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December 23, 2018

“Sing: Proclaiming the Gospel of Salvation”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Hebrews 10.5-10

Luke 1.46-55

December 23, 2018

During Advent we celebrate God’s presence with us, as well as our longing for God – or, in Spanish, anhelo for God. We take time to pause and quiet our hearts and minds. This seems a nearly impossible task during this time of year. We have stacked our to do lists so full that we barely have time to sleep. Our moments are filled with Christmas shopping, present wrapping, Christmas card writing, and Christmas parties. Oh, and we work and have lives in that time, too. We might enjoy all of these things, but sometimes when we pack our days full of too much excitement, we hit sensory overload and we cease hearing the silence, the voice of God, or even the person next to us.
Siri Liv Myhrom wrote a beautiful blog entry about the busyness of the season and the quieting of Advent. She grew up as a PK, or Pastor’s Kid. Her father was a Lutheran pastor. She noted that a contemplative season for the church was never such for her because her father was always moving from one Advent or Christmas activity to the other. She didn’t lament this but recognized it for what it was, and that she struggled to find the space for quiet in the season. Now that she has her own kids she continues to struggle with how to create that sacred space within her own family. She wrote that she sits down with her family and lights the Advent candles each week, and her daughter, an extroverted bundle of energy, slowed down, stared at the candle, and commented: “Look….it’s reaching for me…the light is trying to reach me.”[1] What a deep and profound statement – the light is trying to reach me. During Advent, I believe the light – Christ – is trying to reach us all. The reason God came down to be with us is because God has anhelo – a longing – for us, as well.

Each week we have explored one of the Great Ends of the Church. The list of all six is after the order of worship in your bulletin. These Great Ends are the purposes of the church in the world, found in our Book of Order. Today we will discuss the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind. That is a long way of saying the body of Christ is responsible for taking the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. This is our call as disciples. Last week we discussed the responsibility of being a worshipful community, where we listen to God’s Word and interpret how God is speaking to us. This week we take that Word out into the community, because it is good news for everyone – not just those in these four walls. Those flames of Christ’s light are reaching for us – and for others. God’s salvation is for all, because God came to the earth for all people.

Today’s Gospel reading is the first real traditional Christmas scripture we have had during Advent. Yet, we might say that there is not much traditional about it at all. Mary had been visited by an angel who told her she would conceive a child who would be the Messiah. Immediately, she accepts this calling and is “overshadowed” by the Spirit and goes to see Elizabeth, her cousin, who is also pregnant. The passage we read today is a song Mary sings while she is at Elizabeth’s house. This song has similarities to Hannah, whom you might remember from a few months ago. Hannah was unable to have a child but went to the temple and prayed to God. She became pregnant and sang a song of joy to God. The song that is typically sung by pregnant women in the Bible is from women who have struggled to become pregnant. This is a new song – one of a woman who did not expect to become pregnant. It is still a joyous song, but it is different than the “traditional.”[2] Mary’s story is unique because God is working in a new and unexpected way.

As I mentioned, Mary rushed to see Elizabeth as soon as she finished her conversation with the angel. Why would she do this? The faith and writing class has engaged in a study of Mary during the season of Advent and we explored the various reasons why Mary would rush to her. She might have gone to confirm that this truly was a sign from God. Sometimes we eagerly agree to something and then question our actions later. Perhaps she did have some doubts. Yet, if there were any doubts, they fluttered away immediately as she called out to Elizabeth, rushed to greet her with open arms, and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy.

I believe that one of the reasons Mary rushed to see Elizabeth was for community. People make connections over the bodily changes that happen in life cycles. As one ages and loses eyesight or memory or hearing, often people share their stories of laughter at the silly ways one forgot where they put their keys, or the pain at forgetting someone’s name. We support one another with the stories of reality that happen in communities. Women who have been pregnant or experienced a pregnancy loss also gravitate to one another, telling their stories. In this case, the two women who are experiencing pregnancy can sit down together and talk about morning sickness and swollen feet and their children’s future. They can share recipes for ailments and talk about their joys and fears. Pregnant women have done this for generations.

Yet, there probably as a bit of confirmation in this – that her symptoms were not unusual, that the uncomfortable bloat was not so unusual, and the excitement mixed with fear was common for any young mother. Elizabeth probably reassured her. In many ways, isn’t this what a faith community is about? We hear a message from God or read scripture and wonder if we hear God correctly. We wonder if we have interpreted the message with wisdom and love. We are able to share our honest stories with one another and to share our God moments. We can give reassurance that we have been there, or we know someone who has been there, or, we don’t know what they are going through, but we will walk through it with them. This is why we celebrate Advent and Christmas – we remember that in the midst of the difficult world, God came down to be with us. God walked the earth and lived as human. God experienced the world as we experience it. Even though God is not in physical human form now, we are assured that Christ will return – and so we reassure each other each year with this confirmation and hope.

Of course we tell these stories, because we cannot keep in the good news. Eugene Peterson describes Mary in Luke as “bursting with God news.” I always think of this passage at this time of year because we are all bursting with God news. As Philip Campbell explains it, “the Gospel joy is always a shared joy.”[3] The good news of God’s salvation is not something we can keep within us because we are overwhelmed with joy and it will show in our words and actions. We are compelled to share the good news.

Mary’s song gives a description of the ways that God has bent down to earth and turned the world upside down. She explains how God lifts up the lowly and cares for the poor and loves those who are in the margins. Mary, the mother of Jesus, this woman who had no money and was not in a position of power, reminds us that God came to her and shared the gift of salvation. The Gospel is for all people, not just those who are in places of privilege.

The Hebrews passage is interesting for Advent inasmuch as it brings into full view the entirety of Jesus’ life, and death. The author of this passage begins by stating that Jesus said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” This is interesting because the Gospels do not quote Jesus as saying this, nor was the author of this passage present during Jesus’ life. How did the author know Jesus said this? Well, he or she doesn’t, but does take this quote from Psalm 40. Did Jesus say this? It is possible. Jesus knew scripture and it is probably a safe assumption that Jesus prayed and recited the psalms. The importance may not be in whether or not Jesus said these exact words, but that the purpose of his entering the world in human form takes on this significance. The incarnation of God is bodily. There is an emphasis on how God entered the world in human form – with a human body. This specific psalm talks about the body, but also reminds us that the sacrifices that were being made – those of animals – were not as important.[4] Reading this psalm through Jesus’ lens, we see that the sacrifices acceptable to God are not human made – they came in human form – once and for all.

We all need God’s salvation. We all need Jesus. Yet we can make absolutely no sacrifice that will connect us with God or cleanse us from sin – because Jesus already made that sacrifice. Sometimes we have to recognize that we are not the ones in charge and that we have to let go of our hemming and hawing. We have to let go of our excuses. The psalm this comes from talks about sheep and bulls and the fact that the sacrifice of these animals isn’t sufficient. Sometimes we have to drop what we are doing, look to God, and admit “I’m all out of bull, I need help, and your grace is sufficient.”

As we approach Christmas, we know that we need Jesus. We need this small baby, the one who graces us with love and peace. We need the Christ who will return and continue to turn our lives upside down. We need to reach for Jesus, for Jesus is reaching for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.


[2] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 22.

[3] Philip E. Campbell, “Philippians 4.4-7” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 66.

[4] Stephen P. Eason, “Hebrews 10.5-10” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 90.