Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and
from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And so, it comes to an end, the fourth Sunday in Advent, our
last opportunity to gather together before we celebrate the great birth of our
Lord. We tend to think of ourselves in this chasm of time as if everything is
happening in the last 100 years, or maybe we think in terms of maybe everything
happening in the last 1,000 years even. How very egocentric that is! For this
promise fulfilled in Mary in our reading today has been around for thousands
The promise came to our first parents in paradise where the
woman was promised who would bear the Seed that would crush the head of the
serpent, Satan. And they waited, and they waited, and they waited.
Waiting is not a hard thing to do when things are going very
smoothly for us. When it seems as if we're on the winning side, waiting is
easy, at least easier than when it seems like we're on the wrong side, the side
that no one agrees with, the side that is looked down upon and scoffed, the
side that is at variance with all those around us. Then it's not so easy to wait.
Then it gets very arduous. Then it gets very tiresome.
For you and me as Christians in this country at this time,
we are heading into an era that our children and our grandchildren will see
through, and we are going to taste a great deal of it before God brings us
home. And that is, we are at variance with the rest of this nation. We've
always known that, but it hasn't come crashing home as it has over the last
several years where we begin to see that our point of view of God and what He
has done to us, how He has revealed Himself to us, what His promises are, and
how He wishes to come to us, they are at direct variance with this world, and
they are at direct variance with many people who used to be a part of this
confession of faith. And then, it becomes harder to wait.
Why did it seem to work for our parents in their generation,
and not ours? And what is the hope then for our children and grandchildren?
That is a very good question. It's not as if we're the only generation to have
experienced it, but it is a good point to bring back to keep being reminded of,
because God…His gift of this Word proclaimed to us in its truth and purity can
be taken away from us.
It is not as if we have the vested right to have it with us.
It is a gift, and God has allowed this gift to rain upon this geographic region
of the world for a time, and it could be that it's time for this raincloud of
God's holy Word and truth and purity to move on, and where we're the minority,
and where we're the ones who are looked upon with a canted head and a raised
eyebrow as being markedly different, even radical. Interesting indeed, isn't
it? And then, waiting becomes arduous, waiting becomes monotonous, and
"Come, Lord Jesus" becomes very real.
The closest thing unto which we can kind of bring this is
someone who is dealing with death, who is waiting for death to come, and knows
that in a matter of days or weeks or months it will come very soon. It's
interesting, isn't it? Is it coming any sooner once we become aware of it than
not being aware of it? No, because we know not when that time or that day will
come, just that it will come. But when it's right before our face in real time,
then the reality of it comes home and we can cry out with understanding,
"Come, Lord Jesus." Until that day, we practice. We practice, and
that is what we're doing and have been doing here. That is what you grew up
with practicing, "Come, Lord Jesus, come!"
And practicing those words which could seem to some as if a
waste of time is the very thing that comes home to roost when you are facing in
a very real time your predicament or dilemma. Then, the practice of "Come,
Lord Jesus" through all these years of being raised with that and given
that gift of God's holy Word in sacrament, then those words come, and they come
with great meaning and power, where once they were merely said possibly, and
the depth of them were not plumbed by our abilities.
So, when we think in terms of waiting, we're waiting for
death right now. It's just a matter of time. It's only when we have been
diagnosed with something or faced with something do we realize how close death
is. But is not death always a breath away? This is not meant to be
melodramatic; this is meant to be realistic. I thank God that our dear, beloved
Dr. Luther was so realistic with death. We sterilize it in our generation. When
someone dies, they're ushered off to a funeral home, and the body is never
dealt with by the family. Historically, the family dealt with the dead body;
hence, the wake, and being buried within 24 to 36 hours, because you buried the
body the next day.
It can sit in cold storage for quite a while as we arrange
our schedules to fit the funeral arrangements. And then when it comes, someone
else brings it and takes it away. It used to be that you stood there and threw
dirt on that casket as it was in the hole. Now, we drive away, and it's
sterilized, done by someone else who we will never see. And the next time we
come back, it's done.
The reason I bring this up is because this text is of such a
nature. Elizabeth was a woman who had waited a long time for the blessings of a
child, for her own flesh and blood to come from her own womb, and it didn't.
And now, she was well beyond the age of being able to ever bear a child, and
yet God brought forth from her dead womb life in the form of John the Baptizer,
the miracle of birth.
