Do Expect Love

Greetings, you have found favor with God. You are highly favored. Know that God loves you and wants to use you to fulfill God’s promise. You are highly favored by God, let your heart glorify the Lord. God loves you! Mary heard these words before God gave her the role of carrying Jesus. I have to imagine those words ran counter to what she expected. After she found out she was carrying the Messiah, she ran away to her see her cousin Elizabeth. Surely, someone could help her make sense of this unexpected news!
Throughout this Advent season, we have been exploring our expectations of how we expect that God will bring hope, peace, and joy. This week, we turn to love. We love God and love others as ourselves. With those two great commandments, we are called to live out love. We are called to carry out the love of God. We come expecting that God’s love is more than an emotion; it is a way of life. We want to live our love lives in a grace-filled way as if every part of God’s was true now, even when we live brokenness around us. Love invites us to be people of faith who trust in God’s future while at the same time insisting on making God’s future present for all people.
Christ is coming!
As we wait for the coming of Christ, we do not wait alone. We wait in community with the whole large community of the Church around the world. All around the world, Christ-followers prepare with anticipation for the birth of Jesus and the transformation of the world. It is exciting to know that there are many around the world, and it is hard to have a conversation with such a large group. Discipleship, transformation, and growth are often accomplished one by one. Jesus spent his whole ministry in deep mentoring and life-changing relationship with twelve disciples, and more specifically with three of the closest followers. The single largest scene in our gospel lesson comes from this kind of intimate exchange between Mary and Elizabeth.
When Mary goes to visit her family member Elizabeth, we collectively sigh with contentment. It is the closeness between the two women that gives us hope that we might be able to lean on our friends and family. It is the intimacy of their relationship that gives us hope. As we wait for the coming of Christ to come in love, we wait with one another. Elizabeth finds herself so close with Mary; the child within her (John the Baptist) even kicks when she arrives! In a world often divided by generations, we find disparate generations connecting in Mary and Elizabeth. Both Elizabeth, who tried conceiving for years before this pregnancy, and Mary, who is so young as to be scandalous, find comfort in each other.
We are not meant to walk in the tough or the wonder-inducing alone. We need one another. It is our love for one another in which we invite the other to walk with us in the truly horrifying and scary as well as the exciting and awe-inspiring times. Male and female, young and old, private and exuberant, we are called to love on others and let others love on us, so that we might glimpse God’s love.
Elizabeth is at once prophet and priest. She blesses Mary and speaks truth with lasting voice. Their loving relationship gives them both love and life. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you carry.” Her love for her younger cousin does not condescend but affirms her. Elizabeth sustains Mary. She believed what has been told her and assents to God’s call on her life.
Love is removing shame, when you could continue the shame system.
Love is empowering and affirming, when you ignore.
Love is singing the song the other has forgotten, when you also forget.
Here the pregnancy, which could have been shame, is situated well to bring joy and honor. When Elizabeth welcomes Mary, she practices the same kind of inclusive love that Jesus will show later to prostitutes and sinners. She sees beyond the shame of Mary’s situation to the reality of God’s love at work even among those whom society rejects and excludes. Where is God calling you to remove shame in someone else’s life? Is someone hanging onto old shame?
Mary’s song sings of a day when God’s love overturns the proud and looks upon the lowly. The Magnificat which magnifies God’s love for all of humanity has been understood by various governments to be so provocative that it was outlawed to be read. So empowering and uplifting is the song of Mary that when the British ruled India or during the during the “Dirty War” in Argentina, after the mothers of disappeared children postered the capital plaza with the words of the Magnificat, the military junta banned all public displays of the song. Too much hope, the government decided, was a dangerous thing. Love ultimately changed too much for those in power!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the Magnificat this way: “It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings…. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. (1)“ Love brought about too much change to be comfortable for those in power!
And what is this love that we are expecting? This is a love that turns the world back to God intended it. It rights the wrongs. Feeds the Hungry. Knocks down the haughty. Restores relationships. Brings God’s ways in our lives now, so that we work for the fullest realization of God’s Way in our lives then. The world has always been used to triumph through violence. It is our God; our God brings a different way. The love and mercy of God are distinct and unique to God. Praise God who puts love at the center. Expect God’s love!
You and I need to hear that nothing is impossible with God. When another tsunami hits Indonesia and another political appointment changes, we need to hear that nothing is impossible with God. When relationships in our lives feel like they are too difficult to fix, and addictions are too complex to address, we need to remember that nothing is impossible with God.
Let us as Elizabeths and Marys, heard together: Greetings, you have found favor with God. You are highly favored. Know that God loves you and wants to use you to fulfill God’s promise. You are highly favored by God, let your heart glorify the Lord. God loves you!
You, too are carrying God’s love. Let us together:
find the lost,
heal the broken,
feed the hungry,
release the prisoner,
rebuild the nations,
bring peace among the people,
make music in the heart. (2)
And expect God’s love.

This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen

Benediction: Let us go forth from this place, expecting that God’s

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  Christmas Sermons. Third Sunday of Advent, 17 December 1933, on the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55, 2005.

[2] The poem “The Work of Christmas” is from Howard Thurman’s The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations