December 23, 2018 The Fourth Sunday in Advent The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55
From The Gospel according to Luke, “Mary said, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, our Advent journeys are quickly drawing to a close. In fact, with the celebration of our Lord’s birth and the beginning of the Twelve Days of Christmas just about forty-eight hours away, it would be so easy to jump ahead, and start opening our gifts and gather to feast on delicious food right now! But, the Church in her wisdom, offers us yet one more opportunity to reflect together upon the meaning of the Christ’s birth not only at Bethlehem, but in our hearts and minds as well, and consider how that birth actually makes an honest difference in who we are and how we live.
And so, on this Fourth Sunday in Advent, our lessons draw us into deeper reflection not only on what kind of person this promised Messiah, this promised Jesus of Nazareth will be, but what that means to usas people of God in this 21stcentury since his birth.
Our Old Testament lesson from the Prophet Micah says that the Christ to be born at Bethlehem will be a shepherd and a king: A shepherd who will feed and nourish God’s people and enable them (and us) to dwell secure in the knowledge of God’s unshakeable redeeming grace and love; and as aking, one who will rule with integrity. Our Psalmist speaks of this Shepherd-King as one who comes to save us from the scorn and laughter of our enemies, to forgive not only our personal sins but those of our people and community, and to restore our dignity as creations of God. The Psalmist calls out, “Stirus and restoreus, now!” Our lesson from the Letter to the Hebrews offers insight into what sort of King and Shepherd Jesus really is. Our text says that our Shepherd loved and cared for us somuch that he gave his own body and blood to cleanse us from all sin. He has sanctified us through his own sacrifice offered once and for all in order to save God’s people: to save us from the injustice, scorn and scoffing laughter of the world. In these short lessons today, our Lord is described as ruler, shepherd, nourisher, restorer, sanctifier, and perfectsacrifice. Our Gospel lesson adds an equally important dimension. Mary proclaims God as our Savior. She knows that the child in her womb is none other than God incarnate– the Word made flesh - and he will be our Savior. We rejoice with Mary, “For he who is mighty has done great things and holy is his Name.”
And as I was saying my prayers and meditating on today’s scripture lessons, I was tempted to offer an explanation on why The Episcopal Church, like our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers, pays such homage to Mary as “Mother of God” and “Queen of Heaven.” Mary is, after all, the most blessed woman in human history having been chosen to carry the Son of God in her womb and “whose arms became his earthly throne” to quote the hymn writer. But the Holy Spirit kept directing me elsewhere: directing me to a phrase from Mary’s song – from The Magnificat which we all said aloud a few moments ago – a phrase that I find challenging as a follower of this Messiah today, follower of Jesus Christ.
Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” I think that, like me, most here this morning would echo Mary’s words. As Christians, our individual souls doproclaim the greatness of the Lord and proclaim it with deepthanksgiving. After all, Jesus Christ isour Savior. It was his birth, life, death and resurrection that redeemed us from our sins. It is he who marked us as his own, as children of God, through the waters of Baptism, and it is he who continues to nourish us weekly as a community of faith gathered at this Altar where we share in the Holy Eucharist, share in his body and blood. Yes, I am confident that our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord. But, beloved, what about our daily lives?
These past four weeks now in Advent, we have been invited to look deep within our ownselves, our thoughts, our values, look within our hearts and minds, and choose to turn our lives around. We have been urged to be reconciled with one another, to forgive and forgive againregardless of who is right or who is wrong; and to demonstrate in every activity and interaction what we profess we believe with our lips; and truly show the fruit of our repentance and commitment to Christ by always upholding and advancing God’s ways and values in every aspect of our personal, civic, and religious life. Our scriptures these past four weeks have urged this for a reason.
See, in the world today, this is the Season where advertisers go crazy with sentimentality, and television shows and movies (some starting in July!) milk every secular Christmas theme you can think of – and adds some pretty sappy ones, too. In the world’s view, Christmas, let alone Advent, is all about feeling warm and cozy inside, exchanging gifts and decorating with tinsel and flashing lights, but nothingmore. It is no wonder why so many are depressed at Christmas time not to mention in debt and in want of something more: something that goes beyond all the trimmings; something that lasts more than a few weeks.
Our lessons on this Fourth Sunday in Advent challenge us to grasp that while our souls might proclaim the greatness of the Lord, it is only when God’s people commit to walk in and demonstrate God’s ways as we promised to do at the start of today’s worship service, that what we profess with our lips, what we proclaim in our souls, can and will make a difference not just in our lives, but in the lives of others, our communities, our nation, and the world.
You know, Mary’s faith and willingness to be God’s servant helped change the world over two thousand years ago. The message of Advent, much like the message of Christmas, is that the world can be changed again if we will choose to allow God’s greatness to permeate not just our souls, but everythingwe do and say, and everythingwe are.
Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” O God, by your grace, may our lives proclaim your greatness, too. Amen.
Ye Who Own the Faith of Jesus, Vincent Stucky Stratton Coles, 1845-1929