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Sermon for December 19, 2021 — Fourth Sunday of Advent

Speaking Of Life 4004 | The Witness of Christmas Music

Bright lights twinkling in the moonlight, decorations in homes, and of course the joyful sound of carols resounding through the night are markers that Christmas is here. When Mary was waiting for Jesus’ birth, she sang a song of hope and love. She was looking forward to the marvelous wonders that Jesus would bring into the world! Mary reminds us to be hopeful and joyful as we celebrate the coming of our Savior, Jesus.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4004 | The Witness of Christmas Music
Heber Ticas

Can you imagine the Christmas season without Christmas carols? The music of Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season. And I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t like Christmas music because it is virtually impossible to avoid as Christmas approaches.

In fact, I would imagine, if you never went to church and never looked at a calendar, you will still know when Christmas was close. Even in its commercialized ways, Christmas music has a way of announcing to the world that something exciting and celebratory is coming. As Christmas day approaches, the airwaves become saturated with the distinctive sounds of carols and music that pave the way for celebration. You can hardly turn on the radio without being greeted by some familiar Christmas jingle. And in the Church, music takes a deafening turn during the Advent season to usher in the celebration of the birth of Jesus. What an amazing witness Christmas music provides to the entire world of the coming of Jesus Christ, her rightful King.

Admittedly, some Christmas songs are better than others and not all reflect in their lyrics an accurate portrayal of what Christmas is all about. Some songs have nothing to do with Jesus. But this does not stop the witness that something in our world is about to change. The change in music anticipates the change that Christmas is bringing.

Did you know that this witness in music was also part of the first Christmas celebration? The Gospel of Luke in the first two chapters makes this very clear. There are five songs, two by men, two by women, and one by a host of heavenly angels. Each in their own way anticipates and announces the coming of Jesus. The witness is clear. When Jesus breaks in, worship breaks out.

Here is one song sang by Mary, as she awaits to give birth to Jesus:

With all my heart
I praise the Lord,
and I am glad
because of God my Savior.
He cares for me,
his humble servant.
From now on,
all people will say
God has blessed me.
God All-Powerful has done
great things for me,
and his name is holy.
He always shows mercy
to everyone
who worships him.

Luke 1:46-50 (CEV)

Mary’s song anticipates and celebrates the wonderful changes that are coming with Jesus’ birth—changes for her, her people, and the whole world. We too can lift up our voices in praise and worship, joining with Mary, the angels, and others, as we witness in song to each other, and to the world, the glorious good news of the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 80:1-7 • Micah 5:2-5a • Hebrews 10:5-10 • Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

This week’s theme is heightened expectations of Christ’s coming. The call to worship Psalm looks for restoration of salvation in its address to God as shepherd of Israel. Micah 5 anticipates the birth of a great ruler from the small village of Bethlehem. Luke 1 shares with us the expectant hope of the birth of Jesus from the lips of Mary and Elizabeth. Hebrews 10 explores the meaning of the Christ coming into the world by the Incarnation.

The Great Reversal

Luke 1:39-45 (ESV)

Today marks the last stop of our Advent journey on the liturgical calendar. During our journey we have been following along in the Gospel of Luke, sharing in the anticipation and expectation the stories bring us into. Advent is a time where we can be reminded that God does not remain distant or aloof from his creation. He aims to break in with his hope, peace, joy, and love. And he has done this most definitely in his Son Jesus Christ. Today, we will look at one more story, and a song from the lips of Elizabeth, an elderly woman who had been barren her entire life.

The story begins after Mary is visited by an angel who tells her she will give birth to the Son of God. A message like that will get you moving, and that’s exactly what Mary does.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40 ESV)

Elizabeth is Mary’s relative, and Mary doesn’t want to waste any time in telling her this surprising news. The distance from Nazareth to Zechariah’s home in Judea could have been between fifty to seventy miles. That is quite a long trip for Mary to ponder all that has happened. Considering Mary is not married, you can imagine how she may have worked over in her mind how she would be received when she delivered the news that she was pregnant. But Mary has also been informed that Elizabeth has a surprise of her own. She, too, although advanced in age and previously barren, is pregnant as well. This will be some reunion, for sure.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41-42 ESV)

