“Listen to us, O Shepherd of Israel, hear us, leader of your flock. Seated on your throne above the winged creatures, reveal yourself to us. Show us your strength; come and save us!” (Psalm 80) The Psalm of today sings. Yes, our God listens to us. God is not just seated on his throne above, but He descends from above. But, How? How does God come down from this throne? How?
“Listen to us, O Shepherd of Israel, hear us, . . . Bring us back, O God! Show us your mercy, and we will be saved! How much longer, Lord God Almighty, will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” (Psalm 80) The Psalm sings again. Yes, our God hears us. He listens to his people’s prayers. Our God Not just listens to us, but also comes to save us. He is merciful God, slow to anger. But, How? How does our God come to save us? How?
Prophet Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. They lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them. . . . . For a Child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, ‘Wonderful Counselor,’ ‘Mighty God,’ ‘Eternal Father,’ ‘Prince of Peace.’ His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace. He will rule as King David’s successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time. The Lord Almighty is determined to do all this.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)
“For to us a Child is born, to us a son is given.”
Our God decided to move into our neighborhood. Our God chose to become one of us so that we could become what he is, and what we were meant to be, that is, the children of God, the people of his kingdom. He came down from above down to us so that he raises us up where he is. Yes! But still, How?
Then, “What do we do?” “What should we do?” And, “What does God do?” And, “How will we recognize it?”
The angel of God came to an old man, saying, “Your wife will bear you a son who will be great in the Lord’s sight. Form his very birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he wil bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go ahead of the Lord, strong and mighty like the prophet Elijah. He will bring fathers and children together again; he will turn disobedient people back to the way of thinking of the righteous; he will get the Lord’s people ready for him.” (Luke 1:5-25) “Thank you. But, how? I am an old man, and my wife is old also. How?”
The same angel of God came to a small, young girl, saying, “You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king, and his kingdom wil never end.” “But, how? I’ve never slept with a man, I am a virgin. How, can this be?”
The angel said to her, “It will happen through you because the Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest upon you. The holy child whom you will give birth will be called the Son of God.” But, how! Mary needs more, need something more. “Yes, . . . But, How?”
Then, the angles said, “Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though, as you know, she is very old.” “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God. To her, and to you, it is given.”
And then, today’s gospel story tells us, soon afterward Mary set out with haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The two birth stories become intertwined, and two mothers are put on a same stage together, and they become a singular story of God’s redemption. The Mary, the mother of the Lord, is coming to Elizabeth who has been called an old barren woman, but now carries a child in her womb. And her child will prepare the way of the Lord, Mary’s child.
“You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Why should this great thing happen to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to visit me?” Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth perceives who this little young woman now coming to visit her is, and is able to perceive who the baby whom she carries in her womb is.
“Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Elizabeth was in anxiety, in fear, in pain, and in shame, but did not go astray from God, standing firm in faith, praying in hope and keeping her hearts and mind pure before God. And now, with God’s grace, being filled with the Holy Spirit of hope and joy, she has become the mother of John who would prepare the way of the Lord. To her, it is given. And now, the Holy Spirit fills her with joy and hope, and open her eyes, minds, hearts and spirit to see the Mary bearing the holy child, the hope and joy of God.
Now, the Mary stands before her cousin Elizabeth. Yes, she is the Elizabeth, she is old, she has been called an old barren woman, but yes, she is pregnant just like her. To her it is given. Now, Elizabeth stands before Mary. Yes, she is the Mary, not married, and has not known man, but she is pregnant just like her. To her it is given. Now, these two mothers know something different and new that have never seen, heard, and known is about to happen, and already it has begun in them, through them, with them. To these two women, the eternal, enduring gift of God, the new world, is given. To us, a Child is born. To us a son is given. To us, God’s Salvation is given. To these two mothers, the Holy Spirit is given. To us, the Holy Spirit is given.
“How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true!” Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth knows not only Mary has received a promise from God but also Mary submits herself to what God has said to her, and embraces the Word given to her not just symbolically. Mary takes God’s Word in faith, and now bear the Word in her, and now journeys with the Word. Elizabeth knows the Mary is the mother of the Lord, the mother of hope. She knows it, and her unborn child also knows it. Not only Mary but also Elizabeth believe what was spoken to Mary by the Lord will be fulfilled. It is real. They know and they believe. Being filled with the Holy Spirit of hope and joy, they are able to recognize the work of God for his people, and to know a new heaven and earth is about to be revealed to the people through them. God’s new story is about to begin in them, through them, and with them.
It is coming. It is near. Not far away. Prepare the way of the Lord!
Today, we are waiting for the coming of our Savior, the Son of God, who, “remember us, listen to us, and show us his strength and mercy, and come to save us.” (Psalm 80). Today, we are waiting for the coming of our Saviour, the Son of God, who, “shows mercy to those who honor him, and stretches out his mighty arm, scatters the proud with all their plans, brings down mighty kings from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away with empty hands, and keeps the promise he made to his people.” (Luke 1:46-55)
“How far is it to Bethlehem.” “How far is it to Bethlehem?” It is one of Christmas carols, and I want to read to you.
How far is it to Bethlehem? Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room Lit by a star?
Can we see the little child, Is he within?
If we lift the wooden latch, May we go in?
May we stroke the creatures there, Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peek like them and see Jesus asleep?
If we touch his tiny hand, Will he awake?
Will he know we've come so far, Just for his sake?
Great kings have precious gifts, And we have naught,
Little smiles and little tears, Are all we brought.
For all weary children, Mary must weep.
Here, on his bed of straw, Sleep, children, sleep.
God in his mother's arms, Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find Their heart's desire.
“How far is it to Bethlehem?” Not very far. Not very far from here.
My brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us journey to Bethlehem. Let us welcome the Mary, a small and young woman, who is not married, and to the eyes of the world, will bear the stigma of an unwed mother, and let us stand by her who will be in fear, grief, and pain, but also in hope and in faith. Let us walk with her, and her child. Let us go to see the Lord coming to our neighborhood and welcome the Lord coming in the midst of the poor, the sick, the undocumented migrants, the prisoners, the homeless, the minorities. And, with Mary the mother of the Lord, and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, let us praise the Lord, and rejoice at the coming of our Lord.
To us, a Child is coming. To us, a new world, a new universe, is coming. Let us prepare the way of the Lord.