Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
December 19, 2021
Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Well, it’s almost here, isn’t it? The long-awaited Christmas. Over these weeks of Advent, we have felt the anticipation of this coming week. We are trying to finalize the last details for getting things ready. We’ve been on a constant trajectory forward since Thanksgiving. And the speed of that trajectory has steadily increased since that stuffed turkey.
Over the last two Sundays we have heard readings about the ministry of John the Baptist – prepare the way of the Lord – he exhorted us to make the rough places smooth, to repent and be baptized. Get ready for the one to come!
But, in our gospel reading today we have a “prequel” to John’s ministry. Our focus is shifting from John to the One who was and is and is to come, to Jesus.
The angel Gabriel came to Mary in Nazareth and announced to her that she would bear the Son of God – this Mary who loved Joseph, who was but a very young woman herself, who would have to deal with what it meant to conceive without being married – to conceive while betrothed to another. Mary. In some churches she is known as “Theotokos” – God-bearer. And that she was.
Frequently, our impression of Mary is that she is docile, submissive, passive. But we are told in today’s gospel that after Gabriel left Mary went with haste to the town Ein Karem, barely a village. Today it has about 2000 people. When Mary traveled there, there would have been barely a few hundred. Elizabeth -- traditionally understood to be Mary’s cousin – and her husband Zechariah lived there. This trip from Nazareth south to Jerusalem was a distance of over 75 miles – a long and treacherous trip for a young woman whether on foot or on a donkey. And certainly not a trip that a young docile uncertain passive girl would make. Mary was strong and certain and is a model for each of us today. And so there was this amazing meeting of two women who knew and loved each other. Each of whom was miraculously pregnant. An artist by the name of Lisa Cook who lives near Columbia, South Carolina painted this from a photo that I took of this statuary in the courtyard of the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem. We spent some time there when I was in Israel in 2006. It is one of my favorites for many reasons. One of the biggest of these is this mutual gaze that Mary and Elizabeth share; a gaze of understanding without words.
So, with no literary segue, we’re going to talk today a bit about walls. Over the past several years, they have been much in the news as I’m sure we all will recall.
If Mary were to attempt this trip from Nazareth to Ein Karem today – her trip would be significantly lengthened if not impossible because of the Separation Wall that has been under construction in Israel for more than fifteen years. This wall that is 25 feet high and hundreds of miles long separating two peoples who each have important ties to the Holy Land.
This is a wall borne of discord. A wall maintained because of fear and anger. The Separation Wall is a perfect example of how walls in our lives make some journeys impossible.
There are walls in relationships, there are walls in cities – we used to call them RR Tracks – someone lived on the “other side of the tracks” – might as well have been a literal wall -- enclosing some, excluding others, making it impossible to go to some places.
Some Separation Walls are visible and tangible. Others are not. Yet walls of whatever kind serve to divide people, people whom God loves. A friend recently said that when we erect a wall dividing us from others, Jesus is found on the other side and invites us to join him.
There’s another wall to talk about. In the courtyard of that lovely church, The Church of the Visitation, there is a wall behind the statues of this bronze art of Mary meeting Elizabeth. You can see it – there are many ceramic tiles on it. Each proclaims Mary’s hymn, the Magnificat – my soul magnifies the Lord, the Mighty One has done great things for me, he has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things and sent the haughty and the arrogant away empty.
This hymn of praise and thanksgiving is written on over 40 large ceramic tiles – a different language for each tile and these are mounted on this wall. Here we have a wall that doesn’t serve to divide people – rather it serves as a screen on which to proclaim good news to those who will hear it. A Proclamation Wall. A wall on which praise is offered, different languages are recognized, and our unity is clear.
The third wall is a Shattered Wall – this is the wall that God broke through with the birth of Jesus. The wall of our rebellion, self-centeredness and self-interest is shattered by Jesus. Jesus – whose very name means the Lord Saves. It is God who does this – the ultimate demonstration of God’s grace and graciousness. And the way in which God does this is what we celebrate on this 4th Sunday of Advent.
The way that God shattered that wall was to send God’s Son to join us in our humanity – The Son of God made human. Think about that. God could have simply pronounced or spoken what was necessary for the wall between God and God’s people to be shattered – and it would have been – for when God speaks, it’s as good as done.
But, in God’s love for us, God sent his Son to join us in our human-ness – to feel what we feel, to do what we do, to teach us to love, to live so that we can see human life as God originally intended it.
Emmanuel – God is with us.
So my friends as we are now on the threshold of the door to the manger, see clearly the Walls of Separation all around us today. Until we see them and name them and admit that they are there, nothing will change.
Hear the message on the Wall of Proclamation – the Mighty One has done great things us! And holy is God’s name. As we have said before we who have been marked with the sign of the cross of Christ forever are each kingdom bearers. Our very lives proclaim God’s grace and mercy to people who may not otherwise hear it or find that message as annoying as an noisy gong because what they see around them are Christians fussing at everyone else for saying “Happy Holidays” (that is derived from Holy Days) instead of Merry Christmas, Christians who further the walls of separation by creating and relishing “us” vs “them” mentality. Let us as the beloved of Jesus pour forth that love from God in abundance to those we meet – at the grocery store, on the sidewalk, in the parking lots, indeed everywhere we go.
And we are enabled to do this, indeed called to do this, because of Emmanuel coming to us, in our world, in human skin. Jesus in our midst shattered the walls that distance us from God and from each other. God Incarnate. Who came to dwell among us.
And even as we expectantly wait for the day we observe Jesus’ incarnation, we might say to ourselves – wouldn’t it have been wonderful to live at a time when Jesus was really physically present! Wouldn’t it be great to hear him talk and teach. What if we could actually pray with him? But you see, we DO! Our gathering together on Sunday morning, whether in person or through the wonders of technology, we are the very Body of Christ. We hear the good news that Jesus proclaimed. We proclaim that Jesus is very present with us in our gathering together and also in the Holy Meal we share. And in that Meal, we become what we eat. The hands and feet and heart of Jesus. And, like Mary, we carry Christ into the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.