By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 9, 2022
Luke 3:15–17, 21-22 (ESV)
15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
There are a few people in scripture that have attracted my attention to such a degree that I can hardly pull myself from their story, John the Baptist is on of those people. I find his life fascinating, though scripture does not give us much information about it. This leads us to speculation. Speculation is a place of imagination that can be beneficial when we do it with knowledge, but it can also be detrimental when we put too much trust in our own interpretations. We speculate when we lack information. We make attempts at filling the gaps with our own collected knowledge and we move forward with that information. We fill the gaps but with what do we fill those gaps?
Speculation is something we all participate in. We fill the gaps of our knowledge with many things. We do not fully understand the nature of our economy so we speculate. We do not understand the full nature of the origin of life so we speculate. We do not understand the mysteries of God, so we speculate. We do not fully understand the intricacies of interpersonal relationships so we speculate. We speculate all the time and we do it without even a second thought. Children seemingly do this with ease. They do not understand what is going on around them so they develop a story that will help them explain just why they are afraid of the dark. It does not make sense for them to be afraid, they know everything in their room and yet they are afraid, so they in their speculation will place a monster in their closet or under their bed, just to fill the gap within their experienced story so that they can cope with the unknown.
The monster, in the mind of the child is real. You cannot convince them that it is a figment of their imagination, and when you attempt to use reason or logic you will find yourself with a fearful child that does not trust even their parent. So how do we assist the child? How do we move them into reality and away from errant speculation? We walk with them. We bravely take their hand and approach the closet, like the courageous heroes of their stories and we face the monsters. We walk with them; we listen to their stories and acknowledge that in their mind they are real. And we ask them to join us on a quest to vanquish the foe. We sneak toward the closet door, making sure they are right behind us, and we turn on the light. What do we find? We find the error in their speculation and we provide space for them to process in their own mind what has caused the error in their thinking. We walk with them, we think with them, and we overcome with them. We participate with their story so that they can develop the mental pathways within their own mind to fill the gaps between knowledge in a way that will be accurate and healthy.
We might laugh at the speculations of a child, we might even mock those young minds when we ourselves are tired and do not have the time to participate in a knight’s quest to rid the realm of imagined dragons, but do we realize that adult speculation and the adult imagination can be similar?
Our lives are filled with incomplete information. We do not and cannot know what our future will hold so just like the child we fill the gaps of our knowledge with imagined solutions to our problems. We do not know so we speculate. But what do we use to fill those gaps? Do we bravely adorn our bodies with armor to boldly approach the unknown to find answers, or do we fill the gaps of our knowledge with imagined superstition? There are dragons all around us. Dragons that threaten to keep us cowered in place. Dragons that threaten harm if we attempt to take a step forward, or that will breathe fire to consume the bridge we might try to cross. Will we brave the dragons of our own imagination?
I speak of speculation because everything I know about John the Baptist is just that. It is a construct of a man that I have made in my own mind that I believe is based on the understanding that I have gained from study. Everything I know is just that, speculation, no matter what I am speaking about. I might be right or I might be wrong. The words I speak might be helpful in moving me forward in the perceived quest I have entered in my life, or they might be the words that a child speaks in their mind that will keep them awake at night unable to move their feet from their covers for fear of the monster under the bed. We must acknowledge our limitations. We must recognize that we are finite beings with limited understanding. We make our decisions and move forward in equal parts courage and fear because we speculate.
Today we meet John the Baptist once again on the banks of the Jordan. We are told that the people gathered there were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ. I want us to recognize this for what it is. The people were in expectation. They wanted something, they hoped for something, they longed for something. For what were they longing? The Christ. They were out there in the wilderness looking for something and they were wanting to find their answer. Could the answer be John?
What is going on in the first century that would lead adults to seek out answers in such a manner? This was a nation of people that had a long history and distinct history. We look at and study scripture and we make assumptions about Israel that may not be reflected in the narrative of history. We often see them as a great and mighty nation, but they were never great in the eyes of the world. We make assumptions of greatness based on our understanding. Israel was small. It was always small by worldly measures. The land that they ruled even at their greatest strength was about as great as the smallest nation in Europe. Their military might we imagine was mighty, but in reality, they were always a step behind the technological advancements of the surrounding nations. We see this early in their history and it continues. We are often told that history is written by the victors, but why is it that we know the history of Israel? They were a small nation conquered, exiled, and ruled over. They were and are great not because of who they are, but because of what they are. They were the people through whom God chose to reveal Himself.
