm 40:6-8–Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about Me in the scroll—I have come to do Your will, O God.’
In other words, Jesus came into the world to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. His death on the Cross once-and–for-all paid the price for our sins.
There is no further need to offer up animal sacrifices to cleanse us from sin.
The animal sacrifice only covered the most recent sins. Later, after sinning again, more animals would have to be sacrificed. But one Jesus did it all for everyone for all time! What a perfect gift of love!
D. We know from Luke 1: 26-45 that Mary was humble and obedient. Her behavior provides an excellent example for us of what love for God compels us to do. In our psalm-like, New Testament song, Luke 1:46-55, we see her humility demonstrated yet again in her song of praise, the Magnificat. Notice: We would expect the whole psalm to say, “YIPPEE, God picked ME!” This was every Jewish girl’s dream. And she does briefly rejoice in God’s choice of her. But then she proceeds to glorify God for what He is doing through her for His people! She takes the focus off herself and sets it upon God’s activity. She praises Him for (1.) His mercy to those who respect and revere Him; (2.) His past works of power; (3.) His surprising, unexpected propensity to reverse worldly fortunes: The lowly are raised up, while the lofty are brought low; the hungry are fed while the well fed are not. (4.) His fulfillment of His promises (going back to Genesis 12 and 22) to Israel: A king from the lineage of David, and a Messiah who will bless all nations on earth.
Love was born at Christmas: Christ Jesus, God’s gift of love and salvation to the world. Love was carried for us by a poor young woman of amazing faith, strength, and humility. Love was demonstrated for us by Jesus’ willingness to atone (take on the penalty) for our sins. Love was also revealed for us in Mary’s attitudes toward God. As we approach Christmas Day, let us take our focus off ourselves and place it where it best belongs…On our worship of the Godhead, the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Love all lovely, love divine!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams