Sunday, December 19, 2021

Come Lord Jesus

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 

Katy, TX 77450 

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2021 

What a strange world we have in today’s gospel.  An old woman suddenly finds she is pregnant. A young woman, who is related to the older woman, who has never known a man is also pregnant. Mary travels to meet Elizabeth who is in her sixth month. One woman carries the messenger the other carries the message. Just as the women are related so to the messenger and the message that they carry are intimately related. No words are spoken initially yet there is recognition by all involved of the wondrous things that are about to happen. Elizabeth greets Mary with astounding words of joy and Mary replies with the words of the Magnificat. The Holy Spirit is definitely active in this story.

Today’s passage is full of prophesy and prophetic signs. They are not new ideas, but ancient ones in a new context. In fact our passage from Micah is speaking in part about a flood of refugees coming into Jerusalem fleeing among others war in Syria. The people of Jerusalem are worried about all these refugees flooding over their border. How will we feed and care for them? Micah promises a Messiah will come. I find it a little ironic that Micah wrote about an immigration crisis somewhere in Syria around 700 BCE! Sadly it seems that little has changed in the world. Yet the hope is there in his verses.

The Magnificat hearkens back to the ancient song of Hannah that Hannah sings to announce the birth of the prophet Samuel. Hannah you will remember was an older woman, almost past childbearing years. Samuel will proclaim a message that is very similar in many ways to the message Jesus will bring to us. Both songs are filled with images of the world turned upside down. Mary as a good Jewish girl, probably would have known the Song of Hannah. Luke portrays Jesus in most of his gospel as one who turns the world upside down.

The Magnificat also looks forward to Luke’s sermon on the plane where in this version of the beatitudes there are both blessings for the poor and powerless as well as woes for the wealthy and powerful. Now for those of us in the have rather than the have not side of the equation, this passage should make us squirm at least a little.

The hungry are fed and the rich sent away empty. The lowly are raised and the proud brought down.  Those without are cared for. Mary and Elizabeth seem to understand this ancient sense of justice and righteousness. This exchange is between two women of little power and in Mary’s case probably little money. Today’s world however does not seem to understand this biblical sense of justice and righteousness.

An Advent tradition for us is to watch the Christmas Carol in the old version with George C Scott. It’s the best version in my opinion. Usually it has been on a cold night with fire in the fireplace. I’m not sure that will happen this year! At least this year I can watch with my family gathered around us. At the end of the section with the ghost of Christmas present, Scrooge is left alone under a bridge in the cold and dark, totally alone as he awaits he is not sure what. He, one of those with many things, was left without. He had been brought down from his position of wealth. And now has to face the ghost of Christmas yet to come. At one point he says, “My God what have I done?” I found myself thinking of the Magnificat as I watched this scene. Scrooge has been brought down from his place of power and entitlement. The difference is I found myself thinking, what am I called to do. Then I heard Michael Curry’s voice in my ear. It’s the way of Love. If it’s not about love it isn’t about Jesus. Love is the theme for this last Sunday in Advent.

In the ancient world, care for the poor was a way of living where communities cared for their own and others. A righteous person in ancient Palestine followed the teachings of the prophets who continually called for all to be cared for. Leviticus required the people to care for the alien, the refugee as a member of the tribe. Today we seem to be moving against these biblical principles. Some in today’s world have gone so far as to say that those who are wealthy are wealthy because they are good, just people and God has rewarded them. Those who have little obviously have offended God and are being punished. Others simple blame them as lazy. And while for a few that may be true many in our country are just a lost paycheck away from poverty. Or they are a member of what we call the working poor. They work, but cannot make ends meet. Many of the homeless we feed in Houston are working, but not making enough to have a place to live or they have had a medical issue and have lost everything.

All of this is the mystery that Luke plays upon in his nativity story. Only in Luke are all the main characters in the story poor. In Matthew, the magi who travel from Persia proclaim Jesus King when they arrive at the “house.” The magi are among the powerful. They are so powerful that they can gain an audience with Harrod. In Luke, only the lowly shepherds attend the birth. Jesus is born in poverty, with no mention of Kings, rulers or anyone of any standing taking notice. Just shepherds who hear the angel’s message and act on the message.

I find myself this morning with more questions than answers. As we enter this last week of Advent, I invite you to take a few moments and ponder the following questions.

What can you do to restore this sense of justice and righteousness in our broken world?

Come Lord Jesus, quickly come.

So many are in need, so many are impoverished.

Impoverished of physical and spiritual nourishment.

One of the most profound moments in this passage is when John leaps inside Elizabeth when Mary approaches. What inside you leaps for joy at the approach of Jesus this Christmas?

Come Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Our hearts within us leap for joy at your approach

Come Lord Jesus, quickly come.

The time is at hand and we ache to know you better.

Come Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Our souls long for your touch and thirst for your life-giving waters.

Come Lord Jesus, quickly come.

We have prepared a place in our heart for you. Come fill us with your love. We need you now, our world needs you now, more than ever.