“Good News for Some is Dangerous News for Others”
23 December 2018
Forth Sunday of Advent
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
And 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.”
There will be a quiz following the sermon,
So please pay careful attention.
Here are the Cliff Notes of Luke’s Incarnation narrative
As found in the first chapter:
1. The angel Gabriel comes to the Jewish priest Zechariah.
Why? To inform him that his aging, post-menopausal wife Elizabeth
Will become pregnant and give birth to a boy, who he is to name John.
John will “be filled with the Holy Spirit,”
“Will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God,” and
“To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (1:16-17)
Because of Zechariah’s unbelief, Gabriel renders Zechariah mute.
Elizabeth becomes pregnant with John,
Just as Gabriel promised.
Visitation by an angel, pregnancy, and being made mute: miracles one, two, and three.
2. Six months later, the angel Gabriel visits the young virgin Mary
Who was engaged to Joseph.
Gabriel informs Mary that she “has found favor with God”
And that she will conceive and bear a son.
The Holy Spirit will be the father of the child.
“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.
He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (1:32-33)
Gabriel informs Mary about her older relative Elizabeth.
Mary accepts the offer to become the mother of God’s son and
She becomes pregnant.
Visitation by an angel and Immaculate Conception by the Holy Spirit: miracles four and five.
Gabriel is on a roll!
3. Our Gospel today reports
Mary immediately travels to meet Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth greets Mary,
Prenatal John was filled with the Holy Spirit and leaped in her womb.
This was again a physical confirmation of the angel Gabriel’s promise.
Mary sings for joy, praising God, for showing favor to her.
Mary continues to sing, much as the barren Hannah had sung
When she miraculously conceived and bore her son, Samuel. (I Samuel 2:1-10)
Like Hannah, Mary’s song points from what God was doing for her to
What God intends to do with humankind.
What is good news for some is dangerous news for others.
(I’ll come back to this in a moment).
The Holy Spirit filling John while in utero, making him leap and his mother aware: miracle six.
4. Mary stays with Elizabeth for 3 months.
When Elizabeth is ready to deliver John,
Mary, now 3 months pregnant, returns to her hometown Nazareth.
Elizabeth gives birth.
Zechariah, with the help of a tablet, names him John.
Zechariah’s tongue is freed and he praises God.
The Holy Spirit fills Zechariah.
The Holy Spirit speaks through Zechariah to reveal God’s plan for newborn John.
To prepare the way for the Lord,
To give knowledge of salvation to his people and the forgiveness of sins,
To witness to the coming Lord,
Who will come as light breaking out over the darkness and death,
To guide “our feet into the way of peace.” (1:79)
The loosening of Zechariah’s tongue and being filled with the Holy Spirit to prophesize: miracles seven and eight.
5. The second chapter of Lukje begins six months later
When Mary gives birth to Jesus,
But, that story will have to wait until darkness falls on Christmas Eve.
Luke doesn’t exactly tell an easy to follow tale.
His narrative isn’t linear or smooth.
It is hard to remember from one year to the next
How everything fits together.
Yet, Luke is able to expand upon other Gospel narratives leading up to the birth of Jesus
To reveal his grand theological trajectory,
Bearing witness to the essential truth about our God.
The Gospel of Luke does a masterful job painting on the canvas of human experience
God’s intervention in the world (called “Incarnation”), and
How this has forever changed our relationship
With each other and with our God.
Our Lord’s prior participation
Had been one of creation, and
Communicating through intermediaries (known as “prophets”)
Made promises (called “covenants”),
Established the rule of Law (think “10 Commandments”), and
Serving as judge and jury.
God had kept his distance.
Rarely had God stepped through that which divides heaven and earth.
Off the top of my head I can only think of two instances:
The wind, or Ruach, the Spirit of God, moving upon the face of the waters in Creation, and,
Speaking through the burning bush to Moses.
Other than that,
God’s personal attendance was lacking.
The Lord was our King who ruled from a distant land.
The revolving door of human behavior
Had been spinning since Adam and Eve:
Prosperity leads to sin,
Sin leads to judgment,
Judgment leads to punishment,
Punishment leads to repentance,
Repentance leads to redemption and restoration,
And restoration leads to prosperity, once again.
But, where was it getting us?
Yes, our God is a God who created us and loves us;
But we continue to be our own worst enemy and
We couldn’t climb out of this vortex of sin and evil.
As Luke narrates,
Is God’s resolve to do something new.
Everyone who has witnessed a royal wedding knows
How awesome it is
When banners unfurl, trumpets sound, and the crown is announced.
Thus, it is, with God.
We are given John to prepare the way for the Lord.
God knows how to make an entrance!
Is God’s resolve to break the never ending back-and-forth trench warfare
Between righteousness and sin,
Between life and death
Between light and darkness.
The Good News of Jesus Christ means
Sin is bought and paid for on the cross, once and for good.
It means life wins out over death.
It means light overcomes the darkness
And all challengers to God’s kingdom are in the process of
Being removed from the battlefield.
This is good news for followers of God,
For disciples of Jesus,
But it is dangerous news for those
Who fight for the other side,
Who thrive in the darkness of sin and death.
The crooked of this world face the prospect of being made straight
And their rough places made plain. (3:5)
Okay, here’s the quiz I promised you:
1. How many miracles does God complete in the first chapter of Luke? (8)
2. Yes or no; does God keep God’s promises? (yes!)
3. Was John set up to prepare the way for the Lord once he grew into adulthood and started baptizing in the wilderness? (yes!)
4. Is Jesus the Lord? (yes! But to hear all about his birth, you’ll have to come back tomorrow / Christmas Eve. We’ll celebrate it at 4:00 pm!)