This can be deceptive. For some, the idea of this chosen status means that they can do no wrong. If this is something that you believe I want you to read the writings of the prophets. Israel can do wrong, and they did do wrong. Some might believe that this chosen status means that they have a divine mandate of existence. That is closer to the truth, if God chose a people to reveal himself through, then there must be a remanent of that people in existence for the revelation to continue. But what does the revelation mean?
This is where the expectant people find themselves as they approach and listen to John. Each of them has some understanding as to the purpose and nature of their people and their nation. Some believe that their existence is one of knowledge, some believe it to be political, some merely religious. They bring all these speculations to the table and they project them to John, because in those speculations there is this hope of messiah. This anointed one that will move them forward into their divinely appointed future. What is our definition of future success? How do we know that success has occurred?
They are out there in expectation. They are in the wilderness with questions in their hearts, and speculations in their minds. They want something and they think they know what it is. They believe that this man, John, could be the fulfillment of that, but why?
What do we know about this man? We know that his birth was special, in fact it resembles the birth of their own nation. God called Abraham to follow him out of all the nations and people of the world. It was through this one man that God was going to reveal himself through to the entire world. The only problem was that this one man and his wife were unable to bear a child. All this divine knowledge, all the blessings from God, and they had no family to pass it to. It was only after a ridiculous time, when the prospect of giving birth to a child had passed from possible to comedic did the promise become fulfilled. And Sarah laughed. Who would not laugh at the prospect of a century old woman giving birth and raising a child? We have women nearing that mark in our Meeting, they know and we know that their bodies have long since stopped preparing itself for that prospect. Yet it was just such a body used by God. It was just such a situation that God brought hope to the world. When all our speculations and imagination cannot manifest a reason, God is there.
John’s mother was barren, she was beyond the age women normally bear children. She like her ancient mother, Sarah, had given up hope of ever knowing that aspect of life. We may not realize just how dire and amazing this truly is. There is more to the story. In our day and age, we speak a great deal about marriage and human relations but I think we have missed the point. I have over the past few months considered the point of it all. Again, it is speculation. What if the point of marriage is less about the things we think and more about the community and faith? I base this speculation on the traditions of the Jewish people. The fact that John’s father and mother were still married is amazing. In their tradition they should not have been married if procreation was the sole purpose of marriage. Elizabeth was barren, she was unable to provide her husband with progeny to carry on the name. Zechariah was well within his rights to have divorced Elizabeth both socially and religiously. Yet he did not. The relationship was more important. To Zechariah and to his family it was more important to have Elizabeth included in the community than the prospect of a child. I want us to think about this for a moment. It was more important to the community that Zechariah and Elizabeth be there, together, than a baby.
Offspring are a blessing from God, no matter where or when they come into a family or a community. They give us an opportunity to bless others, they give us an opportunity to encourage and to extend our cultural identity into the next generation. We should cherish the gift, but that gift is not the point of the relationship. It was more important to Zechariah to continue in relationship with Elizabeth even through the blessing of offspring had passed them by. We often miss this because they were eventually blessed with a child. We miss the years of barrenness because we focus on the blessing.
The people in the desert in expectation also missed the point. They also failed to see the deeper story because they instead looked at the blessing. Could John be the Christ? His advent was miraculous just as Isaac to Sarah. Is God revealing Himself yet again? The short answer is yes. But we miss the point if we base our speculation on only part of the knowledge. When Jesus spoke of John he said, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Jesus like the people in the desert, knew that John was important, but unlike the people in the desert Jesus knew the true reason why. The people of the desert came out to John, they came in expectation, with questions in their hearts concerning John. They came out knowing that John had a very public a miraculous story. John, in all likelihood, would have been given every possible advantage their society had to offer. He could have stepped into any messianic role offered. At a word he could have inspired an army to form to begin the battles of independence. Why, because they all knew that he was the child of a barren mother. His life reflected their history. In their mind God could have been ushering in the new kingdom just as in days of old. John could have become everything the human heart could imagine or desire.
