Advent 4C 2004 Luke 1:39-56
The whole world was standing still watching and waiting for the Messiah. The people were certain that he -- and it would
certainly be a he in those days that he would raise another revolt and shake of the boot of the conqueror from their necks.
They were watching and waiting for this man, this king on the fire-snorting stallion with the mighty flaming sword and unstoppable
army of the angelic host, this king who would set them free. They were watching and waiting but they missed it; they were
looking in the wrong place.
They weren't looking for the slight young woman, perhaps still a girl, who set out on foot and passed through their midst.
They missed the young peasant girl, unmarried and pregnant, who set out to find her much older relative, Elizabeth, to whom
she needed to talk perhaps because she didn't know how to tell her own parents of her plight.
After all who would believe the story of the archangel Gabriel appearing to her in the night, telling her that she would
conceive a child through God's Holy Spirit. Who would believe such a thing? How could it possibly be, this nothing of a
girl, to become the Theotokos, the God-bearer, the means by which the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, would come into
And there was the problem of Joseph, to whom she was engaged. He was such a practical man, a carpenter, who dealt with
the making of material things of wood, practical things like plows, and yokes, and simple but sturdy furniture. Out of everyone
she knew, Joseph was least likely to believe her story.
She could hardly believe it herself. She remembered asking the archangel, "How can this be?" And how indeed.
How could she be certain that it wasnt all a dream, a dream frightening enough when she dreamed it. But even more frightening
now in the cold light of day. And she was pregnant, she knew she was she had all the signs that she had heard older woman
talk about. She had to talk to someone she trusted.
And so she set out to see Elizabeth. This humble, frightened, confused girl woman set out to find what comfort she could
with Elizabeth. There was no person more frightened than Mary as she walked through the hills of Judea. And humble -- humbleness
was her very nature, and especially now in the midst of these strange and frightening events.
John and Barbara Brokhoff tell this story in their book, There's Always Hope (adapted):
"Humble people are those who feel unworthy of any blessing or honor bestowed upon them. The shepherds at Bethlehem
would never have considered themselves worthy of hearing the good news from the angel and the choir of angels nor of seeing
the Christ Child.
"In 1979 a Roman Catholic nun, Mother Teresa, was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Most of her adult life was spent
ministering to the poor and diseased in Calcutta, India. She accepted the prize with the comment, "I am unworthy."
The humble person receives at Christmas the greatest prize of Christ and responds likewise, "I am unworthy."
"Our humble God comes to humble people like those shepherds who know they are outcasts in society because of their
occupation. And know that they aren't worthy to hear the angels sing. It is a paradox that the best people
consider themselves the least worthy. One of the greatest leaders of Israel, Moses, was told by God at the burning bush
to remove his sandals for he was on holy ground. His sandals represented his unworthiness to stand in the presence of the
Lord God. The great prophet, Isaiah,
confessed, "I am a man of unclean lips." The great Christian Apostle and Evangelist, Paul, confessed that he
unworthy because he was the "chief of sinners."
When the funeral cortege of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor, came to the cathedral, they were shocked to find the
gate barred by the bishop.
"Who comes?" shouted the bishop. The heralds answered, "Charlemagne, Lord and King of the Holy
Answering for God, the bishop replied, "Him I know not! Who comes?"
The heralds, a bit shaken, answered, "Charles the Great, a good and honest man of the earth!"
Again the bishop answered, "Him I know not. Who comes?"
Now completely crushed, the heralds say, "Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ."
"Him I know," the bishop replied. "Enter! Receive Christ's gift of life!"
Clay Matthews, former Suffragan Bishop of Virginia who was a good friend of and to this parish, tells a story about the
Bishop of East Carolina, who had ordained him. The bishop was a man who walked humbly before God and who served the Lord
Jesus Christ all his days. When he died at a ripe old age, there was no state funeral. And he was not buried in miter and
cope. Nor rochet and chimere. Instead he was buried in the simple white baptismal gown that we call an alb (from alba,
Latin for white) and a stole across his chest as a deacon for he had served his people as a deacon -- mostly -- regardless
of whether he had been priest or bishop.
The Reverend William G. Carter, in his book, Praying for a Whole New World (adapted), remembered that "by his Christmas
vacation on his first year in college, he had become an expert on the birds and the bees. Biology was
his major, and after a semester in the freshman class, he was certain that he knew more biology than most adults did in
his hometown ... including his minister.
"A few days before Christmas, Carter stopped in to see him. He received him warmly and asked how he had fared in
his first semester. "Okay," he replied, avoiding the subject of his mediocre grades. But then he told his
pastor, "I've come home with some questions."
"Really?" the pastor replied. "Like what?"
"Like the virgin birth. I've taken a lot of biology, as you know," which meant one semester in which he
received a B-, -- "and I think this whole business of a virgin birth doesn't make much sense to me. It doesn't fit
with what I have learned in biology class."
"What's the problem?" his minister asked.
"There had to be a father," the young Carter announced. "Either it was Joseph or somebody else."
His pastor looked at him with a smile and said, "How can you be so sure?"
"Oh, come on," he said. "That's not the way it works. There had to be a father."
"His pastor didn't back down. Instead he said something that Carter said he'll never forget: "I think youre
right. So - why not God?"
"Why not, indeed? The more we learn, the harder it is to swallow a lot of things that once seemed so palatable.
Advent is a season of wonder and mystery. We tell our children stories at this time of year that we would never dare tell
when it is warmer and there is more sunlight. The really wise child is the kid who knows how to shut his mouth even when
he has a few doubts. But sometimes it is hard to do, especially when you have a whole four months of college behind you and
made a B- on biology."
And it is a humbling thing when we consider, first, the power of God working in history and in our lives. And most of
all it is humbling to consider the awesome greatness, the unfathomable magnitude of God's gift to himself in the little Christ
child who was coming into the world.
And so humble, frightened confused Mary continued her journey to be with Elizabeth. Elizabeth, who was beyond childbearing
age now found herself pregnant as well and was ecstatic unlike Mary who was frightened and confused.
But it is during Marys time with Elizabeth that the vision comes to her that explains what it all meant.
And Saint Luke records what Mary said:
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness
of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his
arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and
lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
The Magnificat, as we know this passage is called, has particular meaning for the humble, poor, and downtrodden Christians
of the world. Mary's words offer them hope in places and times where there seemed to be no hope.
And so we watch and wait, in this Advent that will all too soon be over, for the bearer of our greatest hopes, the Christ
child, born of humble little Mary and watched over by the humble carpenter, Joseph. Born of young woman whom the proud and
powerful missed seeing as they waited for their Messiah who never came. But ours did.