Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sermon: Rorate Coeli (Advent 4) – 2016

18 December 2016

Text: Luke 1:39-56

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the Roman world, the least powerful people were women and children.  While it is true that some women and children – by virtue of aristocracy – could wield power, the vast majority were poor and taken for granted.

Although all of us started out in our mother’s wombs, although every human being born with the exception of Adam and Eve experienced life as a pre-born baby, then as an infant, and as long as life lasted, a child, and perhaps an adult - the ancient world did not think too highly of children.

They were dispensable, by means of abortion or exposing infants to nature to allow them to perish.  They were valued mainly for the work they could do, for their utility.  Handicapped or injured children were useless, and disposable.

Women were likewise not typically of great value to society.  Prostitution and human trafficking were legal and common. There was no real social stigma for men committing adultery.  Women had no presence in most matters of government, society, or religious affairs in the Pagan Roman world.

And so, how extraordinary that our Gospel reading records a meeting that changed the entire course of world history. This was not a meeting between king and counselors, or between members of a senate, nor between a general and his lieutenants, nor even between great philosophers and sages.  This was a meeting between two women and two fetuses.

And yet, this meeting is one of the most remarkable in history, translated into nearly every known human tongue, and even quoted in gathered assemblies of Christian people for nearly two millennia all over the planet.

This meeting was the first between the final prophet and the Messiah, and they exchanged no words, for both men were in their mother’s wombs.  And these two women were not from aristocratic Roman families, though they were of royal Israelite extraction in spite of their worldly poverty.

Mary was a pregnant teenager whose fiancé was not the father.  She was too poor to even afford the usual Temple sacrifice when her Son was born.  She had no influence in Judean or Roman politics.  And yet, she is the most unique and extraordinary woman who has ever lived, the mother of the mightiest King in history, and the author of lyrics sung, and words prayed, for centuries.

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was older, a woman who had been socially shamed by being barren. She was a priest’s wife, whose husband was struck mute after a strange encounter in the Temple, and who shockingly became pregnant at an advanced age.

The meeting of two unknown pregnant cousins in the backwater hill country in rural occupied Palestine was not something of interest to the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, nor the mighty from their thrones.  

Indeed, this meeting went unnoticed by kings and counselors, senators, military leaders, and philosophers.  

But we notice it today, recorded in the Word of God, two mothers that epitomize motherhood, and stand as living historical symbols of both the Old and New Testaments.  For the two men growing in their wombs were John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the four were close to one another, hearing the voice of Mary, the mother of His cousin Jesus, John leaped in his own mother Elizabeth’s womb.  His leap was a response to Jesus, to the proximity, the closeness of the physical presence of the Lord.  And Elizabeth was herself filled with the Holy Spirit, honoring the Mother of Jesus, who is truly the mother of God, with the immortal words recorded in Scripture: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary was likewise filled with the Holy Spirit, and she prophesied in agreement with her cousin about herself: “all generations will call me blessed.”

While the future prophet and the future Savior held their silence awaiting their births, their holy mothers confessed their faith and proclaimed what had been revealed to them.  They prepared John and Jesus for their life to come, feeding and mothering, nurturing and teaching.  The hands that rocked their cradles truly revolutionized the world.  These two women, dear wives and mothers and saints of the church, have exercised far more power than any Cleopatra, Elizabeth, or Victoria, changing the world in ways that no queen could ever come close to doing.

For God worked through St. Elizabeth to launch the last great prophetic voice, the Savior’s herald: St. John the Baptist. And God worked through the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring God Himself incarnate into the flesh, the one perfect all-atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and the conqueror of sin, death, and the devil, the crucified one who dies to give us life, mightier than any Pharaoh, Caesar, General, or President could even imagine to be.

In this meeting, these two women and two children testified to the Lord’s plan of redemption that involved each of them as His servants.  As St. John would testify, the mountains are to be laid low, the valleys raised up like mountains.  St. Mary puts it like this: “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.”

Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ humbles the proud, and raises up the humble.  He afflicts the comfortable, and comforts the afflicted.  He kills with the law and resurrects with the Gospel.  

For Jesus is the King of the universe, and John was His counselor, with the Lord governing not by means of elected senators, but by called and ordained servants of the Word, leading a war “not against flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces of evil”, and being the incarnation of Wisdom Himself, before whom all great philosophers and sages must bow.  Indeed, this meeting was not between tissue, or blobs of flesh, or as parts of their mothers; but of men who would change the world forever: John, the final prophet, and Jesus who is God and Savior.

Let us thank and praise the Father for showing mercy to them that “fear Him from generation to generation.”  Let us thank and praise the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Mary’s God and Savior, the Redeemer of all mankind by the cross. Let us thank and praise the Holy Spirit, whose mighty creative and redemptive voice goes forth not only in inspired words given to men and women for us to sing and pray, and not only by the preaching of the Gospel by prophets and pastors, but also by the leaping of a fetal human being, created by God for us as a prophetic testimony to Him who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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