Saturday, December 24, 2016

O Holy Night

Well, it is Saturday, a day of preparation for me as I get into the sermon for Sunday.  Happens every week.  And a part of what happens is I write this Bible Study.  This gets me thinking about the passage in all kinds of ways and helps me be ready to preach the next day.  Even when the sermon sounds nothing like the bible study.  I also spend a lot of time before the weekend, reading and studying and formulating sermons.  I don't wait until Saturday.  Because what if something happened on that Saturday and I didn't have the time?  I would be unprepared on Sunday.  And that wouldn't be being faithful to my call.  So the sermon is "done" before Saturday.  Done?  Preachable.  I could climb in the pulpit or stand before the congregation and proclaim.

But on Saturday, I am living in it.  I am examining it again, rethinking, reworking, playing with the ideas and images.  I am paying attention to the world, listening to the voices of my people, and weaving that together with the Voice of God.  Sometimes Saturday confirms my planned sermon, sometimes it changes it completely.  But it is a day I cherish for the process as I have developed it over 35 years of preaching regularly.  This isn't what I recommend, it isn't what I teach.  And it isn't what I did for most of the 35 years, but it works well for me.

Until now.  Yes, it is Saturday.  But not just any Saturday.  It is Christmas Eve.  I have always loved Christmas Eve.  I have told churches I would do hourly services on Christmas eve if anyone would come.  I would do them morning and night.  I would do loud fun family ones, designed to make children laugh and families giggle.  I would do quiet reflective peaceful ones, designed to make you glad to be alive and filled with hope.  Musicals and dramas, lessons and carols, even full scale holiday parties wrapped up in profound worship.  I love Christmas Eve.  

And!  I love Christmas Day on Sunday.  I've mentioned this before.  I think it should always be on a Sunday.  I think it would be easier to hold on to the real meaning of Christmas if it was on a Sunday and the day began not with the frenzy of presents under the tree, but with worship in the family of God.  I think that is the way it ought to be.

Now, that being said, I don't like losing my Saturday.  I know, it's a selfish gripe.  But I'm not quite sure how to approach this day of preparation.  With three services tonight and two tomorrow morning, I'm lost in the busyness.  With some questions about my place in this congregation and an uncertain future in my calling, I'm a bit lost in the mood of the season.  So, I'm here thinking about tonight and tomorrow and not sure I have anything to say for either.  Which is a terrible admission, I know.  It's kinda my job to have something to say. And I know myself well enough to know that I will have some words for all those services.  Words that might even be meaningful for some.  Words that will allow me to fulfill my role and surrender to my obedience to the church and to God.

But I also know those words won't be enough.  Not nearly enough.  I've been doing this a long time.  And I've never had the words I really wanted to have.  I've never been able to really capture the power and glory of this event.  I've never really been able to articulate the wonder and the promise that Christmas is.  I've never had the words that become the Word, and live in the hearts and minds of those who come to hear, so that Christ is again incarnated among us.

See, that's how I define this job, this preaching thing.  Incarnation.  I have told my students and fellow preachers that above all else, preaching is about putting flesh on the idea of Christ.  Making Him real again in our experience, in our imagination, in our hearts and souls.  That's what I'm always trying to do, Sunday in and Sunday out, sermon in and sermon out, incarnation.  So when faced with the Incarnation itself, I stumble over the words.  Because it matters so much.  To me, for one.  But to the church, to you.  To everyone.  To the world, it matters so much, it is needed -- He is needed so much.  And I'm simply not up to the task.

Which means, in the end, I'm surrendering my Saturday to the One who speaks more clearly that I do.  I'm surrendering this day, this night, this O Holy Night to the Word made flesh.  And will hope and pray that those who come this weekend will hear beyond my inadequate words to embrace the living Word.  And to know and be known by the Presence who loves them as they are.  Every year I fail to capture the depth of this event with my words.  Yet every year I am rescued by the Word made flesh who speaks into my inadequacy and becomes flesh among us again.  Thanks be to God!