But that is not the path that John took, because, like Jesus, John knew more of the story than we know. John answered the people saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John could have walked the paths of human greatness. He could have commanded armies. He could have demanded the riches of a king. But John knew that there is something beyond human understandings of greatness that is more important.
It is that unseen power and knowledge, that caused Zechariah to stay wed to Elizabeth even though the blessings of offspring were denied. It was that unseen power and knowledge that drove John to walk away from the luxuries human success could offer and dwell in the wilderness. It is that unseen power and knowledge that allowed him to look at everything the world has to offer and say, no that is not what is important.
We can speculate. We can use our knowledge and reason. We can move forward believing that we have all the answers. We can even move forward within the knowledge we possess knowing that it is incomplete. We can move forward knowing that in our greatest understanding of the world around us can at any moment fall into chaos and drive us to enter into the same place so many children find themselves in, so afraid of the dark to move their foot out from under the covers. What do we do in the midst of the fear, what do we do when the chaos looms?
John said that he baptizes with water. Have we ever thought of the reality surrounding this? It is something tangible something we can control, something we can define. When we use water to baptize we are saying that we have a full understanding of the power of God. By this rite I can control the one that created the universe. No, at best the waters of baptism are a testimony against the forces opposed to God. It is at best a statement of belief and alliance. The power that the waters of baptism hold are empty unless there is something more. That is the truth of John’s testimony. Whatever power or hope you have in our human understanding is mere speculation unless you recognize that there is something greater beyond. When the investor looks at risking their human fortunes in the market, we look at them in awe and wonder. We say they risked much in the face of chaos. The truth is that they made calculations and they only risked as much as they were comfortable in losing. They are fully aware of the chaotic chances that loom around them, but they move forward. We praise those that risked and succeeded and we scorn those that risked and failed. But do we see the truth around it all? Do we understand why some failed and others succeed? Do we see?
The reason John is the greatest among those born of a woman is not because John was great, it is because his parents saw the truth. Their life lived together in faith was more important than anything else, because their life lived in faith was devoted to the true law of God, “Love God with all you have and your neighbor as yourself.” They gave up their life of selfish ambition and they lived their faith. Do you not think there was a time Elizabeth suggested that Zechariah divorce her for better prospects? Do you think there was not a moment where Zechariah was tempted to listen? We like to think we can control and manipulate the world around us. We want to do things to succeed and move forward. That is baptism, that is financial speculation, that is political ideology. That is humanity using our knowledge to slay the dragons. But our speculation only goes so far. We face the dragons and we know that in an instant that chaotic force can have its vengeance. Why risk it? What remains?
“He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” There is only one that brought order to the formless void; that is the word of God. The command of God is to love him with all your heart, with all your spirit, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. “[And] when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Jesus embodies the word of God. He lived it out to its fullest and showed us how to face the dragons of chaos around us. It is not by the strength of our armies or the wisdom of our minds that we can move forward. But it is our faith in God. It is that unseen power of faith that kept Zechariah and Elizabeth together, it is that unseen strength of faith that propelled John their son. It is faith that was revealed to Abraham and it is faith that made his offspring the instruments of divine revelation. It is when we use our speculation in conjunction with faith that we will overcome the dragons of life. It is when we walk in that relationship with humanity and the divine that we can face the trials in true strength. It is when we begin to think we can control it all that we will fail. It is when we believe that we can control our own future chaos will overtake us. Because faith allows us to see ourselves for who we truly are. Faith allows us to acknowledge our weaknesses and, in that weakness, allows others to stand with us. Faith shows us that we need help to overcome our dragons. And it is through faith that the Spirit of God fills the gap not with speculation but with hope.
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Every year around Christmas we have celebrate by singing carols and reading scriptures that highlight the advent and birth of Christ. This Sunday we are having that celebration. We hope you are able to join us!
