[Picture: The Visitation – Mary and Elizabeth in the Garden of a Country House,
in Huth Hours, illustrated by Simon Marmion (15th cent.), Public domain]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Rorate Caeli), 12/22/2019. The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, click here.
Just a breath before the portion of Luke’s Gospel you heard just now, he provided a significant, albeit brief, bit of narration. The very last words concerning the angel Gabriel’s visit and annunciation to Mary were this: “[T]he angel left her”… Luke 1:38b
He went back to heaven, but there she stood; alone amid the stillness, though not quite alone – not now, and truthfully, never again. This she knows that for certain as her hands brace her belly.
But now what? The angel has departed. No more can she hear his voice. So what is she going to do with the silence?
She could go and find Joseph, and break the silence that way. Or maybe drop to her knees, now weak with recognition, and kiss the space once filled by Gabriel in answer to the question he had asked.
In our wilderness John the Baptist has shown the Way, even from prison. Comfort for God’s people: lowered mountains, level roads, and the rough places made plain, a straight path for the coming Savior.
But now we see more clearly than ever, from the broad landscape of the wilderness, to the narrow fabric of Mary’s womb, God’s cosmic plan has been taking shape: a Child.
It didn’t happen by force. There was no coercion. Mary could have very easily declined the offer. But not when the invitation was so lovely; not when the words were so very sweet:
Rejoice, O graced one…The Lord is with you… Luke 1:28
You have nothing to fear.
The work is mine, and the gift is yours.
The Holy Spirit will hover over you like he hovered over the waters of creation.
The power of the Most High will overshadow you like He once overshadowed the tabernacle.
And this child,
Will save his people from their sins. Luke 1:30-37, paraphrase
The baptizer’s warning was that touching evil gave it incarnation… But the angel’s promise is that touching Christ… gives Him incarnation…
Mary gives Him flesh. Joyfully… Willingly… Hopefully…
But then the angel left her. Now what to do with all the silence?…
Well, she should be going.
The sacred touch of Christ is a gift that is best received and best used when it is embodied. And so she heads with haste, off into the hill country to visit her aging cousin Elizabeth;
To be with her who was called barren, to rejoice with a fellow graced one.
But she doesn’t go to tell her own story. She’s not off to explain to old Elizabeth how blessed she’s been, or how amazing it was to hear the angel speak.
It’s much simpler than that. She’s there to help with the chores. She’s there to make some meals for when the baptizer comes, and things get hectic.
She’s there to be a friend. She’s there purely to be present, and to bring Jesus’ presence.
“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary,” says Luke, “the baby leaped in her womb.” A simple hello, a simple presence, that brought forth the most profound acclamation: “Blessed are you among women” says Elizabeth, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb [Jesus].” Luke 1:41-42
There, in a remarkably simple, ordinary way…there is the answer to the silence. “And the angel left her” may be one of the most underrated verses in all of Scripture. It seems like a brief and momentary event, but really, it describes for us the life of a Christian…
It’s not a life of thrills and visions. But it’s a life where the angel leaves and the road before us is long. It’s a life of following the only Son of God from Bethlehem to Cana, from Jordan to Jerusalem, and eventually from cross to tomb. But along the way, you never stop following.
So while you may not have the angel Gabriel, you will always have the fruit of Mary’s womb.
You always have the One who has touched you and graced you, you always have the One who has invaded our world, who has drawn near; the One to whom Mary gives life and breath.
And that should make for a profound difference in our lives. It means that the moment of annunciation, the moment where the Spirit hovers and the power of the Most High overshadows, the moment where the earth stands still, and all that matters is the voice spoken by the angel…
It means that moment… is only a very small piece of a very big life.
It means that the angel leaves, but Christ stays put: Christ remains for you, even as He remains in you.
So the question before us this Advent IV is simple: what will we do with all the silence? Will we be standing still? Or will we be going with haste into the hill country, to be present to a world in desperate need of the one whom we bear in our bodies?
You will not encounter anyone who is too evil or too far gone. You will not speak to anyone Jesus does not love and care for. You will not find a single person for whom Jesus was not crucified and risen.
Because a God who would propose to make pregnant a poor, unmarried, virgin; and then send her off to an old relative to call her “Blessed among women,” that God might do anything – even loving folks like us; even pushing us through the narrow straits of Advent, to the wide open places of incarnation, and mercy, and joy, and life.
So, let’s be going now… with haste into the hill country, into this world. Nine months of pregnancy in just three days…
But Tuesday night the silence will cease, and the angels will return. The virgin will give birth. A Child will cry out in the night. And once again there will be traffic between God and man.
Come now, you hungry, and be filled with good things. For He has brought down the Mighty One from His throne, and He has exalted the lowly. He is Emmanuel – God with us, God for us, and on us, and in us – now and forevermore.