John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cuddly as a Cactus

“Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot.”  You could finish it from there, I suspect.  “But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not.”  It’s a Christmas classic.  Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The definitive version, for us late baby boomers, was narrated by Boris Karloff and the song sung by Thurl Ravenscroft.  What a great name, Thurl Ravenscroft.  “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch / You really are a heel / You’re as cuddly as a cactus / You’re as charming as an eel / Mr. Grinch / You’re a bad banana / with a greasy black peel”

As Christmas story villains go, the Grinch is a pretty good one.  Like old Ebenezer Scrooge and his three night visitors, the Grinch starts out bad (you have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile), or worse than bad (You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch, with a nauseous super “naus”!), but in the end he turns out good.  “Well ... in Whoville they say, that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.  And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight, He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light, And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast! And he, HE HIMSELF! The Grinch carved the roast beast!”

Now, that’s how a Christmas story is supposed to go.  Bad guys turn good and we all breathe a sigh of relief.  We love our happy endings.  We love everything tied up with a ribbon.  Our television crime dramas have to be solved in an hour - minus commercial time.  Our family comedies end up resolved in thirty minutes.  Our fairy tales end with happily ever after.  That’s just how it is supposed to be.  Isn’t it?  

Of course, we’re the people of happy endings.  That is one way we define ourselves.  Easter people!  I’ve been asked a few times over the years why we need to have Good Friday services and pretend to be sad when we all know how it ends up.  It’s hard to argue with that point of view.  We know and are glad we know.  There is a happy ending.  Yet, you can’t read through the book of Revelation and simply celebrate the happy ending.  Can you?  There are endings and there are endings.  Sometimes our sad endings get in the way and keep us from living for the happy endings.  

Matthew 2:1-18 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 
10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. 13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." 
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

I went too long, that’s what you’re thinking.  Or stopped too soon.  We usually read until the wise men head home by another road.  That’s the end of the Christmas story, we believe.  But if we want to keep reading, then go on, to where they come back, the tyrant is dead and they can return and live happily ever after.  That’s the story we want to hear.  That’s the team we signed up for, the one that wins, every time.  A dynasty, victorious, conquers sin, conquers death, offers us life, eternal life.  Happily ever after.

Happily?  We forget that in order to conquer death he has to die.  Yes, we take an eternal view.  Yes, we look beyond the momentary pain to the everlasting glory.  Yes.  But.  Herod wins in the short term.  We have to tell the story we’re given.  There were unnamed and unnumbered families who marked that glorious season with inconsolable grief.  How many children died that day so a puppet king could retain his tenuous grip on power for a little bit longer?  Herod wins in the short term.  Fear takes control of our hearts in the short term.  Tyranny defines our existence in the short term.  Disease reshaped our lives in the short term.  Prejudice, hatred, oppression becomes the whole world in the short term.  Herod wins.  And cuddly as a cactus means we cannot get comfortable with him, even in the short term.  Which is why the short term becomes the definition of life as we know it, and keeping our eyes on a far horizon is so hard.  

Which is exactly why Advent comes around year after year.  Because Herod wins in the short term.  And if we weren’t reminded on a regular basis that there is more to the story we might succumb to the thought that this is the way it is supposed to be, this is the way it will always be.  The Whos gathered that Christmas morning with nothing.  Christmas had been stolen, they are bereft and empty of the joy and wonder of the season represented by the tinsel and the gift wrap, the food and fire in the hearth.  The Grinch won in the short term.  Yet they gathered anyway, they sang anyway.  They smiled anyway.  “How could it be so?  It came with out ribbons! It came without tags!  It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" 

Is it a denial of the reality of the short term?  It is a head in the sand, wearing rose colored glasses, refusing to face reality, to sing when the decorations are gone and the presents purloined?  Is it a pie in the sky kind of living to believe in happy endings even when our lives are anything but happy?  To sing of wearing shoes in heaven when our feet are split and bleeding from the relentless back-breaking labor forced upon us by a latter day Herod?  To sing songs of home even when in a foreign land against our will?  To believe in Presence on the threshold of the fiery furnace?  

Well, maybe.  Sorry, not what you were expecting, I know.  But it might be a denial if we use those songs and those thoughts to hide our eyes from the fact that Herod wins in the short term.  To be complacent about injustice, about hatred, about poverty.  That’s just the way it is, get used to it.  No.  We can’t get used to it.  We can’t cuddle with a cactus.  We just can’t.  We long for something better by working to be better.  We long for home, by making others welcome.  We long for unity, for peace, we long for a living faith, for worship that lives and not just endures, by entering into the spirit of unity, by doing the things that make for peace, by investing ourselves in worship right now.  Even through our tears because Herod is winning in the short term.  We worship with hope, even when we have to weep.  Even when sometimes we have to run to Egypt.  Because God wins in the long term.  


