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How Does a Weary World Rejoice?

“We Find Joy in Connection”

December 3, 2023 Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Luke 1:24-45 | Isaiah 40:1-5

Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:24-45

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’[b] 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[d] a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

Isaiah 40:1-5

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,    says your God.Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,    and cry to herthat she has served her term,    that her penalty is paid,that she has received from the Lord’s hand    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be lifted up,    and every mountain and hill be made low;the uneven ground shall become level,    and the rough places a plain.Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,    and all people shall see it together,    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

The Laughing game I played in youth group.  Everyone lays down on the ground.  But you put your head on the stomach of the person next to you.  And then the next person puts their head on your stomach until the whole group is spread across the floor in a broken line.  It starts with the first person saying “Ho.” And then the next person does a “Ho Ho.”  And it really doesn’t take long until the vibrations that come in your stomach from saying the word “ho” make the next person’s head bob ever so slightly.  And believe it or not this is a hilarious feeling.  And so giggles turn into laughter and laughter turns into belly laughter which makes heads bob even more before long everyone breaks out in uncontrollable laughter.  There is some point in the whole thing when you realize how silly the whole thing is but there is absolutely no way to possibly stop laughing because the joy from the person next to you is so contagious.  I almost thought about having a few of us try this here today, but it will just have to wait for a youth group sometime. 

I hope that the first week of Advent has been meaningful for you.  In this season leading up to the birth of Christ on Christmas, we’re asking ourselves “How does a weary world rejoice?”  We’re asking ourselves this because the world can be wearying in so many different ways.  Whether it’s our age or our bodies themselves feel tired and weary, or our hearts aching for situations that feel beyond our control.  Weariness is not an emotion to ignore, it’s a reality that must be acknowledged.  

We are a weary world.  And yet Advent reminds us that we are waiting for something better, something that we cannot yet fully see or comprehend.  Advent is here to plant a seed of hope in the darkness of our weariness.  

And the amazing thing is that we don’t have to make this up.  We are given a sacred story through our scripture that gives us hope.  We began this story last week with Zechariah.  Today the story picks up with Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth who has conceived the child God promised and has been pregnant for five months, living in seclusion (a curious detail the scripture includes).  But quickly the story shifts to another woman.  A woman very different from Elizabeth.  A woman barely into her teens.  A woman with no husband.  A woman with no means.  Mary is her name.  She is Elizabeth’s cousin.  And though she has prospects for marriage, her life-line to provision in this culture, she is still waiting for this security to become formal.  But something very scary happens to this young woman.  Just like with Zechariah, an angel appears to her.  The angel could sense her fear and vulnerability immediately and so that angel says “Do not be afraid, God loves you.”  But the angel continues to talk with words that pile up in ways that leave Mary feeling confused.  Did the angel just say she would have a child?  And that the child would be the Son of the Most High?  A great man, a descendent of King David?  How on earth could this be?   It was not so much a question of skepticism like Zechariah last week, but a question of sheer logistics.  The angel continues to talk and explain how it is that she will become pregnant and bear the Song of God.  But I’m sure the angel could tell Mary was still swirling in these words.  Being pregnant is hard enough on its own, not to mention all this other stuff.  And so the angel adds one more bit that might help ground her.  “Even now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’    

We can imagine that at this line, Mary’s eyes light up with understanding.  A bridge between not understanding and understanding.  The suggestion of solidarity from someone else going through a similar situation.  It’s only in that moment that Mary is able to move past her own fear and hesitation in the situation.  Knowing she wasn’t alone, that this was a shared experience allowed her the courage to say, “Here I am, God.  I’m ready.”  

I have to say that until this week I had never read the annunciation to Mary by the angel in that same way.  But it makes sense.  Mary was moved, figuratively and literally, by the reality that she was not alone.  It’s like when you find out some scary news but then in the same breath, you learn that there’s also a support group for people who have all received this same news.  Mary was so moved by the news that Elizabeth was also miraculously pregnant, what’s the very next thing she did?  

She had to go see her, a journey of more than 80 miles.  But do you remember what the scripture said about Elizabeth at the beginning?  That she was now five months pregnant and living in seclusion.  The language around this is strong and suggests she was hiding away from the world.  The story doesn’t say why she was doing this, but we can imagine.  Was she experiencing foreboding joy, consumed with worry that something terrible would happen? Was she protecting herself from the scrutiny of her neighbors? As an older woman, was she having a really difficult pregnancy? Was she, like Zechariah, in a season of spiritual solitude, wanting to go inward to prepare for the birth of her son?

We don’t know the answers to those questions, but we do know this: when Mary crossed the threshold after her long journey, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  As much as Mary had needed Elizabeth’s connection, Elizabeth had also needed Mary’s connection.  A reassurance that neither of them were going through this alone.  God brought them together and yoked them in this difficult and fraught season of waiting.  

A connection with one another.  None of us are alone.  This is also the message of Advent.   Part of God coming to this earth is God showing up in each of us when we show up for one another.

There’s a lovely little Advent devotional called "Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent" by Enuma Okoro that focuses on this part of the story.  And in it she writes: "We should not be surprised at the divine consideration in having this young girl and this old woman wait together for the fulfillment of God's respective words to them. God exists within a holy community, … God created us to flourish in our interconnectedness and mutual support of one another. We need one another to remind us that all things are possible with God and to help us trust the narrative that God's reign is both at hand and still to come. In the midst of uncomfortable waiting, we need voices that also speak to our blessedness. Sharing our stories adds perspectives that can bolster our faith when life overwhelms, frightens, or takes us by surprise."

We show up for one another; when we come into this space and share our stories; when my laugh makes you laugh; when life overwhelms me and I hear you say you’re having a hard time, too, our paths overlap.  We realize that we are connected to each other by a thread that we had not yet noticed.  

And even though this connection does not magically erase the situations and problems we’re facing, it gives us something better.  Solidarity in the weariness.  Solidarity in the long wait for God’s kingdom to come.  Solidarity through the darkness.  And an amazing thing happens when we find connection and solidarity at our weakest points, the ones around us begin to see things in ourselves that we had given up on seeing.  

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leapt for joy.  The foreboding sense of overwhelm and fear was suddenly not the only emotion she was feeling any more.  Suddenly there was a sense of peace.  Neither of them would have to go through this alone.  

Blessed are we when we extend a hand.  Knowing not whether it’s us or them that needs the connection more.  Blessed are we when we allow our fear and weariness to make room for company.  Blessed are we who share our stories and make way for God to enter in.  Blessed are we when we celebrate each other.  

Grace and Peace, 

Pastor Anna

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