Today, as we close on the Advent season, our theme is “welcome”, which kind of makes sense given what we will be celebrating tomorrow night. I saw a quote on Friday that made me think of the message today. It went something like, “Christ has already come for us, so when we talk about preparing our hearts, it’s more for us to help prepare the way in the hearts of others who do not know him.” Christ has already come for us, and certainly we have welcomed Him into our hearts, and now it is time for us to help others see, learn, and experience Him as we have so they can welcome him into their hearts as well.
Our scripture reading this morning from Luke, we found ourselves in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth when Mary, the mother of Jesus, is well with child and paying them a visit. I think, in most cultures, it’s a happy time or a positive thing to have family visit or to go visit with family. I’m not sure what Christmas traditions look like for you all, but for me for at least the last 15 years our Christmas has started pretty much the same way. We get up and do our presents, then we live and go to my parent’s house, then we leave and go to her parent’s house, then, usually around 10pm, we finally get home.
Like I said – HAPPY
Elizabeth was happy, and being farther along in her own pregnancy, the baby in her womb jumped for joy, as if knowing that his baby cousin Jesus is in the womb. Elizabeth is excited to see Mary, and her baby John is equally excited to hear who’s at the door. Elizabeth says, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk. 1:44). What a powerful Advent image! Elizabeth already knew that the baby carried by Mary is her Lord and Savior (v.44). How often are we that excited each time we gather for worship?
The passage from Micah serves as a preview of the nativity story, which is kind of interesting given that Micah was from a village a lot like Bethlehem called Morsheth-Gath, out in the country, but not too far from Jerusalem. Both Bethlehem and Mary are the recipients of coming Lord, and like the people of Israel and Elizabeth, we are to open the door and welcome the God who has decided to set up shop in the midst of us, and who is more fascinated with us than with a throne surrounded with angels and archangels (Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:6-8), facing all the risks and passions of all human beings.
Hope, Micah declares in chapter 5, would not come from Jerusalem but from a small town much like his hometown – Bethlehem, which we sing about each year. Now, I want you to do me a favor for a moment and understand that Bethlehem wasn’t a thriving town. Have you ever gone on a trip and driven into a town and thought…that’s it? You have uncovered the most podunk little backwater town that you’ve ever seen. I won’t name any I’ve been to, because honestly I don’t know where everyone is originally from. But anyway, think of that as Bethlehem. Not the most impressive town, even though it was David’s hometown. But imagine being told that the little backwater village that you wandered into was about to be the place where God unleashes intense hope and love, ready to rectify human power and it’s foolishness.
But see, that’s the real kicker. We have 20/20 hindsight on our side. We can look back and see the historical, cultural, and religious contexts and fully understand what God had done to make this happen. We can look at Elizabeth and Mary, 2 women who had no real idea yet as to what God was doing, but were willing to welcome the change and welcome their children.
As I mentioned before, we have, all of us, welcomed Christ into our hearts already. We need to carry that welcome to others so that they can receive it as well. At the same time, we can also deepen our understanding of what God has done, and what he is doing in the hearts and lives of others.
So, in closing, we don’t need to fear change – especially when it’s what God is doing – we can welcome that change, embracing the uncertainty, and by welcoming his love and grace we can help someone who desperately needs God but hasn’t realized it yet to welcome him as well. Don’t miss the chance to be Elizabeth or Mary – don’t miss a chance to be welcoming, amen?