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Angels and Resolutions

Fifteen days.  It’s hard to believe.  But there are only fifteen days until Christmas.  Or less, since some will read this later.  The weather turned cold all of a sudden here in northeast Indiana, like we needed the reminder that the season is upon us.  Maybe I’ve been wrapped up in other struggles, family, church, life, that I didn’t realize what was happening, that the calendar was turning, the sand drifting through the glass.  We even handed out little timers, tiny hourglass reminders that we are waiting.  Mine sits on my desk, behind a pile, hidden away.  It’s easy to forget that we’re waiting.  To forget that we were told by the One we call Lord, to watch and to wait.  We’ve become complacent, more or less, with the world as it is.  And we forget to look forward.  Or what we’re looking forward to.  We just get caught up in our plans, our lists, our busyness that we forget.

It’s a list-making season.  I know I’ve got to have them or I’ll forget stuff.  Usually stuff that wasn’t my idea in the first place, but stuff the family needs done.  At least that’s what I’m told.  And I’m always one to do what I’m told.  But I want to do it, don’t misunderstand.  I’m not reluctant or anything.  Well, not much.  Or not all the time.  It’s just that I need guidance.  I need my list given to me, I need my rules of procedure to follow.  I need to stay on target.  

Like Joseph.  I don’t know, of course.  We don’t have a lot of background information on him, we don’t get his resume or his vital statistics.  The church has filled in the blanks about Joseph over the centuries, but all of it speculation, we really don’t have a clue.  Yet, if you look you can see some tendencies, some inclinations or leanings that tell us something about him.  And he appears to be a planner, a thinker, a worker out of problems.  Well, see if you agree.

Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Joseph had a plan.  He was well into it when it all went off the rails.  He was betrothed to Mary.  The romantics among us would like it to be a love story, a first glance head over heels story, and that Joseph worked and planned and organized himself into this almost to be wedding.  Could be.  The historians among us point out that many, if not most marriages in those days were arranged by parents and family members.  It had been worked out, by Mary’s dad and Joseph, or Joseph’s father.  But it happened, documents were signed, handshakes exchanged, it was a done deal.  A plan on its way.  Traditionalists have been troubled by Joseph’s disappearance from the story so quickly, so they invented a story that accounts for it.  He was older, maybe even a widower, with kids (which also explains those pesky references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters – they were half siblings, thus preserving Mary’s perpetual virginity) and to fill his emptiness, to comfort his loneliness, young Mary was given to older Joseph, and thus the plan was in place.

The truth is we don’t know.  What we know, because Matthew tells us is that there was a plan: when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph.  That’s the plan.  A wedding on the way.  But like many plans, it met an obstacle: she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Um, what?  Well, Matthew knows more here than Joseph does.  More than anyone does.  An interruption to the plan.  An interruption of the plan that is so severe that the plan simply cannot continue.  This isn’t a bump in the road, it is a dead end.  A non-starter.  It just can’t be.  A whole new plan is called for now.  A whole new approach, a whole new relationship, a whole new way of treating the one who drove the plan off the side of the mountain.  

When we join the story, Joseph is finishing plan B.  What now?  That was the question that had occupied his thinking for who knows how long.  We don’t get told how Joseph learned that plan A wasn’t going to work.  All Matthew says is that Mary was found to be with child.  Who found her?  How was she found?  Does this mean Mary told him?  Just out of the blue, like Luke says she found out, “hey Joseph, you’ll never believe...!”  Or did others find out?  Rumors, gossip.  Were fingers pointed and whispers savored in the village they called home?  Did someone run up to Joseph and say, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but ...”?  We don’t know.  Somehow Joseph knew and had to go back to the planning table and decide. 