This response from Elizabeth begins a pattern of reversals that the birth of Jesus will bring about. Remember, Elizabeth had been barren her entire life. During this time in ancient Israel, this would have been looked upon as a curse. Elizabeth had lived many years under the curse of being fruitless, bearing the shame and stigma that came with it. But here, by simply hearing the greeting of Mary, “the baby leaped in her womb.” What an instant reminder to Elizabeth that her curse had been reversed. She had been blessed. Not only that, “filled with the Holy Spirit” she spoke words of blessing to Mary. This is a wonderful picture of blessing. When God blesses, his blessings are meant to be shared. Elizabeth shares her blessing by saying, “Blessed are you among women.” Can you imagine what those words would have meant for Mary? Here she is, a woman who by all accounts is in a very shameful situation: pregnant and unmarried. In her culture she would be the least among women, not the other way round. Another reversal. What grace the Spirit poured out on Elizabeth! Mary didn’t even have to tell the news of her pregnancy and hold her breath for her relative’s response.

We also see Elizabeth’s response to be in line with being a prophet, or in her case a prophetess. She also says, “blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The text does not state that Mary told her about her pregnancy. But it appears the Spirit let her in on Mary’s secret and she proclaimed it boldly. This response stands in contrast to her husband Zechariah, the priest, who was muted by the angel Gabriel for questioning the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Another reversal of sorts. And Elizabeth is not done uttering words of praise that are Spirit inspired.

“And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43 ESV)

Elizabeth through the Spirit knows who Mary’s child is, for she calls Mary “the mother of my Lord.” This is a staggering prophetic proclamation. She sees beyond what many would consider an unwanted pregnancy and grasps God’s work in it. She sees that this young teenage girl, whom many will judge as lowly and shameful, is in fact the mother of the Lord in whose name “every knee should bend” (Phil. 2:10).

How often do we miss the Lord’s presence and what he is doing because we hold to our culturally induced assumptions? When Elizabeth greets Mary with honor, she challenges social expectations. Mary, as an unmarried pregnant woman, should expect to be a social embarrassment full of shame. She should expect to be ostracized and frowned on by her older relative, especially one from a religious family. Yet Elizabeth is humbled by her own experience, and she has seen the cost of humiliation and exclusion. In her culture, if a woman failed to produce offspring, she had failed at what was seen as her primary purpose in life. For Elizabeth, this meant she had endured a lifetime of being looked on as a failure. Her own miraculous pregnancy has opened her eyes to God’s grace that grants great reversals. Earlier Luke records Elizabeth’s words about this experience: “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” (Luke 1:25). After all the wait, even in her old age, she is now seen as an honorable married woman, carrying her husband’s son.

God’s grace extended to her enables her to open her arms and her home to this relative. By welcoming, blessing, and celebrating Mary and her pregnancy she has participated in the reversal the Lord is bringing by turning what would have been a moment of shame into a lasting proclamation of joy and honor. In this way, Elizabeth points to the same kind of inclusive love that Jesus shows to prostitutes and sinners.

We too can bear witness to Christ when we open our hearts and homes to those our culture may reject. We need to let the Spirit open our mouths to speak blessing to those others have cursed. When we see God working in others, it can do wonders to tell them what you see God doing. We can all be encouraged and blessed by the words of an “Elizabeth” who speaks truth and grace into our lives. We can do this when we know that God is present and that he is a blessing God.

Also, notice the humility in Elizabeth’s responses. This enables the dialogue between Elizabeth and Mary to portray Jesus as more important than John. There is no competition between mothers in this intimate scene. The focus is on the Advent of Jesus, the Savior of the world.

“For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44 ESV)

Mary and Elizabeth, in this way, signify in their response the reality that is coming in the birth of Jesus. Jesus is God’s Word that greets us. His Word achieves the fitting response of worship portrayed by Elizabeth’s baby leaping for joy. The relation between John and Jesus is being laid down. John responds to Jesus. This is seen clearly in John the Baptist in how he pointed others to follow Christ instead of following him. The church, like John, is to be about responding to our Lord in worship and witness. We worship Jesus and his Father in the Spirit while pointing others to the one whom we worship. The church is not called to point to itself. Our joy is responding to God’s greeting that comes to us in Jesus Christ and then pointing others to turn their ears to hear the same greeting.

