4th Sunday Advent – Seminarian Chase Lefort
4th Sunday Advent
In the Name of Jesus. (Amen.)
We biblical Christians like to talk about how Mary is “full of grace” and “most highly favored lady,” but we do not often speak of the shame of Mary. To everyone she knew, people did not buy the story that “God got me pregnant.” And things looked a lot worse to her fiancé-who-was-not-the-father, Joseph, but thankfully, an angel came and cleared things up for Joseph in the first chapter of Matthew. For everyone else, it seemed pretty clear to them what was really going on, or so they thought. This ironic shame would follow not only her but her son Jesus as well: there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in John chapter 8 where a crowd of people in the temple make a dig at Jesus (one that’s subtle-to-us and not-so-subtle-to-them) for being—quote—“born of sexual immorality.” These were the whispers that went around town, this was the ironic price Mary paid for her great honor as the mother of God.
Elizabeth knew shame too. In a culture where children were not only a gift from God but having a bloodline to come after you was seen as kind of cheating death, to be old and childless was death and great shame, and dear, sweet Elizabeth was, as her husband so delicately puts it, “advanced in years” (Lk 1:18) and barren. So when she gets pregnant with John the Baptist at the ripe old age of way-too-old-to-have-a-kid by the grace of God, she knows what’s up: God is at work in the world, and he is doing great stuff. When her cousin Mary shows up at the door to spend her pregnancy with her, nobody is more fit to believe her story of an angel and the Son of God in her womb than this woman, who has felt the life-giving work of God in her own life. And so God provided a great mercy to the mother of our Lord through the sympathetic ear of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, the only person besides Joseph who would believe what the angel had told Mary.
We call this moment in our Gospel The Visitation. Any guesses why? It’s about Mary visiting Elizabeth, sure, but if you’ve been reading along at home, you may have realized that there’s another visitation happening: God is visiting his people. What do I mean by that? Well, God is right there in Mary’s womb, and when Mary is visiting Elizabeth, God is visiting her too. But it’s more than that too. In the Old Testament, when God visits his people, good things happen to them, and bad things happen to their enemies. And when Mary visits Elizabeth,
this is God in Jesus stepping onto the scene. Jesus is making himself known to the world, starting with Mary, Elizabeth and her little baby John. That’s why Elizabeth and little baby John in her womb are so excited! God has visited his people, and that means that great things are afoot, for Mary, Elizabeth, and John, and for you,
and for me. and in our text Mary says what these great things are far better than I ever could: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name… 51 He has shown strength with his arm… 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Mary is talking about a Great Reversal! In Jesus, the whole world is getting thrown upside-down, topsy turvy, and this is a good thing, because the world we know it is messed up to Hell. In this world, sin, death, and the devil have their way and ruin everything. As long as Satan runs things here on Earth, we need a reversal. And that’s where Jesus comes in. The first reversal came with God putting on our human flesh. Another reversal came with the Lord of creation taking on our sin, and suffering and dying for that sin, while we get to walk away sinless and spot free. And you know what that means? The shame we deserve for our sins, the shame that should keep us away from our God and from the people in our lives—because that’s what shame does, right? It separates us from others. That shame died with him.
And don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, shame is a good thing. Sometimes shame spurs us on to be better people. We feel shame when we have been selfish, or we have lived in a way that doesn’t fit who we should be. But we will never be the people we should be—we can’t be!—until God comes to us in his visitation. You know how you can hang out with the wrong crowd and all of a sudden, you’re guilty by association? Well, Jesus is like that, except Jesus is the most not-guilty person you’ll ever meet. You and me? We’re guilty as charged. But in spite of our sin, in spite of our shame, Jesus visits us and he reverses everything. Whether we feel ashamed of our sin or not, we shouldn’t be allowed into God’s club. But Jesus goes to the door with us, and he tells the bouncer, “they’re with me.” And that’s all we need. We may, like Mary, receive shame from the world because God is with us, but that shame doesn’t matter. Because there’s guilty by association, and there’s godly by association. And Jesus has come to visit us, to touch us, to make us godly as he is, so that we may have the peace which surpasses all understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.