When the Christmas season comes around, it is often the women of the household who make everything festive…from the holiday decorating, cooking the goodies, addressing the Christmas cards and more. Of course, most men help out also, but the really important women of Christmas, takes us way back to the young woman who would change history forever. She was the Mother of Jesus. What did she really know about this child to whom she would give birth?
The first chapter in the book of Luke tells her the following:
The Annunciation: Luke 1.26-38:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.Luke Chapter 1:26-38
Today, December 19, 2021, my husband, Bill, will lead the services at the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Dunnellon, Florida. This is a lovely little church near Ocala, FL. I asked Bill for a copy of his sermon, and I would like to share it with you, my readers…for it is about the many women in the Holy Scriptures who stood strong in difficult times.
“The Gospel of Luke has a lot to tell us about women. It begins with Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist. Then comes Mary’s miracle. There follows the prophecy of an old woman named Anna. When the boy Jesus went to the temple to debate the doctors of the Law of Moses, the only person Luke quotes is his mother.
Many of Luke’s stories from Jesus’ ministry are about women: the woman who was a sinner, the woman who wouldn’t give up, the widow of Nain, the bent-over woman, the widow who gave her faithful mite. At the resurrection, it was only women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, who had the faith to go to the garden of graves. Luke reports that when they told the disciples about the empty tomb the men did not believe them and had to go see for themselves. And mind you, all of this is from a culture in which women didn’t count.
Now, I know this is still Advent – until Midnight anyway – but just think about it – No season of the year sings as well as Christmas.
Today it is about two remarkable women, Elizabeth and Mary. They were separated in age by probably thirty years; and, though blood relatives, were probably widely separated by social standing. Elizabeth was the wife of a priest and so she had some measure of position, while Mary, as far as we know, was a peasant girl.
But they both had a deep faith in God and were willing to listen and respond. They were kindred spirits in the most profound sense of the word. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had waited through all the years of their marriage. Then, surprise, surprise, God promised that they would have a son whose name would be called John and that he would have “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17a).
Six months later, Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, who told her she had found favor with God, and so she would bear a child who would be called “the Son of the Most High.” We heard Mary’s song again today, the very first song of Christmas.
Anna Tew, a Lutheran pastor in South Hadley, Massachusetts inspired my thinking about Mary’s song. She says liturgical seasons are worthwhile because they reflect the rhythm of life itself. Advent reflects a season of our life that is filled with hope and anticipation. We all know something about anticipation: waiting for a wedding, waiting for a member of the military to come home from a long deployment. Waiting for the pandemic to be over. Waiting for the report of an important medical test.
Advent speaks of waiting for God’s help to answer our questions and even to turn life around and transform us and this world in ways we can never accomplish on our own.
Advent rolls around every year to remind us that we cannot save ourselves, but that there is hope for this world and for us. Christmas puts an exclamation point on the reality of it all.
Today, with four candles lit, the Song of Mary soars through the Gospel reading and into our hearing and hearts once again.
Mary, the fiancé of Joseph, a humble carpenter. Mary, who felt herself powerless but sang anyway because she knew God was about to save the whole world.
Some may think of Mary as gentle, but today, Mary is brave, even bold, singing loud and strong.
Everything — the very shape of human destiny and history — is about to change. Mary sings out:
“My Soul magnifies the Lord!”
Bret Harte knew something about the change a baby can bring as he wrote in his short story, “The Luck of Roaring Camp.”
In a tough, lawless mining camp out west, Cherokee Sal dies giving birth. The newborn baby is brought into the center of the camp and a crowd gathers – a crowd of rough and crude miners who have, of all things, a baby.
One by one, the men begin to change. There are meals to be cooked, washing and mending to be done, all for the little one who now lives among them in Roaring Camp. Everything changes: every individual does, too. Each man is on his best behavior because of that baby. The transformation began with the arrival of that infant they named Thomas Luck.
For Mary’s part, she doesn’t receive the news with a soaring song and blazing hope. When Luke’s Gospel introduces us to Mary, she seems to be very young, a bit timid, perhaps, but ultimately faithful. When the angel tells her the news, she agrees, but she’s not singing yet.
As she’s absorbing the news from the angel Gabriel that she will conceive and bear a child, she also learns that her relative, Elizabeth, is expecting, even in her old age!
Gabriel doesn’t actually tell Mary to go to see Elizabeth, but Luke says she “made haste” to go to the hill country town to see her.
Mary wants to be near someone who understands. Elizabeth won’t think she’s crazy. And here, with another human being who understands that God often works in unexpected ways, Mary finds the courage to sing her song of hope.
Today, Mary sings as she invites us to hope big with her. Optimism looks behind us to find comfort in what we’ve experienced before. Hope — the big, world-shaking, musical hope of Mary — looks ahead, knowing that we cannot imagine what God is able to do. What God will do. What God has already done!
There is, of course, nothing wrong with optimism. Optimism expects good fortune, looks for happy & memorable moments with friends and family during the holidays, for a blessed and happy new year, and for love and warmth to surround us.
There is nothing wrong with a good measure of optimism in Advent.
But if you have experienced difficult days, a frightening prognosis or you are aware of how difficult life can be beyond your own life, home and neighborhood, you know that optimism is not enough on its own. Our one spark of hope is that God has spoken and told us that someday, all things — all things — from our personal struggles to the weight of the world’s pain, will be made right. And that is why Mary sings.
Joseph Peters-Mathews, an Episcopal priest in Washington State, puts it this way: “That’s why I love Advent … Jesus never doesn’t get born. We long, hope, wait, anticipate, and we are never let down at the last minute.”
Every year, Christmas always arrives. Even if some of us are exhausted or brokenhearted, the Light of Christ always comes to the Church. Always. The candles are always lit.
Advent and then Christmas arrive every year to remind us that God has already broken through. Despite what’s going on out there, the dawn is well on the way.
And that’s why Mary finds Elizabeth and sings her heart out.
Thanks be to God, we can join her as God breaks through, to sustain us and call us to hope big — and encourage us to sing, off-key if necessary, Just Sing! Thanks be to God for the melodies of faith! Mary’s faith and our own! Amen.“
Mary didn’t know that the child she was to give to the world would perform miracles, be rejected and crucified…then rise again from the dead…. and one day will return to bring peace to the world. Come Lord Jesus!
Video Turn on sound. Gentri and Father & Daughter, Mat and Savanna Shaw, sing Mary Did You Know (Click arrow)
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OUR READERS