39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted her cousin, Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in Elizabeth's womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 who has looked with favor on me, a lowly servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me:
holy is the name of the Lord,
50 whose mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
51 The arm of the Lord is filled with strength,
scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 God has helped Israel, the Lord's servant,
in remembrance of God’s mercy,
55 according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
We don’t always get this love thing right.
We withhold love, or expect others to earn it.
Remind us, again, this morning, of your love for us,
Of the gift of your love freely lavished upon us.
Help us to be vessels of your love in our world.
Can we just get this out of the way first? With all due respect to Mark Lowry, Buddy Greene, Michael English, and the Gaither Vocal Band…yes…Mary knew. In your bibles, check out just before this in Luke chapter 1, when the angel Gabriel literally tells Mary…
It’s a weird sort of phenomenon and incredibly difficult to describe the way that love multiplies and grows…particularly as it relates to children. My heart did this strange thing when Ollie was born…it, like, grew…and expanded…it made more space…for love. I didn’t think it was possible to just, all of a sudden, have more love…but I did…sure enough. And in the same way, it’s terribly difficult to describe the heartache and heartbreak felt by those who desire to have kids, who want to have children…but are unable…or who find their attempts beset by infertility or miscarriages or complications or any number of horrible medical realities. It’s incredibly difficult to describe that kind of hurt, that kind of longing, that kind of void that opens up that you want nothing more than to be able to fill with love.
Love and children…pretty synonymous.
Fully acknowledging that they can sometimes be downright monsters…still…there’s a lot to love about them. And a lot of hurt and feelings of lovelessness when one’s deep desires aren’t able to be realized.
In Mary’s case, there’s a lot of love tucked away in that belly.
Like, so much love—Love incarnate—growing away in there. The fullness of all the love that God has for the world…all contained within that tiny growing baby. Which, in a few short months from our gospel this morning, would come to be born and the complete fullness of God, the fullness of God’s love, God’s very own self…would arrive and make God’s home here…on earth…in our world.
In our Advent series from A Sanctified Art called Close to Home, we’ve been exploring the depths of this love, our longing after God, and our anticipation of the time when God comes to dwell with us, with humanity…when God makes God’s home among us, in our midst. We began our Advent journey with a feeling of homesickness and that feeling of longing and the hope we hold onto in the midst of feeling far from home.
Then we talked about preparing the way and John the baptizer coming before and how if we’re going to start building this home, we’ve got to start with a foundation of peace.
And last week we talked about what it might mean for this home to truly be home for all, a place where people can rediscover joy and rejoice in their belovedness, and a place that is full of joy because everyone is looking out for one another and sharing what they have and sharing resources, and people don’t go without because our freedom and our liberation and our thriving and our flourishing is all tied up together, and we all have what we need when we are actively and joyfully looking out for one another’s best interests.
And this week, we hear and we’re talking about what it means to welcome people into this place of welcome…how we show and share in love when people can find refuge and sanctuary and safety within this structure of love. We’re talking about creating spaces of love, and loving people so much that they feel welcomed and invited to bring their fullest selves, and their hurts and their pain and their burdens here, while we share in these moments of love together.
I’ve mentioned throughout this series that hope, peace, and joy aren’t fragile things…about how they’re tough and rugged and gritty, and hard-fought and hard-won, and sturdy and tested and well-worn. And friends, love is no exception.
It’s a thing I tend to say often when I preach at weddings…but love, isn’t a feeling…love is an action… Love isn’t the sweet, saccharine emotion you see on the Hallmark Channel, love is most often and most clearly seen in hospital rooms, and cancer center waiting rooms, and soup kitchens and homeless shelters and food pantries… Love, too…is well-worn…and gritty, and rugged, and sturdy, and tough.
Love requires something from you. Love demands it.
We’re not always good at this love thing. We talk about loving our selves and self-care, and most of the time we do a pretty decent job at looking at ourselves and those close to us with eyes of compassion and love, but I think, if we’re honest, we should have to say that we expect everyone else to earn it. Those that don’t look like you or think like you or speak like you, those that you don’t agree with…they have to prove they’re deserving of your love…
Church, love requires you to give up your individual self for the sake of the relationship. Love requires you to give up your need to be right. Love requires you to give up your need to always have the last word. Love requires you to set aside your own preferences and wants and desires and opinions…in the interest of what’s best for the whole, what’s best for all.
Love means that you don’t always get your way.
But what you do get is so much better.
Because what you’ll find is that love creates a space of safety. True no-strings-attached, unconditional, freely-given love makes space. It opens up space for others. Loving people just as they are and allowing them to be the person that God has created them to be creates the conditions for growth and change and transformation to happen.
If we want to grow, if we want to see the structure built bigger and the circle drawn wider, we have to be willing to have space to grow. We can’t grow if we’re unwilling to move the walls of the structure. The structure itself has to be flexible, it has to be willing to grow…it has to be willing to bend and change and transform.
Mary’s song of praise we heard this morning, the Magnificat, imagines a radically restructured world. A home for all where love is the thing that holds it all together and a place where sanctuary and safety for all is guaranteed because of the love that’s infused throughout the structure. The Magnificat envisions a home where the powerful are brought low and the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are fed from the bread of those that have, the thirsty are given water to drink by those who control the taps. Mary’s song envisions a great leveling of the entire system.
When we are sincere to people about our invitation to “come home”, to return to God and to return to the source of their healing and wellness…the source of love…when we are sincere in that invitation, it necessarily means that we have to be willing to create space. It necessarily means that we have to be willing to hold space and allow people to be who they are and who they are becoming and who God created them to be.
True welcome and invitation necessarily means that we make space.
If these familiar stories we hear every year around this time, if these familiar nativity narratives tell us anything, it’s that by making space for those who can’t find a place to stay…we just might be welcoming Christ into our midst.
Church, how could we possibly miss out on that opportunity to behold such a magnificent gift of love.
Blessed Advent, church.
We’re so close to home.
See you Friday, when again we’ll hear the end…and the beginning…of this incredible love story…when this gift of love is born into our midst once again.
See you Friday, when you, dear child, will be welcomed home…once again…