Preached on 20 December 2015 at Christ Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C
Every baby born is a reason for hope. Now you might be thinking, “Of course,” and imagine the possibilities that lay ahead for this new little life. And there are the hopes and dreams of the parents and families. Now this is all true, but it’s not what I’m getting at.
On the other hand, you may think that someone would have to be crazy to bring a new baby into this messed up world. And yes, it is messed up – often because of human actions. From climate change to war and violence and poverty that kills while some have so much they don’t know what to do with it all. Yes, this, too is true and oddly, it’s getting closer.
Every baby born is a reason for hope because every baby is a sign of God’s faith in us. Despite all that we see wrong with world, God sees more. God sees the goodness of creation. God sees what can be and what will be. God sees the kingdom already fully realized. And so, each time a baby is born, it is a sign of God’s faith in us; in the whole creation. God continues to create humankind in God’s own image and to see that it is very good.
So, if every child is a sign of God’s faith, how much more is the birth of Jesus a sign of God’s faith?
Mary’s world was just as messed up as ours; maybe more so. They were living under the occupation and oppression of the Roman Empire, with an emperor who claimed to be god himself. Who would want to bring a baby into that world? Well, it turns out, the answer is God did.
Now Luke is pretty good storyteller. Perhaps that’s why we love the Christmas story so much. But we came in at the very end of the story in today’s gospel reading. So, I’d like to back up a bit.
Luke has set up two parallel birth stories – John and Jesus. He starts with the annunciation of the birth of John. Elizabeth has been married for a long time. She has no children and may be past her child-bearing years. The angel Gabriel comes to her husband, Zechariah, and announces that she will bear a special child and gives instructions. Following the usual pattern of such stories, Zechariah, questions and asks for a sign. The angel gives him one – he strikes him dumb. Elizabeth does indeed become pregnant.
The second annunciation begins with Mary. She is a young woman of marriageable age. As was the custom, her family has arranged a respectable marriage and she is promised to Joseph. She may be thinking and wondering about married life, probably with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. She may even imagine herself as a mother or worry that she could be barren, like her cousin, Elizabeth.
Then Gabriel shows up and tells her that she will indeed have a son; and he will be amazing! In fact, he will become king, like David; he will have titles to rival the Roman Emperor. Again, following the usual pattern, she questions, “how can this be?”
She’s a young woman about to be married. She is told she is going to have a son. This is good news; her husband will be very pleased! But it’s not a surprise, other than this stranger seems to know about it before it happens.
I don’t think she is asking about the mechanics of conception. It seems far more likely to me that she is asking how someone like her, betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter, could give birth to a son who is great and will be called the Son of the Most High; who will be given the throne of King David! How could that be?
Gabriel reassures her that God will indeed make it so through the Holy Spirit. And then Gabriel gives her a sign so that she will know that he is indeed a messenger from God and what he says is true. The sign is that her cousin, Elizabeth, who was barren is with child.
That’s where we come into the story today. Mary is checking out the sign. She visits her cousin and finds that she is, in fact, pregnant. The child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice. The two women suddenly realize what this means. They’re the first to know. No wonder Mary bursts into song, singing Hannah’s song from the book of Samuel, praising God for God’s saving works in the past and anticipating that they will be repeated. God is fulfilling the promise to Abraham and his descendants.
Advent means coming and in the season of Advent, we prepare and wait in hopeful anticipation for the coming of Christ. We remember the people of Israel waiting for the coming of Messiah and Mary waiting in hopeful anticipation for the birth of her son, Jesus.
We remember Christ coming to the people of Israel 2000 years ago. We watch for Christ coming into our lives again and again, transforming us.
And we wait for the coming of Christ at the end of the age; when the kingdom of God will be fully realized.
Each baby is a reason for hope; a sign of God’s faith in us. Christ continues to come into the world and transform it one person at a time, one baby at a time.
Every birth is a sign of the advent of Christ’s kingdom. Like Mary, may our lives be a song, rejoicing in God’s gracious, faithful love.