It wasn’t easy.  There is a dilemma hidden in verse nineteen.  Matthew lays out the problem this way “Joseph was a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.”  Most folks would read part one of that verse as being a studious observer of the law.  Righteousness was all about obedience to the practices of the people of God.  Following the rules and regulations laid out by the scribes and Pharisees to define the right way to live with obedience to God.  So, Joseph, we are supposed to hear lived a life of obedience to the law.  But the law says it was his duty to expose Mary and the sin she committed to the community.  So she could be punished, driven out, stoned to death.  That was the law.  There’s some debate whether by this time they were still stoning, but they were certainly shunning.  She was supposed to be disgraced.  Supposed to be.  It was the only way to make sure the shame didn’t fall on him and his name and his family.  He had to do this thing he didn’t want to do.

But he chose not to.  Plan B was “dismiss her quietly.”  Send her home to her family.  Embarrassed, but not shamed because he wasn’t going to say why.  That’s the quietly bit.  Tear up the contract, send her home.  It’s over.  Not quite legal in the strict sense.  But it was the plan.  Having decided, he went to bed.  To try to sleep.  And did, somehow.

Because he dreamed.  He dreamed himself an angel.  We’re supposed to hear an echo in this.  Joseph the dreamer, like his ancestor Joseph the dreamer, who dreamed himself a princedom in Egypt. Who dreamed himself out of and then back into the favor of his family.  Now descendant Joseph dreams a new plan and his place in that plan.  Plan C, that sounds oddly like plan A.  But it is plan A redefined.  Plan A resurrected.  Ascended, intensified.  The angel changes everything, and it is back to the way it was before.  Like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, after the dream it all goes back to the way it was, but now it’s different.  Exactly the same, but different.

Because Joseph is different.  He’s aware of God’s Presence for one thing.  He’s aware that he is a part of a plan he can’t imagine, let alone see.  Blessed by an invitation to come alongside the redemption of history itself, the transformation of the world.  Joseph’s plan A was to get married and raise a family and do the best he could with what he had.  God’s reinterpretation of plan A was for Joseph to get married and raise a family, and be a part of the salvation of the world, to join in bringing life - abundant, eternal life - into the world.

See, I think angels are singing all the time.  I think they are telling us that God is present, within reach, right here, born again in us, between us.  But we’ve stopped listening.  We’ve resolved to dismiss the Christ quietly, covered up with our busyness and our distractions, making our lists and hunting for the right gift that will make this Christmas special.  When the angel says, it’s already special.  You can’t make it any more special than God has made it.  All you have to do is name it.  All you have to do is receive it and make it yours.  Make it you.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Why Has This Happened to Me?

It was the fan on the video card.  My computer problems from last week.  I thought we were going to have to shell out for yet another computer, but it was just the fan on the video card.  And after a few questions from the tech guy, he said, if the noise gets too annoying just go back to the built in card on the motherboard.  No need to replace it.  Well, OK then.  Good news there.  That’s what I’ve done.  We’re quieter and no noticeable difference for what we do 99.9% of the time.  So, good news.

In a year of bad news, of difficult news and life altering news, that doesn’t seem to stop coming, a little bit of good news seems to stand out.  Insignificant as it is in the larger scheme of things, it was good news.  We seek a little light when we are in the midst of darkness.  We grab hold of the rope that we hope will pull us up out of the pit in which we find ourselves.  A little bit of hope can sustain a lifetime of waiting.  Waiting?  Uncertainty, unknowing, rejection and denial.  We’re all waiting.

We spend an average of 10 years waiting in line: traffic, check out, rides at amusement parks, doctors’ offices.  That’s measurable time.  But what about the waiting we are doing while we do other things?  Waiting for a medical report we fear while we go through the motions at work.  Waiting for a return phone call or an email from a friend you’ve wounded or who wounded you.  Waiting for the powers that be to determine whether you’re moving up in the company or moving on to something else.  Waiting for things to work themselves out, waiting for dinner to cook, for bread to rise, for the baby to be born.

We’re moving into part two of our experiment in extended Advent.  Part one was about looking forward to the promise, to the coming Kingdom, to the return of the Anointed One.  We were helped in our looking by the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, who keep their eyes on the horizon no matter how rough the seas got, who longed for something more, something better, no matter how dire the circumstances around them got.  They kept looking forward.

Now in part two, we look back in order to know how to look forward.  We look at some of the characters in the story of God who came to live among us.  But, of course, we can’t look at the central characters, Mary and Angels and shepherds and Wise men.  No, we’re more of the background people, we’re the crowd scenes.  The ones almost overlooked in the story.  

