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Dec 23, 2018

In the "UN-usual" Way

Passage: Luke 1:26-47

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Advent/Christmas

Category: Christmas

In many ways, we are caught off guard by the birth of Jesus.  Not that it happened.  Many people were expecting a Messiah (a savior) to come.  They just didn’t know exactly where, when or how it would happen.  And that’s what catches us off guard.  The how.  How the birth of Jesus took place is full of surprises. 

The Innkeeper was caught off guard and surprised by Jesus’ birth.  When he woke up the next morning and discovered the Son of God was born on his property, he had to have kicked himself and said, “If only I had known the parents of the savior were looking for a room last night, I could have found them some place to sleep!  I could have found some lower-level guest to bump to make room for them.”  The shepherds were also caught off guard and surprised.  When the angels told them of the news of Jesus’ birth, their first reaction was fear – almost as though they thought they were in trouble and had done something wrong.  Instead, the angels turned them – poor and peasant laborers – into the first evangelists of Christianity.  The wise men from the east were surprised.  Their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh reveal that they were expecting a baby born in a palace and not a stable. 

And there are more surprises in our reading today.  Mary the mother of Jesus learns that she will give birth and, after she becomes pregnant, she visits her cousin Elizabeth.  Luke 1:26-47

When the angel Gabriel visits Mary, she is clearly surprised.  Gabriel tells her about God’s plan and she is not a believer at first.  Initially she’s confused and perplexed.  She’s also doubtful.  She says, “How can this be?  I’m not even married yet?”  It’s only after a long conversation with the angel that she says, “Let it be with me according to God’s Word.”  But even then there may be a little skepticism within her, as in “Okay, whatever you say.  Let it me be with me, if you say so…” (not entirely convincing).

After this, Mary visits her relative Elizbeth.  Mary is pregnant by now and so is Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is in her last trimester and so far along that her baby is kicking and moving all around.  When Elizabeth hears that Mary is carrying the soon-to-be savior she’s surprised!  Not so much that Mary would visit her.  They are related after all.  But now that Mary is so important, Elizabeth doesn’t see herself as worthy.  She’s surprised that Mary would still have time for one such as Elizabeth.  She literally falls to her knees before Mary. 

With every detail of the birth of Jesus, someone is surprised.  And I suppose it is fitting.  For Jesus was full of surprises in all of the pages that follow.  Throughout his ministry he would continually do surprising things. 

  • He surprised the lame, the blind, the deaf and the speechless.  They had long lived without cures but now they received the healing they needed; which they had long given up hope of ever having.
  • He surprised the outcasts by including them in his family – and the untouchables by putting his arm around them.
  • He surprised the religious leaders by not following their traditions and customs – and the sinners by eating with them. 
  • He surprised the fishermen by calling them to be his disciples – and the solders who arrested him by not calling down an army of angels to save him from death.
  • And three days later he surprised the world by not remaining in that tomb of death but rising to live and breathe again. 

From the beginning to the end, Jesus came to us in the most UN-usual way.  And this ties into our theme today.  Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent.   Advent is a word that means “arrival” and refers to the arrival of Christ at Christmas.  It is also a season in the church year that precedes Christmas.  The 4th Sunday of Advent – the last one before Christmas – has a particular theme: Love.  The 4th candle we light in our advent wreath signifies Love. 

And love is anything but usual.  It is love that causes us to do the must UN-usual things.

  • It is love that causes us to sacrifice for others and be generous to them, even when the numbers don’t add up and it doesn’t make logical sense to do so.
  • It is love that causes us to set aside our own desires in order to work for the well-being someone else.
  • It is because of love that keep our commitments and persevere in ways that fly in the face of tradition and custom.
  • It is love that leads us to look past the surface and see the essence of something lying within.
  • It is love that, as the apostle Paul said, is not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude, even when others try to convince us we are justified in being and doing those very things.

It is love that changes us more than anything else.  Many sociologists assert that what determines how well we function in the world when we’re adults is how many bonds of love were made with us when we were babies – and how strong those bonds were.  Being loved, then, or not being loved, determines who we are more than anything else.

The Good News, seen so vividly at Christmas, is that God loves us regardless of who much love we feel in the human world.  And that love of God is never in doubt.  It’s why Paul also said, “Faith, Hope and Love abide, these three.  But the greatest of these is love.”  Because our faith may waver from time to time.  And at times hope may be hard to see.  But the love of God will never leave us. 

And I believe that’s why Jesus comes to us in so many surprising ways.  He does this so that we will not be surprised that God’s love is with us in every way.  In Jesus Christ, God seeks to make the Un-usual, usual.  So that we will know, from the beginning to the end, always and forever, the love of God is with us.  That is a truth that, really, is never meant to surprise us or catch us off guard.  Thanks be to God!