Hurry Up! (and wait) December 20, 2009

Advent 4       Hurry Up! (and wait)             Luke 1.39-45

Is anyone here looking forward to Christmas?  I’m happy for you if you are.

I’m looking forward to parts of it…like being with family, like the break in routine that it offers and all that…but I’m not looking forward to all of the driving we’re going to be doing.  I’m not a fan of the rushing around, packing my suitcase, loading the car, topping off the tank, remembering the snacks, doing the dishes, checking all our lights, the appliances, making sure things are turned off, turned down, and unplugged, finding someone to feed and water this and that and the other…I’m just not looking forward to all that, you know?

So I guess I’m looking forward to Christmas, but not the checklist we have to go through in order to get there.

(That’s why I leave most of it to Christine!)

By the time our car is packed up and ready to go, I’m usually feeling rushed, scattered, and just a little bit grumpy.  I’ll admit that although I’m looking forward to Christmas, I’m not really looking forward to the whole production that comes before we leave.

Maybe you feel similar on a typical Sunday morning!  (especially those of you with children!) J

We know what it’s like, to rush around and get ready for a trip…to ‘get ready and hurry’.

We can identify with Mary this morning, when Luke tells us how she ‘got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country…where she…greeted Elizabeth.’

But have you ever really thought about the reason for Mary’s journey?

It’s one thing to get ready and hurry to our job or to school, or to church on a Sunday morning.

It’s one thing to get ready and hurry when we have somewhere to go, somewhere to be, and people expecting us on the other end of the journey.

But it’s another thing to get ready and hurry when we’re lonely, scared, and vulnerable…when we don’t know which way to turn, what we’re going to do, or how we’re going to do it.

So it’s my hope this morning that Mary and Elizabeth can teach us how to Hurry Up and wait…that is, how to hurry up and meet each other in this place called church—not the building…but the sanctuary we call church… that is, the place wherever two or three are gathered and pregnant with the in-breaking word and promise of God!

Mary got ready and hurried to Elizabeth.  But it wasn’t for a party or a job or a wedding.  It was more urgent than those things could ever be!

You might think I’m reading too much into the story, but if you look back about 5 words before LaVina started reading this morning, at the end of verse 38, there’s a kind of cryptic line that’s easy to overlook, but I think it sets the stage for the rest of the story.

The NIV says “Then the angel left her”.  The NRSV says “Then the angel departed from her”.

It’s the last line of the interaction between Mary and the angel Gabriel, when Mary receives the news that she will have a child, that she should name him Jesus, and that her relative Elizabeth will give birth as well…

And after Mary talks to this angel and commits herself to following through on God’s plan for her life…after she says ‘YES’, then the angel leaves her.

And those few words are some of the most overlooked in the Christmas story.

We see them there, but we don’t really pay any attention to them.

But they completely set the stage for Mary’s hurried trip…and if we can bring ourselves to admit it, those words still set the stage for Sunday school, for worship, and for our small group gatherings.

Then the angel left her.

Gabriel turns and leaves Mary…all alone.  He’s gone.

The light returns to normal, the objects around her come back into focus, and Mary—young, unmarried, pregnant Mary—looks around and realizes just how lonely, how vulnerable, and how difficult her life would become in just a few short months.

On one hand, nothing had changed; on the other hand, nothing could remain the same!

Mary was pregnant with the promise of God…but the angel had left her.

And as the reality of her situation began to sink in, I can only imagine the thoughts running through her head.

I can imagine the blank look on her face as she sat and wondered if she’d eventually wake up from this…dream or nightmare; whichever it was.

I can only imagine how things looked in the light of day with no angel in sight.

It must have been tempting to pretend like it never happened.  It must have been tempting to Hurry Up and get on with her life, to fill her time with distractions and noise and pretend like everything could go back to normal.  After all, there was a wedding to plan!

There are times in life when we hear an angel speak, like Mary.

I’m talking about those times when you really sense God leading you to take a step of faith … those times where you make the best decision you can based on the information you had… those situations where you boldly start off with confidence and a spirit of adventure, sure that you’re doing the right thing…and then after awhile you look around and see that you’re all alone, you’re scared, you’re cold, and you’re not sure if you’re lost or just on a lonely road.  The angel spoke…but then the angel left, and you’d give anything just to see a sign that you’re still heading in the right direction.

Maybe the angel told you to mentor someone, and it seemed like such a good idea!

Maybe the angel told you to go to Honduras on a mission trip, and it seemed like such a good idea!

Maybe the angel told you to take a chance—to welcome a stranger into your home to share a meal or a holiday…it seemed like such a good idea at the time…you know?

But that early vision…the angelic vision that excites us and energizes us and propels us forward …it doesn’t stick around for very long.

Just like Gabriel, after we commit, the vision leaves and we can feel abandoned, lost, and lonely.

The person you’re mentoring starts to get on your nerves.

In Honduras, you get so sick you can hardly move, and you can’t understand the language.

The person you’ve welcomed into your home like family, they steal from you.

There are a thousand ways the vision leaves us like Gabriel left Mary.

The question isn’t whether it will happen…the question is how we respond when it does!

Mary gets ready and hurries to Elizabeth.  She reaches out for a friend, for a familiar face, for someone who will understand!

It’s a good model to follow, don’t you think?  When the angel leaves, we need to reach out to someone we trust.

And the older, wiser Elizabeth welcomes Mary with no strings attached… she lets her unload her fears and apprehensions, as well as her hopes and dreams and excitement too!

Elizabeth is a gracious host.  She doesn’t judge, in fact, she celebrates with Mary!  The promise in her own womb leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting!

Can we do that for each other?  Can we follow their lead?

These two women reach out to each other, holding on for dear life as unexpected pregnancies shake both of them to the core.  And in the other’s presence, each one finds the shelter they need.

Elizabeth, the older one…she cries out, full of the Holy Spirit, and she proclaims the Truth to Mary!  She plays the role of prophet, telling Mary exactly what she needed to hear at that moment.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”  It’s a message all pregnant women need to hear.

Isn’t that still the reason we come together like we do on Sunday mornings, or at other times of the week or month or year?

Don’t we still need to run to each other, to embrace, to proclaim and to hear from each other, that we are blessed to be on this road, that we are blessed to be doing this work that we’ve been called to do…that even though the road is long and cold and oftentimes lonely…even though we still get scared, and lost, and as confused as an unmarried, pregnant, teenage girl—even though the way forward seems impossible…we are blessed to be on it, for it’s taking us always closer to the fullness of the kingdom of God!

We’re not used to speaking, or hearing, that message.  More often we ask “What do you want from me? Why do you keep coming back? What’s in it for me?”  If not verbally, at least in our hearts and our attitudes.  But Elizabeth shows us a different way!  Do not ask what our church can do for us, but what we can do for our church!

Our words and actions ought to be more like Elizabeth… who asks “Why am I so favored to have you here?  Why am I so favored to share this load with you?”

I’m not sure, as we gather this morning…I’m not sure who’s a Mary and who’s an Elizabeth, but I’m pretty sure that when the two get together, it’s something to get ready for…something to hurry to.  There are few things more powerful than finding ourselves in a situation beyond our control or imagination, and then finding someone who knows from the inside, what it is to be in that place.

There are few things more valuable than someone who can meet us there.

In their meeting, they find not just understanding (though that would be gift enough), not just hospitality (though that would be mercy enough); but in each other, they find a shelter; in their meeting, they make a sanctuary.

Is it any wonder that Mary sings?

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