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Focused Joy

Luke 1:39-56

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Advent 4, series A
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Dec 18, 2016 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Today’s Gospel lesson is one of my absolute favorite lessons in all of Holy Scripture.  There’s so much good stuff here!  We have young Mary coming to her elder cousin, Elizabeth, to share the Good News that she’s pregnant.  That in itself is miraculous.  Why?  Because there has never been a time in all of history that people have rejoiced and celebrated the pregnancy of an unwed teenage girl.  Nowadays our culture says that she’s “ruined her life.” She “messed up and got pregnant.” The post-WWII generation referred to unwed teenage pregnancy as “getting into trouble.” That’s not very warm or loving or joyous-sounding, is it? 

This wasn’t the case with Mary or Elizabeth.  They rejoiced!  Mary obviously rejoices because the Angel of the Lord told her directly that God was working His salvation miracle through her.  She would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and be the mother of our God and Savior in the flesh; “Theotokos,” which is Greek for, “the mother of God.” Mary believes the Word of God spoken to her by this heaven-sent messenger.  She doesn’t question the wisdom of God. She does ask how she can be pregnant if she’s still a virgin, but that’s a very normal and good question to ask.  She understands the birds and the bees.  God says, “I’ve got this miracle covered.  The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and make you pregnant.  Nothing is impossible with God.” She hears this and she doesn’t complain or cry that God is really messing up her life or her big plans.  “God, I was going to go to college.  I have career aspirations!  I can’t be pregnant.  God, we already have the wedding date set.  Non-refundable deposits have been made.  How am I supposed to fit into my wedding dress if I’m pregnant?!  I was going to wear white too, and now I can’t do that.  What will everyone think?  What will everyone say?  No…this won’t work.  You need to find somebody else.” That conversation NEVER happened, and thank God it didn’t!  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.” And that was it.  Theologically, it is understood that this is the very moment that divine conception takes place.  Mary believes.  She doesn’t reject.  She doesn’t doubt.  She humbles herself in the obedience of faith, and the Holy Spirit overshadows her and she conceives. 

St. Luke then proceeds to tell us that Mary, full of joy and excitement and wonder, goes “with haste” (that means she was in a hurry) to share the Good News with her cousin Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, who was probably quite a bit older than Mary, hears Mary’s greeting, and as soon as those words are received, the miracle baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy.  Elizabeth is filled with Holy Spirit, and she cries out in faithful joy, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Did you catch that?  Elizabeth doesn’t shame Mary for “getting into trouble.” She doesn’t give Mary that look that obviously doesn’t believe the tall-tale being told and she wants the truth.  “The Holy Spirit made you pregnant?  Divine conception?  C’mon…tell me the truth.  Did you and Joseph celebrate the honeymoon before the wedding day?  Is there a different daddy?  C’mon…tell me the truth.” Again, that conversation NEVER happened! 

Elizabeth rejoices.  She rejoices in the fact that God has so richly blessed Mary with this awesome gift and privilege.  And make no mistake: That’s what is meant here with the words, “Blessed are you among women….” I know that heresies have been invented that extol Mary’s “sinless, immaculate perfection” based on this verse of Scripture.  That’s not what Elizabeth proclaims.  She rejoices that Mary has been blessed—blessed by God—to bear the Messiah in her womb.  There’s nothing wrong with this confession of faith!  I see moms boasting and bragging and really thinking they’re something because their little precious is good at tackling people or he scored well on the ACT or something like that.  Mary is the mother of the Savior!  She wins!  Blessed are you among all women! 

And let us not forget that Elizabeth is pregnant too…and she rejoices!  She doesn’t complain.  She doesn’t doubt.  “God, Zechariah and I are getting close to retirement.  This really messes up our plans.  You didn’t give us a child all those years when we were constantly asking you for a baby; when we were young and spry and able to keep up, but now you want us to be full-time mommy and daddy at this age?!” Again, that conversation NEVER happened.  Well…at least not with Elizabeth.  Zechariah struggled, doubted, and questioned when the Angel of the Lord told him the Good News.  Such behavior earned him a nine-month sentence of muteness.  He was struck mute and rendered unable to talk.  (Maybe that’s why Elizabeth was so joyous!)

We’re never actually told what Elizabeth thought when she first found out that she was pregnant with the “new Elijah” God had sent to prepare the way for His Son.  We do know that as soon as the pregnant Mary greets her, the words enter into her body and her baby leaps for joy, which causes her to respond and cry out in joy.  Think about that for a moment.  There is OUTSTANDING theology at play here!  Where does Jesus—the Lord of the Church—dwell in this account?  In Mary’s womb; in the midst of Mary.  Where does our Lord Christ dwell right now?  He’s here!  He’s with us, in our midst.  He’s in the midst/womb of the Church; the place where God gives birth from above to new life; the place where God nurtures and cares for and feeds His precious children of faith.  We don’t worship Mary, no different than we don’t worship the Church.  The Church doesn’ t save us.  The Church didn’t die for our sins.  But…almighty God Himself dwells within the Church; He abides and works and lives within the Church in order to give us life and peace and salvation. 

