Moving A Little Closer To Christmas Luke 1:39-56
This morning we moved a little closer to Christmas. No John the Baptist with his words of repentance and denunciations of that "brood of vipers." No dire warnings from Micah or the Book of Revelation.
This morning we get the story of the visitation. Mary visits her relative, Elizabeth, to share her news. It's a story about God's love—about the power of that love.
This story teaches three lessons about that love. First, love is contagious. When something happens—something amazing happens—what's the first thing you do? You pick up the phone and call someone. "Mom—I can't believe it! I just won the Lottery!" Or "I got a job"—"I'm getting married"—"the kids cleaned their rooms!"
Good news can't be bottled up. As soon as it gets inside us, it explodes—it pours out. It quakes inside us and demands to be shared, and it changes how we look at the world.
Mary has just had a visit from the Angel Gabriel. He has given her the astonishing news. Yes—Mary is not yet married—Yes—Mary is a virgin—Yes she is very young. But she will give birth to the Messiah
Luke tells us that as soon as Mary hears, she "went with haste" to see Elizabeth, her relative. Mary goes in haste to see Elizabeth because she is the only person who can appreciate her news.
Mary and Elizabeth are book ends—neither expect what is happening to them. Mary is only about 14 years old and Elizabeth is an old woman, yet both are pregnant—both have been swept up in what God is doing in the world. Both have had their lives turned inside out by God.
So Mary goes to share her good news. She goes because if she doesn't let it out, she'll burst.
She goes in haste. Now, Mary knows that Elizabeth is also pregnant because Gabriel has told her, but Elizabeth doesn't know about Mary. She is surprised to see her. Luke tells us "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb." Love is contagious—it spreads from Mary to Elizabeth. The new life in Mary brings out the new life in Elizabeth. It's why we like being around people of love—we catch love from them.
Love is contagious. Second, love is transformative
When the child leaped in Elizabeth's womb—she is changed—not because she is aware of being pregnant, but because she has new sight. Elizabeth sees Mary in a new way: Luke says [Elizabeth] "exclaimed with a loud cry: `Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?'"
No longer is Mary her 14 year old, unmarried, virgin cousin. No longer is Mary a woman who could be stoned under the laws of the Holiness Code. Elizabeth sees her as the Mother of her Lord—the Madonna.
The Good News gets inside us and causes a fundamental revision: we see ourselves—we see others—completely differently. Our common calling is to be saints and the chief characteristic of saints is not that they do good works. The chief characteristic is that they see the Christ in others. They know that each of us—teachers, salespersons, nurses—each of us is a Christbearer. We catch God's love from someone, and we never see the world the same again.
The 14 year old Virgin is the Madonna, and ordinary people like you and me—have Christ inside us.
Love is contagious. Love is transformative, and third, love is not personal—it connects us to God's kingdom.
So often we think that love is a private feeling—it's about our private experience. But love—all true love—is bigger than that. When we know in our hearts that God loves us, that we are in Christ and when we feel God's blessing as Mary feels it, then the walls that separate our lives become permeable. I am part of you and you are part of me—your pain is my pain—my joy is your joy. As John Donne says, "No person is an island." Therefore, if you accept Jesus as your savior, you must do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before your God. To be in love with the Christ is to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. Love is not personal—it connects us to kingdom.
Mary comes and touches Elizabeth, then the good news rebounds back to Mary, and she breaks out in song. Suddenly the good news is bigger than the two of them.
Suddenly it's about men and women neither woman has ever known. Mary knows that if God is breaking out in her and breaking out in Elizabeth, then God will break out beyond their lives and do surprising things for all people. God will lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things to be part of God's work in history. We cannot do otherwise.
Dorothy Day didn't give food to the hungry because it was her duty. She did so because she had been embraced by the love of Christ.
Mary and Elizabeth may seem a long way away from us. We may not really identify with either of these women
We may not like to think about being pregnant at 13 or in our old age—or at all. But let's look again: the birth of Christ is not something that only happened 2,000 years ago. We are not historians here gathering around to remember an event. We are here because the living Christ is inside each of us—ready to give birth. Each of us probably feels as if we are like Elizabeth—unable to conceive, unable to bring life into the world. We may feel as if our life is already set—there are no surprises in store—at least no pleasant surprises.
Let us remember that God so loved the world—that God brings about amazing surprises.
God so loved the world—that God is bringing the divine love into the world. Let us remember that love is contagious—that love is transformative—that love connects us to the kingdom.
Who knows? Maybe you'll talk to a relative over Christmas; maybe some cousin or brother or sister will visit; maybe someone will call and say—"You'll never guess what happened to me!" And before you can reply—something will leap within you, and your life—and the world—will never be the same.
G. Porter Taylor
St. Gregory The Great Episcopal Church