Here we are. It’s the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Time is running out. Christmas is only a few days away. Have you been looking for it? Have you been searching for it? Have you been yearning for it?
If so, have you been looking in the right places?
No, not in the shopping mall; not under the tree in the living room; not hanging in a stocking on the fireplace; not in the kitchen or in the dining room; not at the party; and, as fun as it was to try, not even under the mistletoe. Have you been looking for Christmas in the only place that Christmas can be found? Have you been looking for Christmas out in the wilderness, far from the lights of downtown?
Have you heard and accepted the God’s honest truth, even if that truth is difficult to swallow? Have you been able to openly and truthfully say: “The choices I have made on my own have not brought me fulfillment. My freedom, my material wealth, my high tech gadgets, a nice home, a nice car, a seven-day vacation, even a wife, two kids and a dog are not enough. I need something more! The truth is: I am standing the middle of the wilderness, and I am utterly lost!”
Have you heard and accepted the truth that none of us are who we ought to be. I’m not alright. You’re not alright. None of God’s children are alright. Each of us stands in desperate need of a savior. More than anything else, we need a savior to search us and know our hearts, to test us and know our thoughts, to see the wicked ways in us and then lead us into the way everlasting.
Lost in the wilderness of life, have we asked God to take an ax and cut us down, or kindle a fire to purge us, so we can be reborn, so we can start over afresh and anew, so we can be cleansed and changed and completely transformed forever?
I believe this is exactly where we find Mary in this morning’s gospel lesson. In one of most beautiful songs in the entire Bible, Mary’s humility and recognition of need is clearly evident. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”
New Testament Scholar Alan Culpepper has noted: Mary’s “confession [of] ‘Savior’ expresses the desperate need of the lowly, the poor, the oppressed, and the hungry.” Those who have it all—freedom, family, a lot of stuff—those who Culpepper says have “power and means, privilege and position, have no need sufficient to lead them to voice such a term that is itself a plea for help.” Savior.
To confess that God is our Savior means that when we discover our lostness in middle of the wilderness, we do not look to some other power for salvation.” When we confess God as savior we are making the announcement that “neither technology nor social progress, neither education nor legislated reforms will deliver us…from [our] meaningless lives.” The only one who can save us is the God revealed through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The first words from the one chosen to be mother of the Messiah’s lips are an acknowledgment that she is but a poor soul lost in the wilderness standing in desperate need of a savior. And the good news is: this is all that Mary does.
Luke does not give us one clue in his narrative or any indication to why she was chosen or what her attributes might be. Luke tells us far more about Zechariah and Elizabeth than he tells us about Mary. All we are told about Mary that warrants this blessing is the acknowledgment that she is a lowly servant in need of a savior. Mary has done nothing more.
Mary continues: “Surely all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Notice who is doing all of the acting: “He has shown strength with his arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the powerful from their thrones; He has lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and He sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.”
God is doing it all. God is doing all the acting. The only thing that Mary does is acknowledge her need for a savior. God does the rest.
This is good news of the gospel. In our looking and searching and yearning and seeking, we don’t find Christmas, Christmas finds us. When we go to the wilderness, acknowledge our need for salvation, hear the truth that we need to change, ask God to cut and prune and burn, allow God to have God’s way with us, Christmas comes to us.
This week, I read about a certain Christmas play that a local church was presenting. You know the kind. I used to be in one every year when I was growing up. Three boys playing shepherds are bare-footed, wearing bath robes with towels wrapped around their heads and carrying long sticks. And three more boys playing wise men wearing cardboard Burger-King crowns wrapped in Reynolds Wrap are carrying boxes decorated with left-over Christmas garland. They all walk up on the chancel, greet Mary and Joseph, and bow down before the baby Jesus.
Well, during one particular play, after the wise men and shepherds came and bowed before Jesus, a spokesperson for the wise men made an announcement: “We three kings have traveled from the East to bring the baby Jesus gifts of gold, circumstance and mud.” Of course, laughter filled the sanctuary.
But you know what they say: “out of the mouth of babes.”
The truth is that when God wanted to reveal God’s love for the world, God came to us through the person of Jesus born in Bethlehem to meet us in all of our circumstances.
Through Christ, God came to us and still comes into the wilderness to meet us in the circumstance of our lostness and offers us salvation.
Through Christ, God came to us and still comes to us to meet us in the circumstance of our weakness and offers us strength.
Through Christ, God came to us and still comes to us to meet us in the circumstance of our guilt and offers us forgiveness.
When we acknowledge where we are and who we are and what we need, God comes to us through Christ and finds us in all of our circumstances and offers us the assurance that there is no circumstance on earth or in heaven which is beyond God’s amazing grace.
And coming as a human being, coming into the world as a fleshly body, a body made up of dust and water, God comes and joins us in our mud.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of despair and gives us hope.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of sickness and brings us healing.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of loneliness and shares divine presence.
Through Christ, God came into and still comes into our muck of fear and gives us peace.
Nancy Smith, a member of this church, with no family in this area, has spent most of the last two months alone in the hospital. She suffered a heart attack which has exasperated her COPD. This week, short of breath, she said to me, “Although I get very afraid at times, I know I am going to be alright, because God is with me.”
Nancy was saying: “No matter my circumstance, no matter how muddy my life becomes, everything is going to be alright.” Nancy was saying: “I will be victorious because the creator of all that is, loves me so much that he came into and still comes into my worst circumstances and into my deepest mud and finds me.”
I believe one of the most perverted things about the church today is that it is full of people who believe that they are the ones who have found Christmas. They have everything figured out. They have all of the answers. They no longer see through a glass darkly. Thus, they are the first to judge others, the first to point out the sins of others. They believe they have somehow gotten themselves good enough, wise enough, clean enough, and straight enough to find Christmas. They boast: “I’ve found Jesus!” “I’ve got Jesus! “I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart!”
Which begs the question: “What made them ever think Jesus was the one who was lost, the one who needs to be accepted?”
The good news of Christmas is that it is Jesus who wants to find us, accept us, get a hold of us, and transform us. Jesus does not want us to take him into our hearts. Jesus wants to take us into his heart. Jesus wants us to know his heart, feel his heart, share his heart.
Jesus wants us to feel his heart that beats not for those who casually have him all figured out, but beats for those who stand in awe of his mystery from generation to generation.
Jesus wants us to feel his heart beating not for the proud and their accomplishments who will be scattered, not for the powerful and their influence who will be brought down, and not for the rich and their greed who will be sent away empty.
Jesus wants us to feel a heart beating for the lowly who will be lifted, feel a heart bleeding for the hungry who will be filled with good things, feel a heart pulsating for the afraid who will be given a peace beyond their understanding, feel a heart pounding for the lost who will be found.
Jesus wants us to experience a heart that is filled with a love so unconditional and a grace so free that it changes our hearts and compels us to share that love and grace with all people.
Here we are. It’s the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Time is running out. The good news is that we can stop looking. We can stop searching. We can stop yearning, and we can stop seeking. All we have to do is stand in our muddy wilderness and acknowledge our need of the Savior, confess that we are the ones who are lost, we are the ones who need to be accepted. And no matter our circumstance, nor the depth of our mud, the hope, the peace, the joy and the love of Christmas will surely find us.
Christmas will find us and change us, so, together, we can change the world.