Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:39-55

The prophet Micah wrote during a very difficult time for the Hebrew people. Israel had been split in two, and the Northern Kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrian Empire. Now the Southern Kingdom of Judah, where Micah lived, was being devastated too. And Micah says, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” Can’t you just hear the people who don’t want to listen to prophets? “Not likely. Those little clans don’t produce much.” And Micah says he will “feed his flock in the strength of the Lord….and he shall be the one of peace.” That must have sounded ridiculous. This great ruler will be a shepherd? Shepherds don’t go into battle. They just sit around and watch the sheep. They have no power. What the people needed, or at least what they thought they needed, was a mighty warrior who could overthrow the Assyrian Empire that had been dominating them for decades, not some wimpy little shepherd from some Podunk town.

Fast forward 700 years. Speaking of little, unimportant people, Luke’s gospel introduces us to two pregnant women, one the wife of a priest, and rather up in years to be pregnant, and the other a poor, unmarried, young one. Not the kind of people you would expect to be turning the world upside down. But oh, what they are about is subversive, deeply subversive! A little background information is in order. Elizabeth is already six months along. An angel had told her husband about this child. According to the angel, this child is not only a miracle for his birth to this elderly, previously childless couple, – that alone would be amazing – but he is destined to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. That’s what the angel said. What would you say to your friends, who wondered at the miracle of this pregnancy so late in the game? Would you tell them what the angel had said? Would you even tell them about the angel? How could you explain to them what had happened? Well Elizabeth’s husband, the temple priest, couldn’t tell them anything. Because he questioned how this could be possible, given their advanced ages, he was rendered mute until everything the angel told him was fulfilled. So here is Elizabeth, six months pregnant, with a husband who can’t talk to her or anyone else. We are told that she remained in seclusion for 5 months.

Mary is Elizabeth’s relative. She is a virgin, engaged to a man named Joseph. She too has seen the angel. She has been told that she also will bear a son who will be great; in fact God will give him the throne of David. He will have a never-ending kingdom. Mary also questions how this is possible, since she is a virgin, but she gets an explanation, rather than being rendered mute like Zechariah. The Holy Spirit will come upon her; the child she carries will be the Son of God. This is astounding news, but then the angel tells her something else amazing. Her relative Elizabeth, who was barren, is now sixth months pregnant, because nothing will be impossible with God. And Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Imagine what it is like to be Mary. How do you explain to your fiancée that you are pregnant, when he knows he cannot be the father? What do you tell the neighbors? In those days a woman could be stoned to death for this. Mary took a leap of faith. She has accepted this word of God for her life, but I would imagine she must also feel isolated and alone. Who on earth can she talk to about what has happened? The angel has given her a clue. Her older relative, Elizabeth, is also experiencing a miraculous pregnancy. If anyone can understand, it will be Elizabeth.

And so in today’s reading, Mary sets out “with haste” to see Elizabeth. This would not have been a simple journey. It is perhaps 80 miles from Mary’s home in Galilee to the Judean town in the hill country where Elizabeth lived. There are no cars, no trains, no buses. Mary would have had to walk or ride an animal, and the journey could have taken 4 days or more. But who other than Elizabeth will she be able to talk to about what is happening to her? And so she goes with haste to see her relative, and when she arrives, some amazing things happen. The child in Elizabeth’s womb, the one the angel said would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth, leaps upon hearing Mary’s greeting, and Elizabeth, his mother, is also filled with the Holy Spirit. She is the very first person to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, and he is not even born yet. She pronounces a blessing on Mary, and upon the child in Mary’s womb. She declares that Mary is the mother of her Lord. She knows these things because her child has leaped for joy in her womb. She also pronounces a blessing on Mary for her leap of faith, for believing that what the angel had said to her would be fulfilled.

Mary also recognizes that something amazing is happening. She is also filled with joy, and pours out her soul. In the verses right after the ones we heard read today, Mary says that “The Lord has looked with favor” on her, in spite of her lowly state. “The Mighty One has done great things” for her, and is “merciful throughout the generations to those” who honor God. God has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, and lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God has fulfilled the promise made to Abraham and his descendants forever. This is highly subversive stuff. This turns the world upside down. Two pregnant women, already among the least likely to have any kind of power, are now joyfully exclaiming together about how their children are going to change the world. This change will be brought about by God, who is allowing these two women to have a hand in completely upending the status quo. Anyone hearing them might think they are out of their minds.

But oh the joy they have brought to each other! They each know that the other is not crazy. They both know that something completely miraculous is going on. They believe with all their hearts that the Son of God is now just weeks away from being born on earth. They know the promises of the Old Testament. They believe that God will send a Messiah to change the world for them and for their people, and God will do this through the child that Mary now carries, a child she is to name Jesus. Elizabeth’s child will be the one foretold who will prepare the way for the Messiah. And so that baby leaps for joy, and the mothers exclaim, and praise God, and pronounce blessings, and share the Good News with one another. The Messiah is coming within weeks, and the world will never be the same. These two women will never be the same either. They were isolated and alone, but they have been brought together by God through the miracles of the children they will bear. They help each other to more fully understand, to see and affirm what is happening to them and around them. They encourage one another.

We know this story. We love this story. We tell this story year after year because it touches something deep in us. Like Mary and Elizabeth we long for a time when God will make the world right; a time when justice will reign; a time when there will be peace on earth. Mary and Elizabeth know that that time has come for them. They are so sure that this child will change the world, that Mary uses the present tense for all of the promises. God has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things. By choosing Mary and Elizabeth to be the mothers of Jesus and John, these things have already begun. They can see the future in their present, based on their knowledge of God’s promises and faithfulness in the past.

In just a few days we will gather to celebrate the birth of Mary’s baby. We will tell the story of that birth, already knowing what the Bible tells us about his life, his death, and his resurrection. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we carry the hope of the promises of God in our hearts. Like many who have come before us in the history of our faith, there may be times where we doubt those promises, times where are faith grows weak, times where we wonder whether it means anything anymore. The news both globally and locally can be terrible. We can feel isolated and alone. But the story of Mary and Elizabeth reminds us that miraculous things can and do happen. They remind us that when we gather together to tell the stories of our faith, when we believe in things that sometimes defy reason, and when we share that belief with others, we strengthen and deepen our understanding of that faith for ourselves and for one another. We help each other to make a leap of faith. And so as we gather together this Christmas season, may God bless the telling and the hearing of the Christmas story. May our eyes and ears and hearts and minds be open to the wonders all around us, including the miracles that can arise from the little things in life. Amen

A Leap of Faith (It’s the Little Things)

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