Midweek Advent Worship
December 19, 2018
Luke 1:23-25, 39-45
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Last Wednesday was Zechariah’s account about the birth of his son, John. I titled the message, “Advent Silence”. John was forced to listen, in silence, for 9 months, and the silence was the best thing for him. It allowed him to listen as God continued to speak.
But as all of you know it is the woman who always has the last word. That is also true here. So today we speak about Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer, and the sermon is titled “Advent Expectation”.
If you are traveling north on Santa Fe, just a little past Evans, on the east side of the road you will see a warning. It reads, “Your In-Laws Are Not a Retirement Plan.” It is some financial company that is giving you that warning. They are telling you the truth.
But if you go back just 2,000 years a retirement plan may not be inheritance from your rich in-laws or some rich uncle, but you counted on your children to care for you in your old age. When you couldn’t work anymore you looked to your children to do their duty and take you in and provide for your needs. No pension plans, no Social Security. Long before Uncle Sam was generous, your kids had an obligation to you.
That is, unless you didn’t have any kids. It says of Zechariah and Elizabeth, “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” (Luke 1:7)
Expectation? For a long time they didn’t have much expectation. They had to make other plans for those years.
But having a child, then and now, is much more than an insurance policy. We read in the Scriptures about that great desire of having children and the great distress when parents are childless. Rachel was married to Jacob but she hadn’t had a child. Her words to her husband? “Give me children, or I’ll die.” (Genesis 30:1) Abraham’s wife, Sarah, simply resigned herself that she would never be a mother. (Genesis 18:12) Have you ever read the account of Hannah, the mother of Samuel? I Samuel 1 tells us of her anguish of not being gifted with a child. Eli the priest saw her lips moving but nothing was coming from her mouth. He thought her to be crazy or drunk. But she said, “Not so, my lord. I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” (I Samuel 1:15-16)
And what did God do? He exceeded expectations. Sarah, a child, Isaac, when she was 90. I believe it was Rachel who had Joseph and later Benjamin. Hannah had Samuel. And Elizabeth, in all of her expectation had John.
But it wasn’t just the gift of a child that brought them joy, but the plans that God had for the children that were born. These children would impact the lives of many through their connection with the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus.
Earlier this month we had the memorial service for Doris Carlson, a dear saint of God. In her service folder a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson was given. It asked the question what it means to succeed in life. “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better. Whether by a healthy child, or a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
What if we were to multiply that by millions and billions of times? What if not just one life breathed easier because of the life of another, but billions of folks breathed easier and better because of the life of another?
Well, that is what Elizabeth is ready to say when Mary, pregnant Mary, comes to her, pregnant Elizabeth. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” (Luke 1:41-45)
Sometimes we ask too little of God. Sometimes we expect too little from His hand. “Don’t think too big!” “Don’t ask too much!!” “Be reasonable!!” No – Advent Expectations should be big. They were for Elizabeth and they should be for us. She has her child and she comes into an encounter with God’s redemption for mankind. Do you know the word in Ephesians? “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations. For ever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
The great stuff you want to ask of God? Do it!! When you are burdened with loss and grief and heartache, ask God to be present with you. He is Immanuel – God with us – in the flesh of Jesus. When you are under sin’s curse and feel that there is no new beginning in life – go to this God who lifts up the humble and gives comfort to the heart that hurts. When Jesus cleans us we are pure and whole. If you face the impossible in life, then look to the One who the Bible tells us did the impossible over and over. Jesus is Savior and Lord and God, we can look to Him for all things.
We are less than a week away from Christmas. Make a list and then revise it. Don’t make it shorter, simpler, easier – make it longer, harder, even impossible. That is why Christ came to this world. That is the type of work that only He can do. He’ll take care of your soul. He will grace your life.
Zechariah was silenced only to let God open his mouth to sing praise to Him. Elizabeth lived in shame for too long only to see God give her an expectation that was realized far beyond what she could even imagine.
Today live in expectation for everything God has in store for us in the coming of Jesus. Amen!!
(The sermon title and the leading thoughts come from the series “The Stories of Advent” by Dr. Steven P. Mueller in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 20, Part 1, Pages 42-43)