Sunday, December 19, 2021

Faith Deep Within


December 19, 2021 – Advent 4C

© 2021 Evan D. Garner

Audio is available here. Video of the entire service can be seen here with the sermon beginning around 23:50.

It is Joshua Waitzkin sympathetically offering his opponent a draw in the film Searching for Bobby Fischer because he can see that in twelve moves he will have beaten him. It is Lane Kiffin raising his arms in celebration even before his quarterback has let go of the ball because he knows that a touchdown is coming. It is Tiger Woods taking off his hat and extending his hand to the other golfer before the putt is even halfway to the hole because he knows that he has won the match.

It is the kindergarten teacher smiling as her students plant beans in plastic cups because she can already feel their delight, which will come when what has been planted begins to sprout. It is the artistic genius marveling at a lump of clay or a blank canvass because she can already see what inspiration will produce. It is the visionary who mortgages her home and puts everything at risk to invest in herself because she knows that her idea will change the world.

Some people have the ability to see what the rest of the world cannot. They know deep inside themselves not only what is possible but what is certain. They have faith in what they know to be true even if they are the only ones who know it. And that faith is enough for them to live as if that truth has already come about. Because of Jesus, God invites us to know what God has in store for our future, even and especially if the powers of this world are set against it, and in today’s gospel lesson two women—Elizabeth and Mary—show us how to believe in that future even though we cannot see it yet.

Before she set out to visit her relative Elizabeth, Mary had been visited by the angel Gabriel, who told her things too wonderful to believe. The angel declared that this unwed woman would conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus. The angel explained that this child would grow up to be great and would be called the Son of the Most High. The angel said that he would be given the throne of his ancestor David and rule over God’s people forever. And the sign that the angel gave to reassure this young woman that God would make this impossible thing possible was a parallel pregnancy. Even in her old age, Mary’s relative Elizabeth, who was said to be barren, was expecting her own child, John the Baptist, the promised forerunner of the Lord. And Mary believed what she had been told. She believed what God had promised, so she went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she could greet her kinswoman and share with her this thing that God was doing in their lives.

When Mary came to Elizabeth’s home and called out to greet her elder relative, the older mother-to-be felt something powerful within her belly. The child that had been growing within her for six months leaped in her womb. More than a coincidental kick, this fetal movement signaled a significant encounter between two unborn cousins and the mothers who carried them. Reminiscent of the twins Esau and Jacob, whose wrestling within Rebekah was a sign of two nations, a rivalry that would eventually become a conduit for God’s salvific plan, the leap that Elizabeth felt was a sign that God’s promises were coming to fruition. And Elizabeth believed them. 

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth prophesied blessings upon Mary and upon the fruit of her womb. Speaking of a pregnancy only a few weeks old, faithful Elizabeth asked, “Why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Elizabeth’s faithfulness called out in celebration to her counterpart’s faithfulness, as she exclaimed, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth and Mary—two women, two mothers, two participants in God’s great work of salvation, two examples of deepest faithfulness. Their faith not only enabled them to become vessels for God’s saving love but also enabled them to see what would come to pass even when it was still growing within their wombs. They knew deep within themselves that this thing that God was doing was even to save God’s people from all that threatened them. Their faith was more than a hope for the future. It was more than an anticipation that someday, when their sons were grown, God would use them to do something great in the world. The faith that these two women held was a sure and certain belief that God’s ancient promises were already coming to bear not only within their bodies but throughout the world.

Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is not a prophetic proclamation of future events. It is a young, pregnant woman’s definitive declaration of what God has already done. The child growing within her is the salvation of the world, and faithful Mary, the mother of God, already knows it. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she explains, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior because God has looked and seen even the lowliness of God’s servant. From now on, all generations will count me as blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for me—the One whose name is holy.”

Mary knows that God’s saving work comes into the world from the bottom up, breaking forth within the lives of those of low estate and bubbling up until it fills the whole world. God’s salvation is the powerful being pulled down and the lowly being lifted up to take their place. God’s salvation is the hungry being filled with good things and the rich being sent away empty. God’s salvation is the haughty being scattered in their own prideful imaginations while God’s own strength gathers together those who had been lost. In every case, God’s salvation is manifest in the world in ways that the powerful cannot see until that salvation is already finished. Yet those who look to God in faith can already see it. They can see not only that which is beginning to grow but also that which has already been fully accomplished even before it has come to pass. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we are called to live our lives within that reality that is sure and certain even though the world cannot see it yet.

Will we have faith like Mary? Will we have faith like Elizabeth? As Christmas comes again, will we have faith not only that God’s salvation has begun breaking into this world, but, because it has, will we have faith that God is already bringing all things to their perfection? Will we see and know that God’s perfection is a certainty into which we can fully live even now? If we are to see that salvation in a world in which power and greed and exploitation continue to thrive, we will need to see it with the eyes of deep faithfulness. As people of faith, we are called to look out into the future and see what is absolutely certain—what has already been accomplished because of the one whom Elizabeth recognized and whom Mary bore. May we see what those women saw, and may their faithfulness become ours as well.

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