And then, having given her such a miraculous gift of mercy
shown to her, she is tied into the other great woman of the New Testament, the
mother of our Lord, Mary, who without even having been married…meaning sexual
relations, though she was married in the eyes, waiting for the service to
occur…not having had any sexual relations with a man, as a virgin, conceives
and has a Son within her womb.
And then, when these two women get together, John, being in
the womb of Elizabeth…and we live in world that says that that is a clump of
tissue that is not real, that is not alive, that is not a human being. This
clump of tissue, which this world declares as not real and not alive and not a
human being, did leap in Elizabeth's womb at the sound of Mary's voice! Not at
the sound of God's voice, Jesus, but at the sound of the mother of God, Mary.
These are miraculous things indeed for us to grapple.
She exclaims with not just a statement, but with a loud cry,
this woman of God, "Blessed are you…" meaning Mary, "…among
women." For thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years, women had
been waiting. Who would be the woman? From where would she come? When would she
be the one? Thousands of years…not 10, not 100, and not 1,000, but thousands of
thousands. And here she is!
But the focus is not on Mary; the focus is on the fruit of
her womb, when Elizabeth says, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb, the One
that God planted there, the One that God knit together using you, Mary, and
Himself, combining God and man in one without compromise nor stain, but a
unified one Person, Jesus," and then proclaims her to be the mother of
"my Lord, my God" does Elizabeth speak.
But it is the last statement of Elizabeth that is the most
important. "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment
of what was spoken to her from the Lord." Now, this was a very short,
short waiting of fulfillment. As we just finished singing, the angel Gabriel
announced to Mary she would be the bearer of God in the flesh, and she goes and
travels to Elizabeth, and in her hearing does she hear immediately the
affirmation and the confirmation of that promise, but she is not the
You and I are the fulfillment, for blessed are we who is the
bride of Christ, the "she." Blessed are we who have believed that the
fulfillment that has spoken to us shall come true. That is what we wait for,
that fulfillment to come true in us, the Church, the one that in this generation
stands at odds with the rest of the world. There were times when we were the
crown jewel of the world around us, and they looked to us, and we controlled
all things, and then there are times when the Church has been despised of this
world. And that is where we are at now.
Mary responds to this great statement of Elizabeth with her
own song that we have sung many times, the Magnificat…Latin for "My soul
shall magnify" or "Magnification." We sing it often in an
evening prayer. "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices."
You remember. It is a great statement of the Church, for we are the bride of
Now, Mary talks about the great gift to her personally in
the first half of this Magnificat. She uses the personal pronoun of
first-person me. "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my
spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate
of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me
blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me."
And that can be applied to you as a person. He has brought
you from death to life. He has raised you from the dead. He will call you from
the grave and raise you with body. He will bring you together with all those
who have preceded you in this faith. He binds you together in a fellowship or a
communion of saints that transcends time, that is eternal, and shall never be
parted one from the other.
But lest we become egocentric, which is our nature as
sinners, does Mary broaden it to the Church. "He has shown strength with
His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…" He's
done that to us too, hasn't He? Humbling us without our desire, but for our
good that we may not think too highly of our understanding of God or this
"Holy is His name…" the name you bear, the name
that you were given at your adoption, the name that God placed upon your
forehead and upon your heart as God's child, "…And His mercy is for those
who fear Him from generation to generation." This is what you are a part
of. It preceded you before you came into this world, and it will follow after
you long after your memory is gone…not your own memory, but that the memory of
you and who you are in this world.
Just consider for a moment about how transient this is. All
these street names around here with last names of people, no one knows who they
are, few if any, and yet you know how much wrangling there was to ensure that
that name would be on that street in this town. You and I will be long and
forgotten. We are but a vapor. It is the promise of what God did to this vapor
that matters most. It changes nothingness into something. It changes no name
into the name of God. It changes that which lacks everything into that which
has everything in Christ.
From generation to generation has He done mighty things.
Some of them are remarkable and can be remembered. Some of them are even
unaware to us because of our inability to see them, and yet the promise stands.
The subject is the mighty One, and the theme is mercy. You
have been shown mercy by the mighty One, and holy is His name that you bear.
And though we may wait, and though it gets old, we wait with many in our
company who have waited a long time and in worse conditions than we, and Jesus
came for them too. So, He shall come for you, and you shall rejoice, and the
waiting game will be over, and joy will be all that there is. In the name of
the One born of Mary, the fruit of her womb, Jesus, Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your
hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting, Amen.