Carol 1: O Come all Ye Faithful
Carol 2: Once in Royal David’s City
Lesson 1: Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19
Carol 3: O Little Town of Bethlehem
Lesson 2: Genesis 22:15-18
Carol 4: O Come O Come Emmanuel
Lesson 3: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
Carol 5: It Came upon a Midnight Clear
Lesson 4: Isaiah 11:1-5, 6-9
Carol 6: Mimi Mweney Hatiya Nikikombolewa
Carol 7: Ikawa Siku Kubwa Kwangu
Lesson 5: Luke 1:26-35, 38
Carol 8: Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Lesson 6: Luke 2:1-7
Carol 9: Away in a Manger
Lesson 7: Luke 2:8-16
Carol 10: Angels We have Heard on High
Lesson 8: Matthew 2:1-12
Carol 11: We Three Kings
Lesson 9: Matthew 2:13-23
Carol 12: The Coventry Carol
Carol 13: Asubuhi Na Mapema
Lesson 10: John 1:1-14
Carol 14: Silent Night
Carol 15: Joy To the World
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
December 19, 2021
Luke 1:39–55 (ESV)
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
I have been reading the narrative surrounding the advent of Jesus my entire life. Well nearly my entire life, there were a few years that I could not read, but after I learned I have read it ever sense. At times these stories become so familiar that we forget the amazing features within. This is probably why I love the arrangement of Silent Night that Rend Collective produced. They add a chorus to the familiar carol that says,
“Be still my heart
Be still my mind
May I still see the magic of that silent night
Fill me with wonder
Keep mystery alive
May peace on earth be my song tonight.”
May I still see the magic of that silent night. The reality is that the night was far from silent. Any mother could tell you that, and any father that has held the hand of their spouse while she was in labor can tell you that silence was not the way to describe the event. But magic yes. There is something supernatural about new life. All the screaming and muck and yet we love the little one that caused such pain.
May I still see the magic of that silent night. I like this chorus because it truly captures the scene. Magic of course is not how most of us would explain it. When we think of the word magic we tend to think of pagan rituals being performed to manipulate the cosmos around to meet our selfish desires. But there is another aspect of magic that we tend to overlook, wonder. The term magic comes from the magi. The magi we meet within the narrative surrounding the birth of Jesus. The magi were interesting people. They were priests, scientists, and advisors. They were the educated class of the ancient Persian culture. And yes they dealt with the things that were unknown by most people so everything that they did seemed to cause awe and wonder. And since we did not understand we referred to their deeds as magic. The interesting thing about Magi is that they were a respected class, they had great knowledge and without the luxury of our modern technologies they were able to do remarkable research. When Judah was taken into exile, some of the wise men among them were taking into this class. Daniel is probably the one that most of us recognize the most. Daniel was a magi this prophet of God, would have been seen as a magician by his contemporaries. And his teachings most likely directed not only Israel into the future, but also the remnant of Persian scholars that remained after the conquest of Alexander.
But we are not talking about the Magi today. We are not even talking about the birth of Jesus today. We are still in that period of time where we are waiting in holy anticipation, holy expectancy, or holy anxiety. We are waiting and expecting God to move.
“In those days Mary arose and went with Haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah.” If we were to read the verses prior to today’s scripture reading we would see that Mary had just been visited by an angel. This angel told her that she had found favor in the eyes of God. I do not know how most people would have responded if some shining angel just randomly showed up in your room, but if it were me I would probably be freaking out. My greatest fear as a child was aliens, and of course my sister’s favorite show was Unsolved Mysteries where almost every week there would be a story of alien abduction. Which means I had a nightmare about aliens nearly every week, I do not think I ever really told anyone about it, but aliens really freak me out. And if you were to ask me to describe the scene of Mary’s encounter with the angel, it is the stuff of nightmares in my mind. I think I am probably not far from the truth because the first thing the angel says to Mary is do not be afraid.
Anyway, the angel explains that God is going to do something amazing, and basically tells Mary that because she has found favor in the eyes of God, He wants her to participate. This of course scares and fascinates Mary. She does not understand how any of this can happen but she also does not deny that God can do what God wants.
