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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Merry Christmas??

Fourth Sunday in Advent

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me –

holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:39-55

Mary had just had the most earth-shaking experience in the world. Nothing will ever surpass it. The angel Gabriel had come to her, sent by God to tell her that she was going to have a baby – by the power of God – a son who will be the Son of God!

So what did she do? The most natural, human thing she could do: she immediately ran off to tell someone, in this case her cousin, Elizabeth. She couldn’t wait to share what had happened to her. You can just imagine Elizabeth’s response, “Tell me all about it! What happened? Then what did Gabriel say? And what did you say?”

We human beings all need other human beings to share the big events in our lives – good ones and bad ones. To be a Christian is to believe in a God who is the God of the impossible – and to belong to a family of fellow Christians who are there when we need them most. As Christians, we have people to go to who will listen to us when great joy, or great sorrow, overwhelms us.

The person with whom Mary wanted to share this overwhelming news had certain qualities. First of all, she wasn’t envious. Elizabeth had also had a visit from the angel Gabriel, and she herself was bearing a miraculous child. But when she heard Mary’s good news, she acknowledged that the child Mary was carrying was even greater – and she rejoiced!

How blessed we are to have even a few friends like that. When we get a job promotion, or a pay raise, or buy a new car, or receive a special gift, isn’t it nice to have friends who can enjoy our success – and have joy leap inside of them, like the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb?! Isn’t it nice when we are that kind of friend?

Or when we’re hit with a job loss, or demotion, or the illness or death of a loved one, isn’t it nice to have friends who can sympathize with our pain? Isn’t it nice when we are that kind of friend?

Elizabeth was also able to affirm Mary’s experience and encourage her. She wasn’t the least bit skeptical. She said, “Blessed is she who has believed… what the Lord has said to her…” We have the power to affirm and bless each other like Elizabeth did. We need a few people in our lives whom we feel free to call on at any hour, even at two o’clock in the morning! If we’re in trouble or need – or if we have some exciting news!

I remember running out of gas on my way home after a date, pretty late one night. I was able to coast into a closed gas station. Sometimes there was some gas in the hoses, but not that night. So I walked home – it was only about a mile – and saw the next-door neighbor’s basement light on. So I knocked on his back door, and was surprised when he came to the door in his pajamas! He was surprised to see me, too! I told him his basement light was on and I assumed he was up. “At this time of night?” I told him I’d run out of gas, but not to worry, I’d get the car tomorrow. But that’s not the kind of person Mr. Peterson was! He insisted on getting dressed, taking me to get some gas and going to get the car! It’s nice to have friends like that.

Years later I got my turn to be awakened in the middle of the night – by a happy, excited friend. I was living in Virginia, and was selling gas vents – for venting gas furnaces and boilers – when I got a phone call from my former sales rep who was living back in California. He and some other people were planning to form a company to manufacture gas vents, and could they count on me to distribute their line? “Do you know it’s two o’clock in the morning?” “It is? Gee, it’s only 11:00 here in California.” Well, we talked, and I encouraged him, and he started up a company, and I was his customer. It’s nice to have good friends; it’s nice to have a chance to be a friend, too.

Mary stayed at Elizabeth’s home for 3 months, until John was born. What else would a relative and friend do in that society but stay until the delivery day. I can imagine what they talked about during those 3 months. I’ll bet they covered everything: angels and babies and God and Israel and the world. They shared life. What a blessing to be a child of God, in fellowship with other children of God – sharing our hopes and fears, our joys and our tears.

Mary was deeply moved and fully convinced by Gabriel’s announcement that the Savior was coming. The message of the Messiah’s coming overshadowed everything else – even her approaching marriage. She dropped everything to share the news with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary had something of great importance to tell.

We have the same story to tell, and that’s what Christmas is all about. But too often in our celebrating, the sharing of the Good News of our Savior isn’t so very important. The words and hymns that speak of the glorious coming of Jesus Christ into the world no longer stir us to repentance and faith. Instead, we look to other things for the purpose and joy of celebrating – and for life itself, but to no avail.

When the meaning of Christmas and its celebration are sought in things that are worldly and temporal, rather than in the truth of God’s word and the real meaning of Christmas, then what we picture as a beautiful and significant celebration of Christmas is just a mirage – and we end up with an empty feeling or maybe even a bitter taste. And then we have nothing to share that will bring true joy and meaning to our celebration and our lives. All we can share are the worldly activities: the lights, the tinsel, the parties, the material gifts – and hopelessness.

But – in sharing the news of Jesus Christ, we celebrate God’s present (His gift of Jesus) and His presence (His nearness in Jesus). And as Christians share the message of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit works through that word to bring spiritual blessings of life and salvation.

Mary and Elizabeth were chosen by God to play different roles in the Christmas story, but each had an important part. Through the role that each played, they shared with the other, the news and joy and hope of God’s gift of a Savior.

So we Christians today, through whatever role or ministry we have, are to share with our families, our fellow Christians and our unsaved friends the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Just as Mary and Elizabeth, through the word of God that they shared, received blessings of confirmation, inspiration, joy, and hope from the Holy Spirit, so today, as we share the word of God, we receive blessings to uphold, encourage and empower us in our Christian faith and life.

Mary and Elizabeth received from God a beautiful fellowship that was expressed in the Magnificat. Mary’s hymn of praise demonstrates the fellowship that existed between the two women during the 3 months of Mary’s stay. It also indicates how Mary and Elizabeth prepared for the coming events. Their preparation was founded on the word of God and guided by the Holy Spirit. And the result of their fellowship and preparation was a joyful confirmation of their faith in God’s promise of a Savior.

And that same fellowship of joyful preparation will also result today when Christian families and friends share and believe the word of God – and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas: the presence of God in Jesus Christ.

Because that’s who this holiday is all about: Jesus Christ who came to be our Savior, to live the life that we can’t live, to die the death which defeated death for us, and to win the victory that would make it possible for us to live with Him in Heaven forever – and to see again our loved ones who died in faith, and live with them forever.

As Mary responded to the angel Gabriel with the words, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said,” so we too are to respond to the Good News of our Savior’s birth. Our response is to share the news with our fellow Christians and our unsaved friends. We celebrate His birthday next weekend – don’t waste the opportunity. May god help us all!


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