So…looking again at our lesson, we see Christ dwells within Mary.  Mary proclaims “greetings” to Elizabeth.  The Greek word for “greetings” is “chairein,” which is a cognate/derivative of the word for “peace” (aireine).  Now think about that.  Let that sink in.  Christ dwells within Mary.  Mary greets with a greeting of peace; the peace of Christ, who dwells within her.  Elizabeth hears this Christly proclamation of peace from this young and humble “Church in the flesh,” and this Word penetrates to her inner-being, greeting and feeding and quickening the little life who dwells within her own womb.  This Christly greeting of peace reaches his little ears/soul, and he jumps for joy!  He’s in the presence of his Lord and Savior.  It’s not Mary’s word or presence that causes this precious little life to rejoice.  It’s the Word of Christ, which Mary proclaims; the Word which dwells within her; the Word which proceeds from her. 

Folks: NOTHING should be different!  What is the Church’s “job”?  Answer: To proclaim the peace of Jesus Christ!  That’s it!  When the Church speaks, you should hear Jesus!  I pray that this is the case when our humble little dwelling place of Jesus opens our mouths and makes proclamation and confession.  I pray that Christ is heard through us, and not in spite of us.  Will some of what you hear cause you to be unsettled and rattled?  Yes.  God loves you enough to tell you the Truth.  He loves you enough to tell you that you are a sinner, and that what you are doing (or not doing) is a sin, the wage of which is death.  That should unsettle you!  But…that’s not the end of the conversation!  The wage of sin is death, but Jesus paid that wage in full with His own life, suffering, and death.  It is finished, once and for all!  You are forgiven!  You have been redeemed and delivered from sin, death, and the grave, not because of how good or awesome you are; not because of how much of a “blessing” you think you are, but solely because God is gracious and merciful to you.  You are saved and forgiven, not because of what you do or don’t do, but solely because you hold fast in faith to the all-availing work and righteousness of Jesus Christ and our heavenly Father’s grace, which declares us innocent for Christ’s sake.  Faith alone in God’s grace alone, which is ours because of Christ alone.  That’s peace!  That is to be the message of the Church!

And that brings us to one final point I’d like to share with you today.  Little John the Baptist, only six months along in the womb, is already doing the job God sent him to do.  He’s already pointing to Jesus.  He’s already making Christ known…from the womb.  The Church (aka Mary) proclaims the peace of Him who dwells within her, and little peanut John hears this proclamation and rejoices, leaping for joy in his mother’s womb.  Little peanut John’s response is the sanctified response of saving faith and joy in action!  Such joyous, justified faith can’t help but share!  Such joyous faith—a faith that gets it; a faith that understands who Christ is, what He has done, and what it means for them and for the entire world—can’t help but want everyone to share in this joy! 

And that’s exactly what we see in this little beautiful glimpse of life and faith in action.  There is true joy.  There is true peace.  Mary rejoices and proclaims the joy and peace within her.  Elizabeth rejoices.  Not only has God kept His Word and promise and sent His Son to deliver man from sin, death, and the grave, but she is standing in the very presence of this Savior.  The Messiah has deigned to visit her and greet her with His peace.  And just in case Elizabeth was slow to understand or wavered at all in doubt or uncertainty, the blessed and faithful little peanut in her womb stirs about and makes all kinds of joyous commotion, letting his mommy know that she’s in the presence of the Christ.  The blessed and faithful little peanut, upon hearing the proclamation of the peace of Christ, which was spoken from the humble, unassuming little handmaiden where almighty God deigned to dwell, leaps for joy and makes his faithful joy known to others.  He shares his Christ-centered joy.  He evangelizes.  He’s already doing true and faithful mission work, and he still has three months to go before he leaves the safety of mom’s womb and enters into the dark and sinful world that Christ came to redeem.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Nothing has changed.  Look around you.  We, as God’s holy and blessed children, dwell safe and secure within the womb of the Church.  We dwell where Christ dwells.  He dwells and abides with us, now and always, to the very end of the age.  Here He is, reaching out to us to nourish us with His grace, mercy, and peace; reaching out His pierced hands to feed us with His Word and His very body and blood.  Here the water and blood which flowed forth from His riven side is poured over us in Holy Baptism, washing us in His perfect righteousness.  Here that holy blood flows forth from Christ as He Himself holds out His life-giving cup of salvation, bidding us to drink for the forgiveness of all our sin; drink…and be at peace, for it is finished.

If all this doesn’t make you stir for joy; if this doesn’t cause the reflex-response of faith in you that naturally wants to bear good fruit and share and rejoice with others in Christ and because of Christ, then you just don’t get it…and that’s truly troubling.  May God grant you the joy of faith in all your circumstances, may His joy and peace be ever and always in your hearts and on your lips. 

AMEN



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