Luke 1:39-45
Advent 4
Dr. Sharlyn DeHaven Gates
December 20, 2015

Today is the Sunday in Advent when we turn our focus to love.  What are the things you love?  I couldn’t help but laugh when I wrote that question, remembering my very proper grandfather – George Wilkinson.  When I would say, “Ooooh, I just LOVE strawberries!” he would say, “We love our sweethearts.  We LIKE our strawberries.”

No, Granddad.  I LOVED strawberries and I had no sweetheart; At least not when he first said that to me.

Oh, but then, a little later, I DID love my sweetheart.  There was a song that was popular back in 1968 – “The Son of a Preacher Man,” sung by Dusty Springfield.  Yep.  My first love was the son of a Methodist Preacher man and, oh my, I was sure it was real love.  And he was too.  Ha!  And his dad – the preacher man – was concerned enough that he asked to be moved to another church – far, far away.  It broke our hearts.  But, we got over it and moved along.

So, what is love?  We know that romantic love is not all there is.  And when we mature we realize there is so much more than romance.  When a couple marries, they certainly soon see that love is much more complicated than the emotions that they felt in the beginning.

Love is meeting someone halfway – or maybe even further.  Comprising, sacrificing, forgiving, loving when the other isn’t being very lovable.  Love is accepting, when the other doesn’t live up to your expectations at times.  Love is truly sticking to your promises through sickness and health, through richer or poorer.

Love is hearing you’re a going to have a baby and already you give up some of yourself for the child you haven’t yet met.  Suddenly, you are willing to do without so that you can give a good life to your child.

Love is loving unconditionally, regardless of how many times your teenager has behaved in a way that is a worry, or even causes you to be angry.  It is giving another chance – and another, and yet, even another.

Love is having faith in the promises another makes – believing in that person; continuing to hold in your heart the belief that they will come through with what they said they would do.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in the 13th chapter of his first letter: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Now, think of everything we’ve ever said about love, everything you’ve ever felt concerning human love and magnify it so much that it is an all consuming, overwhelming, total, incomprehensible expression, and then you might begin to know the love God has for you.

Remember the verse from John 3:16 where Jesus says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him, should not perish, but would have eternal life.

Jesus is saying that God loved the whole world, and everyone in it, and everyone who would EVER be in the world so very much that God decided to send his one and only Son to the world to save us all from sin and death and destruction; in fact, to give us the promise of life – eternal life – with God forever and ever.

And through that Son, there would be a pouring out of unconditional love and forgiveness and grace and mercy like no one had ever known before.

There would be sacrifice – a total giving of Himself – so that all this love and all God’s promises would be realized.

Our beautiful text today shows an amazing sign of love and recognition.  Mary is pregnant with God’s Son.  Mary has given herself over to God’s plan and is willing to walk whatever path God has chosen for her.  It’s a difficult, puzzling and dangerous decision.

Being engaged and not married, being pregnant with a child her fiancé knows is not his could be cause for Mary being stoned to death at the worst, and at the very best, being sent off in shame from her husband to be.

Yet, Joseph too, has taken the higher path.  He chooses to believe the angel who tells him the same story Mary heard.  Joseph and Mary love the Lord and so trust in what they are told, even when they do not know what lies ahead.

And then, there is Elizabeth – so much older than Mary, yet also expecting a child when she has been barren all her life.  Now, at a very old age, she is going to have a baby that God has said will prepare the people for God’s Son.

Her husband, Zechariah, also old, was not quite as easy to convince.  So when he doubted, the Lord caused him to not be able to speak until the child was born.  That child would be known as John the Baptist.

So, at an early point in Mary’s pregnancy she goes to see her cousin Elizabeth.  Both are expecting the unexpected child.  And when Elizabeth sees Mary, the child in her womb jumps.  It is quite noticeable!

And Luke says, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

The child leapt when Mary arrived.  We hear love between two women who are elated with God’s choosing them, even if they cannot completely comprehend what is actually happening or what will happen down the road.  And – could it be love that caused Elizabeth’s unborn baby to leap because of Mary’s unborn child?

We read of love for one another and support for each other in this confusing and difficult, yet wondrous time.

And what is next, after our text for today, is so full of love that it has been written about many times over the years.  Mary is so full of love and joy that she exclaims: “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

It has been called the Magnificat – Mary’s song.  So full of joy and wonder and pure love for the Lord.  Mary trusts the Lord with her complete self and is overcome with love in spite of her fears; in spite of not understanding everything.

Christmas is about love, isn’t it?  It is about trusting God with all the promises we’ve read in Scripture, believing, even if we don’t see it yet.  It is knowing God had a plan for us in Jesus – Immanuel – which means that God is with us.

At Christmas we give gifts.  Most of us, once we are adults, love giving gifts even more than we love to receive a gift.  There is something so meaningful to give something to someone else – and the more it means to them, the more it also means to us.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God first, with all we have and all that we are - and then to love others.  Giving to others is a sign of our love – that kind of love that Jesus talks about.  It’s putting someone else before our own wants and needs.

This touching video is an illustration of the kind of love Jesus talks about when he says to love our neighbor, as we love ourselves.  It is a YouTube video posted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) and is a true story about President Heber J. Grant (a president of the Mormon Church) when he was growing up.  His parents were poor and could not afford to buy him a new coat to replace his old one that had worn out.  His mother surprised him by making him a new, warm coat to wear.  Let’s watch.

 The Coat

The Coat: A Story of Charity

Love is knowing that God has loved us with an everlasting, steadfast, unconditional love that is pure grace.  He saw humanity in our cold dark lives, and saw our desperate need for him to come to us and he did – he came to us in the baby Jesus – his very name means, “the one who saves.”  And his other name is called Immanuel – God with us.

And so, our love is expressed as we praise him with expressions of our language – the only real thing we have to speak our love.  In the O Antiphons that we will say together in a moment, we are saying what has been an ancient tradition of taking the names of God from different Scriptures and praising him with those names, with love and joy.

It is expressing wonder and amazement in who God is.  It is expressing a longing for God’s Son to come once again and finally to establish His peaceful Kingdom.

The words to the O antiphons (called that because each phrase begins with O) come from the Latin traditions.  And the song that we will sing afterward – “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” was actually derived from these O antiphon expressions of love and joy and praise and longing.

Let us take a moment for silent reflection as I invite you to allow your mind to clear and your hearts to be filled with love, remembering what Paul said at the end of the beautiful chapter on love: “Now faith, hope and love abide – but the greatest of these is love.”  1 Cor. 13:13

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