December 23, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Advent Love – “Waiting in Welcome”
God is with us
Today we gather here to celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent. As we are getting closer to the coming of the Messiah, I can see how excited we are for our Christmas eve service and Christmas party after it. Although this is a time of celebration, let us not forget that there are people who can’t rejoice in this holiday as it can be a Blue Christmas to them… “How can we welcome and help people to rejoice in their lives” must be our concern for this Christmas season.
While meditating on todays’ scripture, I was thinking of the word, “welcome.” I believe welcome is a very proper term for the meaning of Christmas. The most marvelous event of Christmas in the Gospels is “Lord in heaven came to us as Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” God is with us because God welcomes us to his eternal fellowship through the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need.
God welcomes us
Our passage for this morning begins when “Mary visited Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth welcomed Mary” (v. 40). Elizabeth, the older one, was the wife of a priest Zechariah; she had been childless for long years; she must be in a shameful condition for her family and herself. When Mary visited her, she was now six-month pregnant with child (later named John), but at her old age, this must have been embarrassing. The younger one, Mary, was a poor and innocent girl from Nazareth, pregnant but not yet married to her fiancé Joseph. She probably needed time to get away from the eyes and tongues of people who knew her as a virgin, maybe even from Joseph. Anyway, Marry and Elizabeth were women without importance or with troubles in their lives and a far cry from most of the privileged people of all times.
Their social status somehow represents the miserable reality of Israel at their time. The Roman troops were everywhere to oppress the Israelites and thousands of people often appeared along the streets as they begged for food… In short, their times were bad, and everyone thought that they were going to get worse.
(And what is here today in our golden time to celebrate, as we also see many kinds of terrible accidents occurring randomly in our lives? We have to see that people we love get sick and die; our jobs and security are continually threatened; the future of children is uncertain; and the world has been torn apart by wars and terrors. It was then, and it is now, and it might be worse in the future. How can we rejoice in this time of uncertainty?)
In this world of violence and despair, according to our Gospel lesson for this morning, Mary visited Elizabeth, and they shared greetings and praised the Lord in joy and thanks! Considering their time and situations realistically, it might be nonsense or even foolish for them to sing for joy as they did in Luke’s Gospel. But this passage says that when Mary entered the house of Elizabeth, they could sing with joy! They celebrated their mysterious pregnancies (of God’s promise of salvation) inside of their house!
In one of the Hollywood movies in which Jim Carrey starred, the Grinch tried to steal Christmas by taking from the villagers all their Christmas decorations, all their trees, all their presents, and all their food that they enjoyed so much. And yet Christmas continued despite this theft because the villagers had Christmas inside them. As it was with the villagers in the film, so it was with Mary and Elizabeth, and so it can be and should be for us today as well.
In our history, those Grinches, those evil powers have kept on trying to steal our Christmas by looking at all the bad things, by destroying peace and joy in the world, and depressing our lives with shaky economy, high crime rates, and uncertain leadership in our country. But there in one thing that they couldn’t, cannot, and will never steal; that is our memory and faith deep in our hearts that “Jesus Christ our Savior was and is born in a broken and hopeless world to save his people from troubles.” No matter how bad our times are, nothing and nobody can steal our Emmanuel from our faith, even if we live in the worst of times. Halleluiah!
We welcome others
Back to the passage… Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth welcomed her, and they could celebrate their time together inside of their house. As expected in any culture, it is always a happy time when our families come to visit. We hear the bell ringing and our kids run with excitement to the door, shouting, “They’re here…” You are also happy to open the door and welcome them in your house. As everybody gathers in, you move on to have a Christmas party inside of your house!
Interestingly, when Elizabeth welcomed Mary at the door, her baby in her womb was also excited with Mary’s visit. Elizabeth shouted, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy” (v. 44). Elizabeth already knew that the baby carried by Mary is her Lord and Savior. Let me apply this powerful Advent image to our Sunday service… When we see people entering our church and joining in our worship, aren’t we excited to see them? The one who has Christ in one’s heart is coming in… don’t you feel your heart leap for joy?
Yet I still wonder what made Marry visit Elizabeth; what kind of emotion did she have when she visited Elizabeth? We know what happened to her before she went to see Elizabeth; she had a life changing encounter with an angel: “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (v. 35). How overwhelmed, frightened, anxious, confused, thrilled, awed, or even hopeful she was!!! Based on her mysterious experience, we can assume that it caused her to hurry to meet her cousin Elizabeth, so at least she could share her complicated emotion with a trusted confidant.
Mary entered the house. Probably she hoped that this was a place where she would be welcomed and comforted. Every Sunday, people walk through the door of a church probably because they hope they will be welcomed. When we welcome any visitors, however, we should know that they don’t just walk up to a church for no reason. They come because they are in need; they come because they have something in their hearts or in their lives and they want to be touched by our greetings and God’s words.
Throughout the images of those two unprivileged women, “Mary and Elizabeth,” the Gospel of Luke emphasizes God’s concern for the lowly, the disadvantaged, the broken-hearted… and it inspires us to become more mindful of ministries with and for the excluded. I hope we take this lesson as a way to acknowledge and warmly welcome those who visit our church, those we meet in our paths, those who are thirsting for love, fellowship, help, and counsel.
God enters into our hearts
Mary entered the house of Elizabeth and Elizabeth welcomed her. Welcome is the way we celebrate our Christmas! The Good News is that those Grinches out there, no matter how evil they are, can never steal our Christmas from us, and rather we can give birth to hope, peace, joy and love in this broken and hurting world waiting for God’s salvation and healing mercy upon it.
Yet, to make it more meaningful, we as recipients of Emmanuel should welcome our neighborhoods, especially those who are suffering the most during the holidays. God is with us because God enters into our hearts; God is with us as we also welcome Christ our Savior into our hearts; God is with us as we extend our welcome to people in need. Amen.