We finally made it to the week of Christmas.
When we were little we gathered for Christmas at my grandparent’s house. I remember not being able to go to sleep that night and us reading “The Night Before Christmas” in my grandmother’s house. The house was packed with aunts, uncles, and cousins. We would gather at Greeleyville United Methodist Church for the Christmas Eve service. When we went to Cypress Gardens Assisted Living and were singing Christmas carols, I heard Annette Goins’ strong alto singing voice, and it brought back a wave of memories of me standing between my mom and grandmother singing alto. I remember most of the alto parts of “Joy to the World” and “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” but that’s about it.
We were the only grandkids back then and my uncle Jim (Bubba) had this fancy new video camera. (It was back in the 80’s.) We had to wait on the stairs until they got the cameras set up. It took FOREVER. It was like a million years to a kid, but probably more like 5 minutes. My grandfather loved to see our faces and used his principal-voice to keep us from bursting through the door. Waiting on the threshold seems like it’s taking forever, but we’ve come so far. Waiting all year for Santa Claus to come. The eager anticipation. Because you know something good is waiting for you on the other side. In this text, we see Mary as she finds out the news from Gabriel and then she sings her song of praise. It’s not cheesy Hallmark greeting cards or Christmas movies. It is powerfully prophetic, muchless from a teenage girl.
Luke 1:26-38, 46-56
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary’s Song of Praise
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 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 powerful from their thrones,
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Bill Wolf wrote one of the songs we’re going to sing on Christmas Eve, “A Baby Will Come,” while he was preparing a sermon on Mary’s Magnificat. He writes, “As I researched the social climate of Israel in the late first century B.C., I was overcome with how dire the lives of the Israelites had been. Between the brutal conquests of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus and the obscene taxation of Herod, King of Judea, the Israelites were enslaved once again, this time in their own backyard.
These were God’s people clinging to God’s promises, and yet life seemed to get harder and harder as the weight of oppression grew heavier and heavier. The Promised Land no longer felt like the Promised Land. Doubt began to set in.
It was into this climate that a young adolescent girl was visited by an angel of God and told that she would give birth to a baby boy. She was told His very name would be “Salvation” for her and for her people.
In a moment of joy and restraint, Mary sat down and reflected on what the angel had told her as she began to pen this poem. It is the first Christmas song ever written. It is a beautiful song; a poem that is on one hand personal and introspective, but on the other hand, charged with social and politically revolutionary language.
This was not a timid, scared little girl.
I had this phrase in my head, “The kings of the world have torn it apart. But take heart, a baby will be born.” How absurd of a thought is that? A baby? Yet that is the promise Mary was given. That is promise we have been given.”
And the baby grew to be a man that fulfilled his mother’s song. The man whose mother, Mary burst out with a spontaneous song of praise, sets us captives free. The people of Israel waited for the promised Messiah and that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. We are waiting still, for Jesus to come again, we’re standing on the threshold for the time in Revelation 21:3-4 describes, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
I did a funeral for a 20 year old yesterday. The chapel at Parks funeral home was packed as was the Summerville Cemetery when I did the graveside. He was the youngest of 4 brothers. The daughter-in-law who read the words of her mother-in-law, had experienced her own loss. She had a son born with a heart condition. He died a week after his first heart surgery. How to offer comfort and peace to a grieving family who’s been through so much? It’s a simple name. Jesus. Fully human and fully divine. Because I live, you will live also. That’s our hope, that’s our joy, that’s our peace, because of God’s abundant love, God sent Jesus to earth and Jesus took on our sins and defeated death, so we might live through him. Hear the Good News in that? It’s revolutionary. Jesus flipped the script. Evil thought it had won, but Jesus came. A baby was born.
It may be hard to find the good these days.
“Daniel Tiger” is a PBS spin-off from the prior Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. On the show, the characters say this phrase over and over again to each other and to the young children watching: “When something seems bad, turn it around, and make something good!”
In one episode, Daniel goes to the bakery and chooses the best birthday cake in the shape of a tiger just like him. He helps mold it until it looks stunning. He carries it home, but it gets jostled about a bit, and when he opens the box, the cake is sunken and misshapen. And his friends will be there any moment!
Daniel is devastated. His cake is ruined. But his father reminds him, “When something seems bad, turn it around, and find something good!”
“Daniel, can you find something good still in this cake?”
Daniel at first has a hard time….but then he realizes, it still tastes good! He samples it to see. No matter how it looks, it’s still a great cake, and he shares it with his friends.
I don’t know about you, but the further we get into this pandemic, my default, my resting place, is negative – tinged with bitterness. If I were Daniel Tiger, I might have looked above and shouted, “What else can go wrong?” We need the Holy Spirit to blow peace into our hearts, minds and lives.We all need those reality checks of God reminding us…..look further. Taste and see that the Lord is good! The Lord is faithful. As we await the gift of Christmas morning, let us eagerly anticipate Jesus’ second coming, with hearts wide open to sharing the good news that the angels sang about. Good news of great joy for ALL people! As we wait in the threshold, we won’t be disappointed because the gift as scripture tells us in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” We need to share that gift of Jesus, our Emmanuel, with everyone so they can come and know our Savior. It’s like this Advent candle, we need to carry our lights of hope, our beacons of love, our fires of joy, and our flames of peace to a hurting world to tell them about a Savior that came down to earth, to set us free from our sin, and we can be with him, now and forevermore. Our very lives depend on Jesus, our Emmanuel, our God with us.