We often assume that ancient cultures are not as advanced as we are today. They may not have the same level of expertise as we do today, but they were not ignorant. Mary knew how women became pregnant. She knew that in the natural world what the angel was saying would have been impossible. She also knew the oral teachings of their religion. She knew that there was an anticipated king from the house of David. She knew that this king would have to be miraculous because by all human rendering the line of David was broken, cut off, impossible. The royal line had been killed off by the various invasions because that is what invading armies did in ancient cultures. They would execute those within the royal line if they wielded great influence or they would emasculate them so that they would become a person of ridicule and folly instead of power. The line of David was no longer a viable option. When Israel gained their independence from the Hellenistic kingdoms it was not David’s line that claimed the throne, but someone from the linage of Levi a priest.
Yet even though it seemed unlikely the people of Israel still held hope that the line would be restored, and they believed this because their prophets told them that. These prophets told them many things that had happened, and yet some of what was taught remained unfulfilled. They had been exiled and they had returned to their land, just as the prophets said, but they were still waiting for something else, the return of the king.
The angel spoke to Mary and she accepted the word of the angel, not because the angel made sense, but because Mary trusted God. Mary did not have to understand the science, all she desired was to do her part because she loved her God. She trusted but inside her psyche there was doubt. She said Let it be to me according to your word, but there was still a touch of gray within the silver lining of hope. The angel knew this so this angel told her that her barren relative Elizabeth was six months pregnant in her old age.
This is where we find Mary today. This young confused betrothed girl, who was just visited by this spiritual being, need to prove to herself that what she just experience was real. So in those days Mary arose and went to this town where this relative lived. The first thing about this whole story that is amazing to me is how did she get permission from her parents. Mary was not that old. Most believe that she would have been somewhere between the ages of twelve and fourteen, and I do not know about you but I would not be likely to let a preteen girl go on a journey alone. She most likely was not alone. So Mary had to have told her parents at least something about the angelic encounter. Which she probably would have had to do anyway because she probably woke everyone up with the screaming when the angel first appeared.
So Mary told them about the encounter, and then she said that the angel had told her that Elizabeth was pregnant. Everyone knew Elizabeth was barren, so everyone in the house probably wanted to see what was going on. Mary had just received the message. There was no reason to believe at this moment that she herself was pregnant. So they go on the journey to Judea, mainly to help provide assistance to their aged and pregnant relative.
This is the scene. They go because that is what families do, that is what communities do. When there is a problem we come together and help. If there is a joyous occasion we come together and we celebrate, when there is sorrow we join together and share the burden of the loss. Elizabeth was beyond the traditional child bearing age, she would need help. And Mary’s family would need to be there to help, and they also needed confirmation of Mary’s story.
Mary at this point may have only been with child for a couple of days. Even today we have no way of detecting a pregnancy that early. As far as Mary is concerned she is not pregnant and everything about this story is just a weird dream, but when they get to the town and greet Elizabeth something happens. They enter the house and Mary greets her cousin. There is nothing spectacular to this, even today we say something as we enter the residence of relatives and friends. We do not just enter the house silently. We do not know if Elizabeth was expecting this visit, in reality I am guessing that this was a total surprise, so Mary comes into the house and cries out her greetings and Elizabeth is beside herself with joy.
We are told that the baby within her womb leaped with joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. We all know that fetuses can respond to things going on outside. But the interesting thing about this is not so much that the baby is moving but why.
The message that Mary received from the angel was at least four days old. We are told that Mary left in haste, meaning that she did not spend a great deal of time planning the trip. And the angel said that that Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. In the fifty-sixth verse we are told that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before she returned home. What all this is telling us is that Mary did not spend a month at home, she went to this town in Judea within a week of the announcement and she stayed with Elizabeth until after John was born. This might not mean much to everyone, except for this one fact, Mary went to visit Elizabeth before the first month of pregnancy. There is no way an ancient person could actually know if Mary was pregnant or not. Mary would not even know at this time if what the angel said would happen actually had. As far as she knew she was just a preteen girl with her entire life ahead of her, looking forward to that day she would be married to Joseph.
But when that baby inside of Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice something happened. Elizabeth knew that the baby inside of her was acting in an unusual manner. The baby inside of Elizabeth was excited to be in the presence of Mary. Then we are told that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” I want us to stop here. How did Elizabeth know? Humanly speaking it would be impossible even today without extensive testing to know if Mary was with child mere weeks into the pregnancy, and yet Elizabeth knew. She knew that the young woman standing before her was not only pregnant but was carrying a child of great importance.
