Advent 4 – The Lord Takes on a Body to Give us Peace
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Arrivals Are Reminders
It’s different when you see. Many years ago there was a girl who would travel across the border, into another state to visit his Aunt and Uncle. And, every year, she was amazed at what she had the opportunity to remember and also what she had the opportunity to remember in a new way. She remembered that her uncle would play the piano when they arrived. But when they got there, it was even better than how she remembered it. She remembered that her Aunt would make tasty food. But when she sank her teeth into the cookies, it was more and better than her memory. And the reason it was more and better was because arrivals are reminders of who a person actually is, not just what we remember about that person. This morning we get to travel with Mary. She goes and visits her relative, Elizabeth. And through them we receive reminders. But they are not as much reminders about who Mary and Elizabeth are. No, instead, we receive reminders of who our Lord God is. In luke 1, we read: “39 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah 40 where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed! 43 How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!”” (Luke 1:39–45 CSB17)
The angel appears to Mary and tells her that she would be the one who would give birth to the Christ, the Messiah. Mary then travels to Elizabeth’s house. And when she arrives, she is not just reminded who Elizabeth is and what she is like. Through Elizabeth she is reminded who God is. By the Holy Spirit Elizabeth reminded Mary who the Lord is. The Lord is the one who fulfills his promises. He does not forget. Instead, what the Lord speaks he fulfills. And the Lord gave her this amazing gift of faith to not just receive this truth, but also trust it. I had a professor once who said that there were several miracles at Christmas. One is that God took on human flesh. The other miracle which is so amazing is that anyone at all in the world would believe it. Here we see Mary believing what she has not seen yet. And Elizabeth reminds Mary of who the Lord is. He fulfills.
And through Elizabeth, still today, we need that same reminder. The Lord fulfills his promises. And with his arrivals, his advents, he reminds us that this is who he is. He comes to us right now, day after day, through his word. He fulfills his promises and forgives our sins. What an amazing thought that is: When we hear God’s promises of forgiveness spoken to us in the bible as we read it, or from the pastor at the front of church, he fulfills his promise to forgive us. The seemingly small sins we so easily forget—they are forgiven as Jesus arrives here in our lives with his word. The sins we cannot forget—they too are forgiven here in God’s word as he comes to us and fulfills what he has promised.
Arrivals are reminders. Elizabeth reminds Mary of who the Lord is. He is the kind of God who fulfills what he promises. But in reaction to that, Mary also has a reminder to speak of to Elizabeth and to us all: “46 And Mary said: My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is holy. 50 His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him. 51 He has done a mighty deed with his arm; he has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. 53 He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he spoke to our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46–55 CSB17)
The arrival of Mary at Elizabeth’s house gave Elizabeth the opportunity to remind Mary that God fulfills. But here we have the amazing opportunity to hear what Mary reminds Elizabeth of. Mary praises the Lord because he remembers his own mercy. What an amazing fact and truth that this arrival brought her.
And that makes us ask the question, “what is mercy?” Mercy is this unique sort of love that reaches out and cares for someone because they are so helpless and hopeless. When we were children, I remember driving back home in the coldest part of winter from church. There was this long bridge we would travel on to get home every Sunday. And I was in the back of the car asleep. But my siblings were not. They shouted loudly to Dad up front. There was this dog on the side of the road, freezing in the cold. Looking back, I wonder if Dad had the temptation to just keep driving on. But, nevertheless, what did he do? He stopped at the side of the road. He got out and scooped the shivering dog into his arms and brought it into our car. And he tried everything to get rid of that dog. He asked around. He put ads in the paper. But no one claimed the dog. And so, that dog became our dog.
That, my friends in Christ, is mercy. What drew us to that dog was not its loveliness or its ability to give anything to us. Instead, what drew us to it was its lowliness. Unless we acted, that dog was without help and without hope. That’s what mercy is. And that’s the reason Mary praised the Lord. He remembered his mercy. Our Lord isn’t just the sort of God who fulfills his promises. He is also our God who is merciful.
And in Mary’s life that meant the world to Mary. For Mary was lowly and vulnerable. If you were going to make a list, what would be on that list of ways Mary was vulnerable? She was poor. She was pregnant. When people found out that she was pregnant far before she should have been she would be put to shame. But far more than all of these, she was vulnerable in that she could not be the Savior for her sin. And the amazing way the Lord remembered his mercy was by being Mary’s Savior from sin.
This arrival of Mary to Elizabeth powerfully reminded Mary that God remembers his mercy. And every time we read these words we too have the same reminder in our own lives. God does not love us because of our loveliness. He loves us because of our lowliness. We too are vulnerable. And the biggest, largest way we are vulnerable is that we cannot pay for our sin—not in whole, not in part. We are in complete need of a Savior for our sins just as Mary was. How many times per day or week do we know we shouldn’t think thoughts that show we do not trust our Lord to fulfill his promises? How many times do we put our trust in ourselves—our own abilities and energies instead of God? And how amazing is God’s mercy towards us!
Arrivals are reminders. The girl was reminded when she saw her Aunt and Uncle face to face of not just what they were like. That arrival was a reminder of who they were. Our Lord God makes his advents and arrivals into our lives through his word. And with them we are reminded that he fulfills his promises and he remembers his mercy. But, my dear friends, there will be one last arrival. We will arrive in heaven in the Lord’s good and perfect time. And when that happens we will have this powerful reminder that we read about who the Lord was. And year after year we reminded each other of this like Mary and Elizabeth did to each other. But there will be a day when we will get to see it with our own eyes. Arrivals are reminders. Amen.