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Third Sunday of Advent

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Every Generation Is Blessed

I’ve heard it said that aging is not for sissy’s, and now I know it to be true! Looking at some family photos recently while decorating for Christmas, I ran across pictures of myself in my twenties, when I bore my first child, my son, Christopher. As I looked at this young woman, who bore some small resemblance to me, I thought, “oh you dear, naïve thing! How much you didn’t know then!”

It’s like that when we think of Mary, I believe. Whenever we see her portrayed, it is usually as a young woman – a teenager, really – full of hope and courage, willing to hear the angel’s message and to bravely take on the role of God Bearer, mother of our Savior. Think of her youthful courage when she sang the song we hear from Luke today: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Rejoice; gaudate! This is what we celebrate when we light the pink candle this morning.

Now think of Mary later in her life, at her ascension into heaven, twenty years or so after she had seen her son – her precious baby – being tortured, and killed for his passion. Does her neck look like mine? Do her eyes and brow bear the wrinkles of worry, of sleepless nights? Has her hope dimmed, were her illusions about people shattered? Perhaps — and yet; she had suffered the unimaginable – for that is what it is to lose a child – and she had also seen his resurrection, and the start of a powerful movement of faith and transformation.

Truth is, the books of Luke and Acts were written nearly 100 year after Jesus’ death. It was around people like the mature Mary, Jesus’ mother, that the earliest Church would form. A woman in her forties, who had seen hope being born in a humble dwelling, and then stood by as it was, for a moment, extinguished. And still, she persisted in believing in the message that her son preached: a message of Love, and inclusion, of redemption and forgiveness.

“From now on all generations shall call me blessed.” Really? How much do we think and talk about Mary, and her life beyond those two moments – the announcement of Gabriel, and her nativity in a stable? I think of the song that our Radiance Band always sings on Christmas, “Mary did you know?” The wise, aged Simeon, when in Luke 2 he named Jesus in the Temple, told Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35  . . .and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Mary did you know? What if she did know? And what if, knowing, Mary said yes anyway?

Mary’s “Magnificat”, her song from today’s Canticle, is spoken to Elizabeth, her older and wiser cousin, the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth bore the messenger who would prepare the way for our Lord; an old woman, past childbearing years, she was chosen, and lifted up. So that we can see her intrinsic value: even before his birth, Jesus raised up those who were overlooked, the aged, the childless, those who suffer; he chose the forgotten to prepare the way for him.

Mary, Elizabeth, and John – they prepared the way for the Christ, even knowing that it would be difficult, risky, perhaps even dangerous for them. Knowing that they may not live to see its fulfillment – like a farmer described by the Apostle today, trusting in the coming of the rains, not knowing if they would see the fruits of their labors. They trusted that their work – their story – would remain an important, an essential part of future nourishment. They had faith that their contribution mattered and would continue to matter, far into the future, for generations to come.

This morning, this sermon, is especially for you: the 8:00 service. Because I want you to know that you matter! Even when the music changes, or when we have only one morning service, you matter! Your honoring of our past points the way toward our future. Your wisdom about our history informs the decisions we make for coming generations of leaders.

I’m 55 now – not “young” to some, no longer able to bear children, but still passionate, sometimes naïve, and growing in wisdom. And I look toward those of you, my elders, to help show me how to increase in grace. All younger generations at St. James need you, to mentor them and help “bear them”, as did Mary and Elizabeth for John and Jesus.

This morning, I’m preaching especially to you, asking for your prayers, your patience, your support, just as the Apostle asked of his growing, changing church, thinking of those in future generations. And that includes us, today, now. “Strengthen your hearts. . . Beloved, do not grumble against one another . . .” Sounds like there were disagreements even among the very first churches!

And “blessed is anyone who takes no offense”! Aging is not for the faint of heart, and neither is making Church together. “Those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces”. Our comfort is in Christ, who “lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things”. During this blessed season of Advent, let us look forward, in hope and faith, and in love for one another, to the coming of our Savior, who will strengthen our weak hands and fearful hearts.

Join me, along with the blessed and bold Mary, who, knowing the road ahead, chose to rejoice anyway, together with elders like Elizabeth and Simeon; not only for herself, but for all blessed generations to come.

Together, let us proclaim the greatness of the Lord! AMEN.

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