Readings: Psalm 89, Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:37-55
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, December 23 2018
When Mary went to visit Elizabeth it was one of those “Wow!” moments. Ever had those? When everything comes together and seems to make sense and you really feel that simply being alive is just about the most amazing thing that can happen to anybody?
We read that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “The babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; And she spoke out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women”. Wow! It got to Mary as well. She starts singing out, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!” This didn’t normally happen when they came together for morning coffee to exchange baby stories.
It’s medically impossible for many of us to have a baby leaping in our stomach but many of us have experienced what we’d call in England ‘having butterflies in your tummy.” A sense of expectation and excitement.
As a kid it always used to get me on Christmas Eve night. I never knew if Santa Claus would be bringing me what I really, really, wanted. I kind of thought that he would, but mum said that it all depended on if I’d been a good boy or not (which of course I knew I hadn’t) and that in any case Santa wouldn’t come till I went to sleep. Boy, did I have a hard time snoozing with all those butterflies flying around inside. Wow!
How about going for your first interview, or maybe starting your first job? Looking back, maybe it wasn’t the best of jobs, but suddenly you had money coming in! Wow! Not pocket money, but real money, that you’d worked for and it was yours. (Except for the bit the taxman wanted).
Did you get excited about your first car? You always have these dreams as a kid; about what car you’ll have when you’re older. Ferrari. Porsche. Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. Something red with a big engine. Then the realization breaks in that working at MacDonald’s doesn’t pay that well and you’ll settle for just about anything as long as it moves.
My first vehicle? A Bedford Van. The water came through the roof when it rained. The engine cover used to fly off when it hit 50 miles an hour. It was an unusual shade of 'greens' and had parts held on with duct tape. But – “Wow!” – it was all mine. No –correction it was all ours – because I was dating Yvonne by then.
How about that for a “Wow!” experience? Falling in love. Now there’s a mystery for you! If you’re lucky enough, you find that special person and somewhere along the way, it all gets gooey and warm and the birds sing louder and the bees buzz better and the world is such a wonderful place, just as long as you can be together.
What about the birth of a child? That’s part of what Christmas is all about. That’s the excitement that was there in our bible reading. Mary and Elizabeth looking forward to the birth of their special children. There’s a sense for all of us, that our children are special. Mostly because - Wow! - they are ours!
Did you ever watch those shows on one of the T.V. channels, "A makeover story", “A dating Story”, “A Wedding Story”, “A baby Story”? They attract a lot of viewers. I was trying to imagine them doing a ‘Christmas Special’ on the Nativity story. Mary dating this older guy. The strange tales of angels and babies. The wedding. The unexpected journey. The birth in a stable. Now that’d make for an interesting few episodes!
I can think of some other, maybe less dramatic, “Wow!” experiences. I remember the first time I saw one of those 3D pictures. All those shapes and colors. Took me a while to figure it out. Then you stare and stare and “Wow” there it is! Well, look at that! A trio of ducks flying over an open field!
I remember when I first got my glasses. I didn’t know, until I took driving lessons, that I was near-sighted. The instructor said, “Read that sign over there”. I said, “What sign?” When I got my first glasses, I was amazed. Trees had leaves on then that weren’t just little blurry green shapes. There were all these things written high up on buildings that I’d never seen before. “Wow!”
But the biggest 'Wow!" experience of my life, (and of all days today, the day before Christmas Eve, is the time to talk about it), was the discovery that Jesus Christ was not some historical figure, confined to the pages of dusty old history books, but one whose living, loving, Holy Spirit could be born into the midst of our everyday lives.
That's why I enjoy Christmas so much! I enjoy the trimmings, the food, the carols, the gifts, the goodwill, and all the rest of it. But over and above all of that, for me, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of hope into a world where love appears to be rationed; a birth of joy into a world where gloom and misery can be overwhelming.
That birthing of Christ into the womb of my every day experience has not been an overnight happening. I look back over my life, so far, and see a series of "Wow!" encounters, points of contact between my own limited life and the eternal life that is God. Moments when the Grace of God, unmerited and unexpected, just broke in on my experience and a doorway was opened up and an opportunity was given either to follow or to walk away.
I am a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ because I believe it is the most exciting Good News that will ever come to this world. And so much of my understanding of this fantastic, almost unbelievable message, focuses on what happened in Bethlehem.
The theologians call it the Incarnation. God, In Christ, redeeming creation. Jesus, born, to be Savior of the world. "Wow!" Those theological terms roll off the tongue so easily, the words sound so familiar, but are we any nearer to grasping their significance?
I remember the first time I sang the Christmas carols and their meaning actually came home to me. I had sung them for years and to me they were just good tunes with high-sounding words. But one time, whilst I was out carol singing as a young person, the Spirit of God got on my case. Big Time!
I could hardly sing them! Every word suddenly came alive. I had tears welling up. The beauty and the truths that were being expressed in some of those carols choked me. "Convicted by the Holy Ghost" - was what the old Welsh Presbyterian Founding Fathers would call it! The Grace of God being born into a human heart. Wow!
Take a hymn like Phillip Brooks', "O Little town of Bethlehem". The third verse;
"How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!” That's so right! Amidst all the noise, the clamor of Bethlehem then and of our world today, quietly, God's love catches up with us. But we're so busy, and we don't always hear it. We're so full of ourselves we don't always see it!
And Christmas gifts! How feeble are attempts at gift exchanges compared to God giving the gift of Jesus Christ. Giving a life. Living a life that we may know God's love! Dying that we may taste the salvation of God. Wondrous, amazing, a "Wow!" of a thing!
"So God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of His heaven." 'Heaven, Lord? ‘Heaven in my heart? You would bless me, here and now, today, with things, not having the fading glory of this world, but tingling with the joy of heaven… eternal… everlasting... holy… wonderful... pure? Lord, you would do such things in my life?
"No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him, the dear Christ enters in!" You got that right Mr. Brooks when you wrote this one. A sinful world that isn't even listening, yet alone hearing the voice of God. But… Lord… you still come where your voice is welcomed. "Wow!" Here we are singing carols, and half the time we're not expecting, or listening, or prepared to welcome your love… no, not even at Christmastime... but you’re breaking in… breaking down even our hard and cold hearts!
It's Christmas. Our bible readings gave us the story of Mary and Elizabeth, who were pregnant, not just with children, but also with hope. Who looked to the birth, not just of a couple of beautiful baby boys, but of a whole new world.
And it happened. It happened in Bethlehem. Jesus was born. He lived. He died. He rose again. Do you have that faith? Can the love of Jesus be born into the womb of your everyday lives? I believe it to be so! That’s why I celebrate Christmas! That's why I'm here today, and will be here tomorrow, singing and worshiping, with a smile as broad as a Cheshire cat. "Wow!"
Christ the Savior is born!!!!!!
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D