There is no way that Elizabeth could have known Mary was pregnant. And this is why this interaction is so amazing. I have read this story countless times throughout my lifetime, and not once did it occur to me that Elizabeth could not have known about Mary’s pregnancy prior to the meeting that day. It is highly likely that Elizabeth even fully understood the implications of her own pregnancy but God was active. Elizabeth not only calls Mary blessed, but she goes on to say, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This is also a profound statement. Although the term Lord has a variety of meanings in Greek culture, among the people of Israel the use this term only for unique situations. It is the term that they use almost exclusively in reference to God. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures the term we translate as Lord, is always used for the divine name. Not only does Elizabeth recognize that Mary is in fact pregnant but that the child that she carries is of divine origin. And the confirmation of this in her mind is the fact that the child within her own womb is leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.
We do not know how much Zachariah and Elizabeth communicated during her pregnancy, Zachariah was mute from the moment he left the temple until John was circumcised and named on the eighth day after his birth. But is clear that he found some way to explain to his wife the unique place their son would have in God’s emerging plans. John was destined to be the voice calling out in the wilderness to prepare the nation for the coming of their long awaited king. When John started leaping he confirmed the revelation in Elizabeth’s own heart that the young woman standing before her would become and was the mother of not only their messiah, but God incarnate.
And Elizabeth looks Mary in the eye and says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” This is a somewhat enigmatic statement, but I want us to consider the greater picture. Elizabeth is actually comparing Mary to Zachariah. Zachariah did not believe when the angel came to him, and the sign that he was given was an inability to speak. Mary on the other hand, believed. She said to that angel, “may it be done as you have said.”
Does this interaction speak to you? The first people to bear witness to the gospel of God, was a pre-born fetus, and women. The very first person in the New Testament to be recorded as being filled with the Holy Spirit is a woman that for her entire life was cast in shame because she was unable to bear a child, and now she is celebrating the presence of her God who is embodied within the womb of the child standing before her. And that child is call the most blessed of all women, because she had faith. She trusted the word that God had given to her and she moved forward within that hope.
This story tells us many things. One might say that it gives us insight to when life begins because Elizabeth recognized the unborn child just barely implanted into the lining of Mary’s womb. But is also shows us the awesome power of the Spirit of God.
How many of us would be so bold as to look at a child and make the proclamation that Elizabeth made? It did not make sense that Mary of all people would be pregnant. She was not yet married, she was still living within her father’s house, and Mary said she had not been with a man. It seemed impossible, and yet Elizabeth did not hesitate to speak the proclamation.
I want us to consider that. I want us to let the story sit within our hearts and our minds. We sing the song Mary did you know, but maybe we should sing Elizabeth did you know. We have two very unlikely women, one barren and the other a poor unwed girl both standing together as the first witnesses of what is about to happen. And what do they have to say?
Luke 1:46–55 (ESV)
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
They say we are willing to believe. We are willing to walk forward even when we do not understand. We are willing to trust God. They are willing to stand and walk in their faith with the hope that God will do all that he has promised and are willing to do their part.
What do we say? The magic of that silent night is right before us. This young woman just days into a pregnancy goes to visit her barren cousin who is now in her sixth month, and even before modern science could prove the reality that was unfolding they knew God was at work in a real and unusual way. Do we believe? Do we believe that God came down from heaven and clothed himself in humanity to change the course of history? Do we believe?
I believe. I believe because I have watched as people that call upon the name of the of Jesus have come together and done things seemingly impossible. I have watched as our community has come together to help others that we do not even know because something inside us has prompted it. I have seen the results of the magic of that silent night. I have seen people turn their backs on selfish interests and instead worked toward peace. I have seen the results of the child that Elizabeth announced that day. That child grew to become a great teacher. That child is Emmanuel God with us. That child grew, lived, and took my sin and shame for his own, and he bleed and died so that I could be restored. And that child has called me to participate in his kingdom. A kingdom that transcends the kingdoms and wisdom of humanity. A kingdom where we love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and live the love of Christ with others. The magic of that night is that God come to us so that we could once again become the people he created us to be. Do we believe?
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