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Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-3 “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,   because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”

Gospel Reading: Luke 1: 1-4; 26-45  ” Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilledamong us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, o that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”   Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  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!”

 

This month we have started a congregational conversation on Hope Restored.  We have heard preachers talk about all the wonderful ways in which we can feel connected both to each other and to the Gospel.  We have heard that restoration is possible, and is, in fact, a gift from God.  In preparation and expectation of this joyful holiday season, we have begun to light advent candles, adding a new layer to our churches way of worshiping, incorporating some of the traditions of our denomination into our local church.

And here we are, today is the third Sunday of Advent.  That means that after today, there are less than two weeks till Christmas!  That means that we are finishing up our shopping, decorating, planning our menus, and catching up with loved ones. It occurred to me, that this season is really hard on some people.  For some people, this is a rough time of year.  Their loved ones are too far to visit, leaving them feeling lonely.  Maybe this is the first year that they can’t afford to invite a houseful of guests.  Maybe this is the year that their family issues have become public knowledge and they are having a hard time listening to the murmurs.  During this holiday season as we sit around and catch up with each other, I dare you to ask, did you hear what happened to Mary?

Please, join me in reading Luke 1:1-4[1],

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Now, most of you are asking yourselves what does that have to do with Mary? Luke was introducing us to his investigative report[2] of Jesus’ story.  Luke was not claiming to have been there, he was not saying he knew anything from personal experience, instead, Luke was writing to believers who had already heard the stories and he was letting us know he wasn’t merely spreading gossip, but rather telling us what really happened.

Meet the Pregnant Virgin (Luke 1:26-38)

Understand that each part of a story has a purpose.  When we talk about people, we need to be careful because what we know is only part of a bigger piece of their story.  Imagine the scene around your Christmas table: an honored guest, a stranger, sits next to you and as you talk you realize you have a friend in common…did you hear what happened to Mary?  The Reverend Penny Lowes[3], wrote the story in this way:

What I’m about to say is true.  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent an angel named Gabriel to the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  Gabriel appeared to a virgin named Mary who was engaged to be married to Joseph, who was descended from King David.  Upon seeing her, Gabriel said: “Good morning! You are God’s beautiful daughter.  May God be with you!”  As you can imagine she was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was going on.  But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear, God has a surprise for you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son you’ll name Jesus.”  Mary couldn’t imagine this and said to the angel, “How can this be?  I’ve never been with a man.”  Gabriel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, God’s spirit will hover over you and the child you birth will be called Holy, the Son of God.”  And that’s not all – your cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant with a son as well.  Truly, it happened this way, a long, long time ago.

Mary was young, unwed, and pregnant.  I am sure people had a lot to say about her “situation.”  I cannot imagine it was easy for Mary to have people talking about her, talking about her unborn child, idly spreading her story.  What a scandal!  The Bible tells us how to act in these situations, in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15 Paul warns the church, “We hear that some among you are idle…they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.  And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right…Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” 

Her confidante, Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39-45, 56)

You may be wondering what we can do when we are faced with similar situations around our tables.  Remember that God restores us to the position He promised us, even when others try to pull us down[4].  I know that when I feel people are talking about me, dragging me through the mud, even if it’s based on lies and half-truths I feel bad, and I feel embarrassed and I want to hide.  And that is when I am most in need of a friend.  

So, imagine we are sitting at a kitchen table and I have just talked to an Angel who turned my world upside down.  He told me truths about myself and confirmed some of the stories I have heard about my cousin, Elizabeth:

What I’m about to say is true.  I ran to my cousin’s house when  Gabriel told me what he told me.  I couldn’t get there fast enough.  For months, I had been hearing that her husband had gone mute.  Only God knows what he saw, what he heard that took the words right out of his mouth!  I had heard so many things…I couldn’t tell you who I was more concerned about, it was like suddenly I realized that as much as people were talking about me, wow, my cousin’s story was part of my story…I had to be with her…

And Finally, Here Is Jesus (Drawing out the Implications)

Be a friend.  Be a friend to someone else, always!  Don’t just be a friend during the good times, when the party is going strong.  Be a friend during the bad times, when the party is over and it is time to clean the mess.  That is when true friendships are born, in the tough times.  Jesus, the reason for this season is that type of friend.  We have not met him, yet.  But we soon will!

Conclusion

The holidays are a time when we catch up with loved ones, a time when we get to hear stories from people and about people who, maybe, we have not seen in a while.  I ask that we be present, and mindful as we catch up with each other.  Be a “Good Stewart of Friendship”  Be a confidant!

Please join us in the upcoming weeks as we conclude on Christmas morning: Breakfast with Jesus. 

May God bless you and give you peace!

 

 

Bibliography

 

The Bible.  The New International Version.

Craddock, Fred B. “Preaching Verse by Verse.” Patterns of Preaching A Sermon Sampler. ed. Ronald J. Allen, 29-35.  St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1998.

Franklin, Eric. “Luke.” The Oxford Bible Commentary. ed. John Barton and John Muddiman, 922-959.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Perkins, Pheme.  Reading the New Testament, 2nd ed.  New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1988.

Reddish, Mitchell G.  An Introduction to the Gospels.  Nashville, TS: Abingdon Press, 1997.

Ukpong, Justin. “Luke.” In Global Bible Commentary. ed. Daniel Patte, 385-394.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003.

Lowes, Penny L.  “From Tears to Rejoicing-Service Prayers for the Third Sunday of Advent.”  <http://www.ucc.org/worship/worship-ways/from-tears-to-rejoicing.html&gt; Cited 5 December 2011.


[1] The New International Version (NIV) – 2010 (Colorado Springs: Biblica Inc.), All citations are from the NIV, unless otherwise noted.

[2] Eric Franklin, “Luke.” The Oxford Bible Commentary. ed. John Barton and John Muddiman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 922-959.

[3] Penny Lowes, “From Tears to Rejoicing-Service Prayers for the Third Sunday of Advent, <http://www.ucc.org/worship/worship-ways/from-tears-to-rejoicing.html&gt; (cited 5 December 2011).

[4] Justin Ukpong, “Luke,” in Global Bible Commentary, ed. Daniel Patte (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 385-394.

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