39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
I spent a bit of time at the airport this past Thursday. And unfortunately, I spent more time than I had originally planned at that airport. I took Sonya and the children for their flight to Nebraska so they could see some extended family. Sonya’s grandfather had not yet met Hadley, so what better time to go. I did not feel that I could go along, but I wanted to do as much as possible to make sure that they got on the plane safely and with as little hassle as could be. So I was able to get what they call a “gate pass.” A gate pass is what you need to go through security and right up to the gate. If you have ever flown with young children, you know that getting through security can be quite a challenge with strollers, taking off shoes, belts and jackets.
So I am planning ahead a bit when we get there and I attempt to make life a little bit easier. I take my belt and jacket off and leave them in the car. It was cold, but we only had to go 50 yards to the terminal. We hurry to get the car seats out of the car, the luggage, the children, you know it is just busy. And of course we are hurrying to make sure we don’t miss that plane!
All goes just swell; no problem with the check-in, no problem with security. All that is left to do is grab a snack and say our good-byes. As I head back out to the car, I grab a hot cup of coffee for the road and prepare for my days of solitude.
I walked out of the terminal through a different door than I went in and when I walk out, I see something that I did not give any attention to when we were trying to gather everything up and scurry into the airport: there are three identical parking garages and I had no idea where I had parked. I knew that I parked on the first level. But knowing that isn’t worth a hill of beans if you don’t know which garage to look in.
So I do the logical thing and I start in the middle garage, walking up and down the aisles, looking for my car, pushing the “unlock” button, hoping to see those flashing red lights. But alas, the middle garage was not the correct one. Now remember, I had taken off my belt and my jacket in the hope that I might make my whole experience a little bit easier. But now, as I wandered these dark garages, it was getting colder and I was getting tired of hitching up my britches. I didn’t know which garage to check out next, so I just randomly went to the north garage. Our car was not in the north garage. So now I was not only cold and tired of hitching up my britches, I was at the far north end of the north parking garage. The only place left to check was the south parking garage. I knew that I would find the car there. But I also knew that I now had to walk across not one, but two parking garages to arrive at the third garage, again walking while holding up my pants and trying to stay warm.
At one point as I was wandering through garage number 1, I thought, “Maybe if I look at my ticket, it will tell me which garage I parked in.” I still think that would have been a really good idea. Too bad nobody else had thought of that. As I finally made it to the third, the last parking garage and found myself to level one, I fell into the driver’s seat (after putting my belt and jacket back on) and marveled at how poorly this airport had done at informing patrons that there are multiple garages and that it might be to their advantage to post signs letting people know that this issue might arise. My tired, cold, frustrated body just sat there for a few minutes, disgusted that not only did I waste 30 minutes looking for my car, but I had to pay an extra $2 because you pay for the full hour, even if you only go a few minutes over. And as I sat there, I looked around and I saw a lot of signs. On the front of the garage was a sign that said “South Garage.” On the glass doors exiting the parking garage, leading to the elevator, the very doors that I had walked through two hours and six minutes earlier, I saw the words, “You are now leaving the South Garage.” And of course, in front of each row there is a sign suggesting that you write down your row number and which garage you are parked in. In my rush to get into the airport when we arrived, I had over looked all of these signs. I wanted the ticket that I had in my wallet to tell me which garage I was parked in. But if I had just slowed down, I would have seen that there were signs all around me.
We know today’s story well, perhaps too well. You see, every year we talk about Mary and the child growing within her womb. We talk about her and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and how there was no room at the inn. We talk about how ironic it is that the king of the Jews is born in a stable among the donkeys, cattle, and chickens. Sometimes, however, the familiarity causes us to move too quickly over the details of the story.
Remember that back in those days women married a lot earlier. Mary would probably have been about 13-years-old. Just to remind everyone how young that is, I had a 13-year-old read our scripture for today. This was a common age for women to get married in the 1st century, so that was not a major scandal by any means. The scandal is that this 13-year-old was not yet married. She was engaged, but not married. Oh yeah, and the fiancé was not the father, and he knew that he wasn’t the father.