We begin with Elizabeth.  You remember her.  Mary’s relative, John the Baptist’s mom.  Her story sounds like an Old Testament tale, Sarah too old to have Isaac, Hannah who waited too long for Samuel.  Elizabeth was Zechariah’s wife, subject to whisper campaigns from the people he pastored.  Because she hadn’t given him any sons.  His line would die out, his eternity was in question.  And in the thinking of the day it was her fault, she bore the blame.  She was the cause of the shame.  It was a burden she had to bear.  So she did.  And how she did made her someone worth listening too.

The problem is her story is tucked away in the margins of the Gospel and therefore takes a bit of prying to get it out.  She is not the center, even of her own story.  So, turn to Luke chapter one.  After an introduction, we jump right to Zechariah and Elizabeth.  We are told who they are and who they come from.  We are told of their plight.  And then the focus shifts to Zechariah alone in the holy of holies, his turn to serve in the temple finally arrived.  But rather than the usual bringing of the prayers of the people to the altar of God, he gets a visitation from an angel.  He’s told that his prayer has been answered, the prayer he has forgotten, I’m sure.  The prayer that has moved off the table because of the passage of time and limitations of biology.  But the prayer he has forgotten, God has remembered and come to answer.  He’s so shocked that he asks for proof.  He asks an archangel for his credentials, he wants to read the fine print of the contract.  The angel, not used to feeling like a used car salesman, gets his feathers all ruffled and strikes the preacher mute.  And the punishment will last until he sees what he wanted to see, proof that God answers forgotten prayers.  Then he goes home.

Luke 1:23-25 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 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."

Elizabeth becomes pregnant and hides away for five months.  Why?  Luke doesn’t say.  Maybe he doesn’t know.  But Elizabeth gives us a hint.  Notice her first spoken words in this story.  Praise of God, and acknowledgment that she has been mistreated by God’s people.  She doesn’t say I was disgraced by this barrenness, but that the people have wagged their fingers and whispered about her behind their hands.  She says that she has had faith, but they didn’t.  She never gave up, but they looked down their noses at her.  So, this time is her time not theirs.  Her time with God, they just have to wait.  Like she waited.  And they can wait with hope like she did, or with condemnation.  It was up to them.  Like it is always up to us to determine how we will wait.

The story then shifts to another woman not supposed to carry a child.  You know her story.  Luckily the angel who spoke to her had enough time to calm down from blasting a priest in the holy of holies, and now he is almost gentle with this girl-child who will carry the hope of the world.  When he leaves, Mary runs.

Luke 1:39-45 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 leaped 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 leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

She runs to her relative Elizabeth, the old woman hiding a secret from the world.  A secret Mary knows because an angel spilled the beans.  Mary calls out and Elizabeth hears her.  No, it wasn’t Elizabeth, it was the child she carried.  He heard and rejoiced.  He leapt inside of her.  Elizabeth staggers and leans against the door frame, grasps her swelling belly and laughs.  Like Sarah laughed at the very idea that she could give birth at such an age.  But Elizabeth’s laughter redeems Sarah’s because she laughs, not with derision, but with joy.  With hope and with joy. 

But even more is going on here.  In this exchange between these two unlikely mothers, more is redeemed, more is brought together.  In Elizabeth’s joy at the leaping of her child, is the reversal of Rachel’s pain at the struggling of her twin boys, Jacob and Esau, who fought within her.  What has been torn apart by jealousy and fear is now brought together in Elizabeth and Mary and the boys they carry.  The one who prepares the way, who will say “I must decrease that He might increase”, who meets the One who comes to take away the sin of the world. 

I think Luke missed a couple of words.  I think Elizabeth said “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoke to her by the Lord, like I did.”  For all these years.  She waited in hope.  

Luke 1:57-63 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." 61 They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed.

And then having fulfilled her role, Elizabeth disappears from view.  Having kept her husband on course and set him free from his curse, having given birth to the forerunner, we don’t hear anything more from her.  Yet her witness rings clearly and loudly, if we stop to listen.  Elizabeth chose hope.  Even when a community tried to disgrace her, Elizabeth chose hope.  Even when the years went long and the waiting seemed almost unbearable, Elizabeth chose hope.  She chose not to grumble in the darkness but to reach for the light.  To find something to celebrate even in an empty time.  A waiting time.  Can we learn from her witness?