Another detail in this story that portrays Jesus as greater than John is the nature of their miraculous conceptions. It is an amazing miracle for an elderly woman who has been barren her entire life to conceive of a child with her husband. But it is a far greater miracle for Mary to conceive of a child as a virgin. Elizabeth’s miracle is a most improbable turn of events. Mary’s miracle is an absolute impossibility. Such a miracle would be hard to believe, and Elizabeth speaks to that next.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45 ESV)

Mary is blessed not only for being chosen to be the Lord’s mother, but also for trusting in God’s promise. When Elizabeth uses the word “blessed” in verse 42, she uses the term eulogemene, and she refers to the blessing that comes to both present and future generations praising and speaking well of her and her child. The word for “blessed” used in verse 45, however, is the word makaria, and is the same word Jesus used in the Beatitudes. Elizabeth’s words of blessing could be translated as “Happy is she who believed…” So, even though she is blessed by having her situation reversed from shame to honor, she has a deeper divine blessing that comes by placing her trust in God’s word spoken to her. This is the deep blessing, an abiding “happiness” that comes in trusting God, putting all our hope in him, even when we do not experience in the present moment, or even in future generations, any real social reversals.

Like Mary, our present circumstances, from other people’s point of view, may not appear to have changed any. But Mary does not place her trust or response to what those around her say or believe. She has heard the Lord’s promises of blessing spoken to her and she lives in faithful response to that word. Elizabeth is celebrating Mary’s willingness to say “yes” to God’s word to her, even as impossible as it may seem. How might we also celebrate the moments of faith in our fellow “relatives”—our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Baptism is a moment of great celebration as a church welcomes someone into the divine blessing of living in a trust relationship with the Lord. And this is a witness to the world, to see brothers and sisters celebrating one another, not because their current social status has changed, but because they believe in the Lord and the ultimate fulfillment of his promises to them. That’s a blessing no one can take away.

Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon will also add words of blessing, praising God for what he is doing in the Advent of Christ. May they encourage us to add our own words and acts of praise and worship to the Father, whether in song or humble service to others. May we become witnesses to the Lord who brings the great reversal, removing our shame and sharing with us his honor. In doing so we can participate in the blessing of being a blessing.

Blessed Are You! w/ Mako Nagasawa W3

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Blessed Are You! w/ Mako Nagasawa
December 19 – Advent 4
Luke 1:39-45 “Blessed Are You!”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • What are some of your favorite Christmas songs or carols? How do these songs contribute to your experience of the Advent and Christmas season?
  • Have you ever considered Christmas songs, even secular ones, serving as a witness to the changes Jesus brings to his world?
  • Discuss how praising and worshiping Jesus serves as a witness to each other and the world. What additional opportunities are there to do this during the Advent and Christmas seasons?

From the Sermon

  • Can you think of what may be going through Mary’s mind as she takes the long journey to visit Elizabeth? What would be going through your mind if you were Mary in that situation?
  • Have you ever had the experience of someone being a blessing to you when you were expecting the opposite? Discuss this experience or how you think you would respond.
  • How did the story of Elizabeth being blessed in her old age and then blessing Mary who was pregnant but not married, strike you? Can you think of times in your life when you were blessed and then became a blessing? How might our blessings prompt us to bless others?
  • Can you think of times that someone saw beyond your situation to what God was doing in it? Have you been blessed in this way? Can you think of people in your life that may need to be reminded of God’s presence and work in their life, even when outward circumstances don’t look like it?
  • Talk about the ways Luke presents Jesus as greater than John in this story. Can you think of other ways that were not presented in the sermon?
  • Elizabeth celebrates Mary’s faith in God’s word to her. How might we celebrate each other in moments of faith? In our churches, do we tend to celebrate people’s good fortunes more than people’s good faith? How might we emphasize celebrating faith over fortunes in our life together as believers?

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