Sermon for Dec 4

By on December 4, 2016

The Gift of a New Understanding

Preached to Clark’s Chapel UMC on 4 Dec 2016

Luke 1:39-56

NIV Luke 1:39 ¶ At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.


Introduce / Establish Need


The Christmas season is now in full swing.  It is December and Christmas is 3 weeks from today.  For many people, it is a rush to get everything accomplished.  The risk is that the details of this rush become the focus of Christmas instead of the gift of Christmas.


I remember a Christmas meal at my grandmother’s house about 40 years ago.  My grandmother was a special lady and she loved Christmas.  She grew up during the depression and new what it was like to live in lean times.  As they began to have plenty, she enjoyed spoiling us with presents and food.  The highlight of Christmas day was the feast.  On that particular day, for some minute reason, my grandmother lost it.  My memory is faded over the cause, perhaps it was a dish that didn’t come out right, but I remember her crying that the dinner wasn’t right.  My mother and uncle got her calmed down and we did enjoy the feast, but for a moment, she missed the joy of Christmas.


Our aim this advent season is to not miss the gifts of Christmas.  Last week, we opened the gift of Good News as seen through the life of Joseph.  We found this gift wrapped with faith, hope, and love.  Today, we open the gift of a New Understanding as we follow Mary’s story from Luke’s gospel.  We pick up the story after Mary has been told by the angel that she will be the mother of the Messiah.


Into the Biblical World


Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is a fascinating interlude between the angel’s visit to Mary and when she returned home to be with Joseph and journey to Bethlehem.  Two unlikely mothers share the blessing of God in their lives, a blessing that leads to the salvation of people.  Remember, Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptizer and she was thought to be too old.  In their conversation, Elizabeth pronounces blessing.  Mary responds with a song of praise to God.  Its theme is about the mighty work of God, especially towards the humble and those who follow him.  Like Joseph, Mary and Elizabeth understand the concept of a living faith that trusts in the work of God.  You could say that they came to a new understanding of how God works as they pondered their role in the salvation story.


God has a role for us in the salvation story too!  As we open this gift, we unwrap a new picture of God, a new way of understanding others, and a new purpose for living.


Into Our Experience


Christmas is a fascinating time to contemplate who God is and to examine our picture or understanding of him.  The whole idea that Jesus is God and came to earth as a human baby tells us more than anything else how much God loves us!  The Bible gives us many glimpses of God’s character, but the overarching aspect of his character is love expressed through grace and mercy.  From the beginning of the Christmas story, we are told that Jesus is the promised Messiah who will deliver people from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.  So Mary would add that a picture of God we should have is that he is faithful.  Love and faithfulness, these should be pictures we have of God, illuminated by the backdrop of Christmas.


Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbors.  Christmas is a time when there is more community attention to loving other people and helping them out.  I regularly listen to WWNC in my driving time and as I was composing this sermon, they were partnering with Ingles to help needy children have a better Christmas.  There are angel trees.  People have contributed to Salvation Army kettles.  This seems to be a time of year in which we as a nation tend to be more loving to one another.


Mary said that God has lifted up the humble and filled the hungry with good things as she sees God’s plan in action.  The thought for us to consider is that God uses us to do this.  As our community does this because it is the holiday season, let us always be generous and loving towards others because this is more than a seasonal event for us.  It is our way of life.


Finally, Mary’s song and Elizabeth’s greeting exemplify God’s purpose in our lives.  Our thought is to discover our purpose through sharing in the Christmas story.  Last week we understood the promise of Christmas was that Jesus is God with us, Emmanuel.  As we hold onto this promise, it becomes evident that we respond by celebrating God’s love daily and passing it on to others; to live with purpose, dedicating everything we do to God.  The greatest gift we offer to this world is the one that Jesus gave to us – bring God’s love into the lives of people.


Let’s close by naming some activities that embody our understanding of God and the Christmas story:

  • giving to those in need
  • visiting the sick and shut-in
  • being kind and salting your conversation in a checkout line
  • inviting people to join you at church
  • not getting so caught up in the Christmas hype that you lose joy


Finally take time to receive God’s greatest gift:

  • Make time for family and that includes your church family
  • Take time to rest in the Lord as you read Christmas scriptures
  • Receive as you share God’s greatest gift in the world


Now may we share in God’s gift as we receive our Advent communion.


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