what r u xpecting this xmas? Love?
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, December 23, 2012.
God’s love meets us where we are. It doesn’t matter who we think we are, or who we know we are. It doesn’t matter what our situation is. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. God’s love meets us where we are.
But, God also loves us so much that God moves us past where we are. God’s love mends our brokenness. God’s love takes our precarious situation or our shameful past and moves us beyond it. God’s love works within us to move us past our mistakes and broken relationships. God’s love moves us beyond what we can dream or see or know from our current perspective. God’s love opens up the possibility for us to achieve the impossible.
God loves us so much that God meets us where we are. But, God also loves us so much that God helps us move beyond where we are.
This morning I’d like to tell you a story about how God’s love met Mary where she was, how God’s love opened the door for the impossible to occur, and how she has come to be known as blessed—favored even—by God for the past two millennia.
Today I’d like to share with you Mary’s story.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
Mary was an unlikely candidate to carry the Son of God, Jesus Christ. She was engaged but not yet married. She was, most likely, around 12 or 13 years old. Mary had never borne a child. She did not come from a family with much wealth. She lived in an obscure village called Nazareth which was, essentially, “low-income housing” outside of the Roman city of Sepphoris.
Sepphoris was known as “the jewel of Galilee.” It was a wealthy town of some 35,000 people: there one would find shops, schools, theatres. In the shadow of Sepphoris’ walls was Nazareth: the “low rent district.” Here, many of the poorest citizens and “at-risk” youth lived in caves. It was here, where Mary grew up, that the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30, New Revised Standard Version).
“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 forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end… 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.”
The angel left. And Mary was immediately terrified and confused. What the angel said could not happen. She wasn’t “married.” She was still a virgin. But, the last thing the angel said, kept running through her head, “nothing will be impossible with God” (see Luke 1:37).
Mary told no one about what she’d seen or heard. Can you imagine what her father and mother would say? They could disown her. Can you imagine what Joseph would say? The law would allow him to break off the engagement and have her stoned for infidelity (see Deuteronomy 22:20-24). She could easily imagine the men shouting as they picked out their stones, thus says the LORD “purge the evil from Israel…purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 22:21d, 24d, New Revised Standard Version). Mary was terrified and confused.
Elizabeth, assuming the angel knew what he was talking about, was the only one who could begin to understand what Mary was feeling. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had struggled with infertility all her life. They had never conceived a child; and, they were now well beyond “child-bearing” years. They’d given up all hope of having a child. But, the angel said that Elizabeth was pregnant. If it were true, it’d truly be a miracle.
So, Mary packed her bags to go see her relative Elizabeth. It was a 10 day walk from Nazareth to Ein Karem. I can only imagine what Mary must have been thinking along the journey: the prayers she must have prayed. God why me? God I could lose everything: my family, my fiancé, my life! God help me! I don’t understand! “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, New Revised Standard Version).
She safely arrives at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house. She enters their home. She enters at the side entrance near where Elizabeth is working. She can’t afford to be seen by Zechariah. She’s too afraid that Zechariah, a member of the priestly order of Abijah, will kick her out of his home. So she enters the home of Zechariah through the side door and as she says her first hello to Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps: leaps so high that Mary can see the child in Elizabeth’s womb. The swift kick in Elizabeth’s ribs, forces Elizabeth to her knees. As she looked up, she was
filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud [and exasperated] cry, “Blessed are you [Mary] among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
With Elizabeth’s affirmation, a weight was lifted off of Mary’s shoulders. It was true, Elizabeth was going to have a child, in fact she was six months along in her pregnancy. A rush of emotion overcame Mary and she broke into a song:
47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
55 just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah for three months. After, Elizabeth gave birth to John, Mary made her way back to Nazareth, visibly pregnant and confident that God would, indeed, look after her for she knew that “nothing will be impossible with God.”
If you’re expecting love this Christmas, hear the Good News: God’s love meets us where we are. But know this: God also loves us so much that God moves us beyond where we are.
God’s love makes the impossible possible. And that’s not always comfortable. It’s not always safe. In fact, it can be downright risky and costly, just ask Mary. She could have lost everything: her family, her fiancé, and her life. Yet, she trusted in the promises of God.
It’s my prayer that as we journey toward Christmas, we’ll each learn to trust in God’s love like Mary. It’s my prayer that we’ll allow God’s all-victorious love found in Jesus Christ to be shed in our hearts so that our lives and world might be transformed.
My friends, I expect that love will change the world this Christmas. I expect that in the babe found in a manger—the Christ child we’ll celebrate in the coming days—will change you, me and the world, if we’ll let him.
The question is: will you let God live in and through you? Will you let the love of Christ rule in and through you? so that your life and our world might be changed by the love of God found in Jesus Christ?
 Luke 1:31-38, New Revised Standard Version (emphasis added)
 If you want to hear an excellent sermon on Mary’s song, the Magnificat, check out Rev. Adam Hamilton’s sermon, “The Magnificat” preached at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection on December 9, 2012, here: http://www.cor.org/worship/sermon-archives/show/sermons/The-Magnificat/.
 Luke 1:47-49, Common English Bible.