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Advent 4 December 23, 2018

Micah 5:2-5a
Canticle 15 The Song of Mary p. 91
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

All through Advent, our readings from the Hebrew scriptures have proclaimed hope in the face of daunting, even devastating circumstances. The author of this morning’s first reading is Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, whose ministry took place between 740 and 701 B.C.E. This was during the time that the Assyrians conquered neighboring areas and finally captured Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.

It is possible that our reading is addressing that horrible defeat by King Sennacherib of Assyria, but many scholars think this portion of Micah’s book was actually added later, at the time of the Babylonian Exile.

At a time of crushing defeat and suffering, God is going to raise up a liberating king, not from Jerusalem, the center of everything for God’s people, but from little Bethlehem, the city of David. That king, according to Micah or a later editor, “shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.” For us, that king is Jesus.

Just before our gospel reading for today, we read about the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the Savior. Gabriel also tells Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, is now pregnant. In announcing the births of both Jesus and John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel says, “With God, nothing is impossible.”

Directly after her encounter with Gabriel, Mary does a very wise thing. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary has the wisdom to know that she and Elizabeth are having unique experiences that are going to be challenging. Elizabeth is having a baby when she is far past the usual childbearing years. Mary is having a baby when she is engaged, but not yet married. In both cases, tongues are sure to wag.

Scholars point out that Luke usually takes great care to tell us exactly when and where things happen, but in this case, the village is not named. Mary enters the house,  greets Elizabeth, and little John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth. Elizabeth bursts into a song of praise that will later become the beginning of the Hail, Mary. She then addresses her cousin as “the mother of my Lord.” Both Elizabeth and her son recognize that they are meeting their Savior. Even in the womb John the Baptist recognizes and honors Jesus.

Then Mary sings her song of praise, the Magnificat, which is a poetic and prophetic blueprint of God’s Shalom. God scatters the proud in the imaginations of their hearts. God brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. Valleys are exalted, and hills are made low. God feeds the hungry. The reign of God turns things upside down.

God is doing a new thing, and these two women from little out of the way places are the ones God has chosen to give birth to this new order. They are already cousins, members of a large extended family, and they are going to become sisters in faith. We all need support when we are responding to God’s call. We all need friends and sisters and brothers in the faith when God calls us to do a new thing, to walk a path that no one has ever walked before. Mary and Elizabeth were able to offer each other that support.

“With God, nothing is impossible,” says the angel Gabriel. In many ways, we are quite similar to God’s people under attack from either the Assyrians of the Babylonians. There is growing evidence of an attack by Russia designed to fragment our country and turn us against each other. Climate change is a huge threat to our planet. Violence is everywhere. And on and on it goes. And yet…

We pray today that our Lord Jesus Christ “may, at his coming, find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” “With God nothing is impossible.” May we make room for God. May we be a people of hope. May we help to build God’s shalom.  Amen.

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