Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:39-45

One of the things we do during the Advent season is train ourselves to look for and pay attention to the surprising and unexpected ways that God appears to us. We have to pay careful attention because there are so many distractions, hectic demands, and what might appear as chaos.

Our lives are an Advent(ures) of sorts, aren’t they? From birth to death, it is one long set of surprising and unexpected turns. We start out not knowing where the journey will take us, what might happen along the way, who, when or where things might happen or where we might end up – physically, spiritually, or emotionally.

And are there not all kinds of risks involved – to do this or to do that or nothing at all, which for me, is the greatest risk. Every day is an adventure and it’s all in the approach.  How shall we live it out – with openness and gusto, hopeful expectation or gloom and doom? We never know what any day might bring us or this very moment.

The Advent season reminds us that God penetrates all the moments of our lives regardless – the valleys and the dark places in which we may find ourselves worn out, alone, and afraid as well as the mountain top experiences that call us to a place of awe and wonder.

Our gospel passages are as old as dirt but new and fresh: Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus; Elizabeth, Zachariah and John; smelly shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks; and angels appearing from everywhere. This story once high and holy and at the same time deeply personal and intimate, human and relatable.

We witness God in the extraordinary yet working with the ordinary in such a way that the ordinary becomes extraordinary and accessible for all.

What is more awe-inspiring than God becoming flesh and living among us? What is more risky that taking all of this in and claiming it for ourselves in a time like this? God, born among the weak and lowly so that even the lowest of the low might know and have hopes beyond hope.

When the angel Gabriel came to young Mary, her life was pretty much set. She would marry Joseph, a carpenter, and bear his children. What could be better than that, especially in those days?

Gabriel said to Mary, “You have found favor with God. And you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great … and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[1]

Mary asked, “How can these things be?” That’s what the adventurous ask. They want to know because they know that within themselves they are unable to do something so extraordinary. How can this be? After all, she is a virgin girl, and the wedding is a ways off.

But she said “yes” anyhow and set herself on a whole other trajectory; a whole new adventure throughout which she would constantly be “pondering these things in her heart” – even to the foot of the cross as she watched her son die for our sake.

And then there was Elizabeth. You may remember how the angel had appeared to her husband Zachariah, who was a priest in the temple, and told him that his wife was going to bear a son and his name would be called John. Zachariah was an old man and Elizabeth was old. Zachariah laughed about it all but then, who would not have laughed at the absurdity and of a dream long past? And so, God shut him down; silenced him until the child could be born.

Luke tells us that Mary made haste and went to the hill country to visit her older cousin. A trip of about 80 or 90 miles – pregnant and riding on a donkey through rough terrain – can you imagine?

They share this holy mystery and awesome wonder that is taking place in their lives. They do what people have always done, especially women – at least the women that I know. We know how to run up and down the stairs and vet it out. We know how to sit in a pew and talk way too long to a stranger who just stopped by on the first greeting. We know how to huddle together to figure things out because we don’t mind admitting we are vulnerable and afraid, which only makes us stronger.

Mary and Elizabeth come together to find comfort and support. And make no mistake, my friends, despite all the nay-sayers and doubters, the haters and obstacles that might be placed in our way, when we open ourselves to do something for God, there will always be a few people to stand with us; people who recognize the gifts and potential. People who will celebrate our unexpected life.

Right here, we begin to see how this thing will play out. How the world is going to be turned upside down. How hierarchies will be subverted. The mighty will be brought down.  And the lowly will be lifted up.

These two marginalized, pregnant women carry within themselves the future of the world and the coming of the Messiah. And we also carry it within ourselves, if we choose.

I am imagining that some of you know something about it, don’t you? When you have conceived something: an idea, a thought, a dream, a book, a passion, some new enterprise, a business, a ministry, or a program, a relationship. You know what it is like to carry that thing for months – sometimes years – nurturing it and working with it. How it consumes everything: what you do and what you say. What you eat and drink and where you hang out and with whom.

You know something about sharp birth pains where it hurts all over. And one day, low and behold, after hours and hours of intense labor, blood, sweat, and tears, there is that final push and that thing that you have been carrying and labored so hard for is birthed into reality and you are amazed beyond your wildest imaginings.

Jan Richardson, says this:

“Whether or not we ever experience physical pregnancy, God calls us to give birth to the holy in our lives. Therefore, we share in Mary’s sacred creativity. Like Mary, God invites us to be ‘co-creators’ as we continually seek to bring Christ into the world …. God invites us. And, like Mary, we choose.

The call to bear Christ in us does not ask for passive acceptance, for passivity will not provide the strength to survive the birth. The call does not demand conformity or unquestioning submission because, as Mary discovered, agreeing to bear the Christ often requires stepping outside societal boundaries and asking, ‘How can this be?’

In the shadows of Mary’s assent to ‘let it be’ lies the possibility that she – or we – can choose to let it not be. God leaves the choosing to us.”[2]

Elizabeth said: “And bless is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”[3]

Blessed is she who believes. Blessed are you Mary because you believed that God’s vision for your life and for the world was true and possible. And Mary sang a song. Like an aria in an opera or a duet in a musical, Mary sang about the greatness of her God.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”[4]

What has the mighty One done for you? What miracle are you waiting for? Are you willing to launch out on it to see what might be true?

They come together to offer love and grace in order to do this thing that is beyond themselves: an old lady who had lost hope; wife of a priest who spent his time in the temple; and a young single virgin engaged to a man, unsure of his response. Still, they come.

How is it that they find the courage to live into this extravagant narrative? To say yes without knowing amid the unknowns and what ifs? What will others say? How did they dare go against the grain of their own life? I marvel at them.

To say, “Yes, here I am! Available. Assessable. Filled. Ready to be awed and amazed even when it is difficult!” Though terrified, still yes. Whether others notice or recognize, approve or condemn, still yes. I am here. And I am willing.

It is radical and wild; precious and holy. It is fierce and awesome and unstoppable.

For nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is impossible with God.

To say yes to God; really yes, is the greatest adventure of all. And it is magnificent. I know.

[1] Luke 1:30b-33
[2] CHOICE by Jan Richardson, Sacred Journeys.
[3] Luke 1:45.
[4] Luke 1:46b-49