Come this Thursday night many churches all over the world will have….more people than what they average on Sunday mornings. So come Christmas Eve, a night that’s meant to be one of the most joyous, hope-filled times of the entire year, we could very well wonder why the “so many people” couldn’t happen more often. We could ask if this child born, if this Son given to us is so incredibly moving to the point that Christians flock into worship every December 24, why wouldn’t they want to experience such joy and hope at least once a week for about an hour of time and springboard them emotionally and spiritually for the rest of the week? The church could very well just flat-out complain.
We could pile on with harsh criticisms and stinging accusations that that’s the reason why the culture is the way it is, with all this violence and hatred. If only church was a regular part of people’s lives, there’s no way it could be nearly this bad. If only there was more God in people’s lives, we would be so much better off. We could rail against all these people who show up once or twice a year. Maybe that penetrating guilt and overpowering shame would somehow convince them to come back more often.
Except that’s not the point of the church is it? We’re not called out of the waters of baptism to share bad news, complaints, accusations, guilt-trips, and tear-down shame. God had the church in mind to share good news, the greatest news that this world can ever hear: that it has been saved, that it has been claimed by God, this God Who is not out there in a galaxy far, far away, staring down from the heavens; but this God Who is with us, Who is right there with us throughout all the struggles and triumphs in this life and also what lies beyond. Evidently God had us in mind to share exactly that.
And evidently God had Elizabeth in mind in the Gospel story this morning: this close relative of Mary, mother of our Lord. Mary had just heard the news from an angel that completely altered her life forever. A child was to be born for us, a Son was to be given to us; all incredibly well and great for us, of course. But it wasn’t so smooth for Mary, this teenage unmarried girl was having a child in a culture that wouldn’t allow such circumstances, and so she become a social outcast and out-right embarrassment to her family. When Mary left to be with Elizabeth, it would have been perfectly logical for Elizabeth to just pile on the guilt and shame, to kick Mary out of their own home to avoid being associated with such family humiliation.
Instead, Elizabeth piles on with great news: not only was the Savior of the nations coming to life through Mary, but more importantly for this teenage unmarried pregnant girl, she needed reminded that God was with her too. No matter how many people didn’t believe her, no matter how much her own family was furious with her, this almighty God Who was about to save the world, started by loving Mary through the joyful Elizabeth.
That’s the church’s call this time of year. People have heard plenty of bad news this past year not just through television and computer screens and newspaper prints, but in their own lives through job loss and divorces and deaths in the family. They feel plenty of guilt from a variety of family circumstances and shame from the world at large.
The church has been raised up by God to shout over top of it all: to go tell it from the mountaintops that Jesus Christ is born, not just for those who think they’ve done well enough in this life to deserve Him, but for those who feel as if they don’t deserve a Savior at all. The church has the greatest news to offer to this world: no matter how dark it may seem, you can’t take away the fact that God came to life in Jesus Christ, and came to life in the most impoverished of circumstances through the most embarrassing social outcast of the time in a teenage unmarried pregnant girl in a culture that simply wouldn’t allow it. And yet God more than allows Mary. God loves Mary. God is with Mary. God claims her to be the one to bring the child into the world to save it.
But there are most certainly days when it’s hard to believe not just that God would want to save this world, but for far too many children of God they find it impossible to believe that God would want to save them. Many of them will be in sanctuaries across the world this Thursday night. The church is not called to bring more guilt and shame upon them. They have plenty of that in their life already. The church is called out by God to blow them away with love, to overflow their hearts with compassion, with the not-so-subtle reminder, that what happened through Mary, what happened in Bethlehem, what happened through Jesus Christ, God had them just as much in mind as anyone else in the history of the world. And absolutely nothing can take that away from them and all of us: the Son has been given to us then, now and forevermore. And for that, and for Mary, and for Elizabeth, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon