Advent 2017 - LOVE
Luke 1:26-56, Isaiah 54:9-10
We are continuing our Advent series on Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This week is the week for Love. Love, is both, the simplest, and the absolutely most complex virtue in the Bible. Jesus says that all the law and prophets can be summarized by loving God, loving others, and loving ourselves. And yet, loving is difficult.
When we talked about peace two weeks ago, I said that the heart and root of peace is forgiveness. I think that the heart and root of love is humility. The humility to accept that we are not in control. And the humility to accept that we don’t always know; we might be wrong. The irony is that we think that humility, letting go, is weakness. But humility can only be arrived at from a place of great strength. It is personal strength and courage that enables us to be humble. And humility that empowers us to love.
Elizabeth’s reception of Mary is a beautiful example of genuine love. Mary was in a tough situation. We are used to this story so we don’t often notice that scandal of it anymore. As far as I am aware, Mary was a teenager. ... If you will allow me a tangent on this point that Mary was a teenager: last week we saw God do something amazing for an old devout couple (Zechariah & Elizabeth): we learned that we are never too old for God to do something amazing in our lives. This week, God does something amazing for a teenage girl, and the whole thing centers on a baby. We now also know that we are never too young for God to do something amazing in our lives. ... As I was saying, Mary was in a difficult situation: she was a pregnant teenager. She was engaged to Joseph, but still living with her family. She and Joseph were supposed to wait to consummate their marriage until their wedding. If she was found pregnant before that, by Joseph, they would have been in trouble, but if she was found pregnant before the wedding not by Joseph, he had the right to have her stoned. Mary was in a tough spot. Who would believe her? ... Gabriel told her about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy so Mary takes a chance and goes to Elizabeth for shelter while she figures out what on earth she is going to do.
Elizabeth demonstrates genuine love in her reception of Mary. It says in Luke 1, at the end of verse 41 that “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” and that the Spirit inspired her reception of Mary. That’s true. But it takes strength and courage which leads to humility to respond to the Holy Spirit in a situation that is odd. This situation was odd. Her teenage relative was coming to her pregnant. There are two ways we would have expected Elizabeth to receive Mary. One would be to reprimand her, and to question Mary over and over again, demanding proof, until Elizabeth was convinced herself. The other way would be with jealousy that Mary’s child would be greater than Elizabeth’s. But Elizabeth does not do either one of those things. She receives Mary with genuine love. No skepticism. No jealousy. She is strong and courageous in her own heart, in the knowledge of what God has done for her and of who she is in the Lord. This enables her to be humble. She doesn’t need to be convinced. She is not fueled by jealousy. She is humble. This humility empowers her to provide genuine love and shelter to Mary, at a time of great uncertainty in Mary’s life.
Let’s read what Elizabeth said to Mary in Luke 1, starting in verse 42, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” What words of genuine love. Elizabeth believes Mary. She is not jealous. She blesses Mary and her baby. She is grateful for the visit and praises Mary for her faithfulness and belief in God’s promise. Mary found in Elizabeth, the love that she needed to help her fulfill the difficult calling that God had placed on her life. By responding to this odd situation with genuine love, Elizabeth becomes a vessel through which God strengthens Mary. ... And then later, when Jesus is a man, and ready to embark on his earthly ministry, who does he go to first? John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s son. That family played a huge role in God’s experience as a human. Because they were strong in their identity in the Lord. Their strength enabled them to be humble. Their humility empowered them to be vessels of God’s own genuine love.
Who were all these people? Who were Elizabeth and Mary? They were just ordinary people from unimportant towns. But God chose them so that we would always remember that God brings love to the world through humility and lowliness. This is encouraging for us. We too are ordinary. Elizabeth and Mary teach us that we are never too old, we are never too young to receive God’s love and to give that genuine love to others. We, too, can be like Elizabeth and Mary. We can be strong and courageous in our identity in the Lord. We can have strength that enables us to be humble. We, too, can have humility that empowers us to love. So keep alert! Keep watch for signs of love. Signs of love in our own lives and ways that we can be signs of love in the lives of others.