Joseph is a pretty decent guy. So when he finds out that Mary is pregnant and he knows that the child is not his, he tries to break off their engagement without making a big deal about it. If he did this successfully, Mary would live the rest of her life as a social outcast because she had a baby outside of marriage. If Joseph had not broken off the engagement peacefully, Mary could have been stoned to death for breaking her betrothal commitment.
In our day, the pregnancy of an unmarried 13-year-old girl would be a scandal. In Mary’s day, the pregnancy of an unmarried 13-year-old girl could get her killed. At the least she would have become an embarrassment and a disappointment. A disappointment to her parents who had hopes of her settling down with this nice young man, Joseph. A disappointment to her rabbi, who had given her instruction and seen her grow in her knowledge, wisdom, and faithfulness. And a disappointment to her fiancé, who had planned to start a life, to start a home with her and grow old together.
Our text for this morning comes immediately after Mary receiving the word from the angel Gabriel that she is to give birth to Jesus. And in verse 39-40 we read, “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.”
Luke leaves us believing that as soon as Mary received this message from Gabriel that she immediately packed and ran to Elizabeth’s home. Why the hurry to get out of town? I have to believe that she is traveling someplace safe. Somewhere that she will not be judged; someplace she will not be stoned. So she goes to Elizabeth’s home. The angel did tell her that Elizabeth has experienced a bit of a bit of a conception miracle as well. Perhaps everyone else will meet her with judgment. Who knows, maybe Elizabeth will as well. But it is worth a try.
When Mary arrives, Elizabeth does not meet her with words of condemnation. Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Not words of judgment, but words of blessing. In times of stress, in times of pain, in times of hurt, perhaps it is not condemnation that we need, but blessings.
This world is at times a very challenging place to live. Between fiscal cliffs and the mass murder of 20 innocent children, and the emotional stress such an event brings upon everyone else, it can be hard to find much positive to say in this Advent season. And to be honest, the way that so many have attempted to speak on the behalf of God to explain why the events in Newtown happened does not help.
Perhaps one of the best theological statements from the last few weeks has come from Miroslav Volf who wrote this week on another subject that dominated the newspapers and the interwebs, the Mayan calendar and the end of the world. Volf asked the question, “Why are doomsday prophecies so popular? Because people feel something is profoundly wrong with the world, that it deserves to end.”
This is nothing new. Almost 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8 verse 22, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” The whole creation groans. Human beings, animals, the plants, the rivers, the earth itself groans. And we groan because this is not how the world should be.
But Paul also gives us a glimmer of hope in verse 21 when he tells us that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
My friends, like the cold, agitated guy wandering through the parking lots at the airport, looking for a lost car, there are signs if only we have eyes to see them. There are signs that God is working in this world for the redemption of all creation.
Every change in the season brings with it the reminder of God’s promise of redemption. It is amazing to witness they ways that people get excited with every change. Friday morning I sat at the church working on my sermon when I noticed the first white flakes falling from the sky. Facebook statuses quickly revealed that I was not the only person who noticed this sign of winter on the day that would be followed by the longest night of the year. Preceding the darkness that was to come and in the midst of the apocalyptic predictions, we celebrated the beauty and purity of a few falling snowflakes.
In a few months, when we grow tired of the darkness and the cold, we will rejoice in the first flower that blooms and the first song of the bluebird that we hear. And in no time at all we will be in awe of the spectrum of colors on display; the reds, orange, yellows and browns bursting forth as we view the fireworks of fall adorning our Shenandoah Valley. If we have eyes to see, the signs are all around us.
With every child born, we celebrate the possibility that life can be better. When we hear that giggle and look into those innocent eyes, we are filled with anticipation and wonder. What will those eyes see? What will those ears hear? And what will those hands do?
My friends, I do not mean to take away from the atrocity that occurred just over a week ago in Newtown, Connecticut. This event should move us to hug our families a little tighter, to consider how we might better care for those with mental health issues, and how best to keep the most vulnerable among us safe. But I am not ready to give up on this earth and I know that God is not ready, either.
The signs are all around us. We can choose to meet this groans of this world with judgment, like so many people surely met an unmarried 13-year-old girl with a baby bump, or we can meet these groans with blessings, like Elizabeth did. I will choose blessings, because the child in Mary’s womb is no ordinary child. He was, is, and always will be the hope of the world.