Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
Readings and Psalms:
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 (alternate)
Sunday 10:00 am Traditional Service
What exactly does Emmanuel mean?
Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B. December 18, 2020
Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:46b-55; Luke 1:26-38
Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Warrenton, VA. The Rev. Terri E.L. Church
Picture the scene…
A group of young people are telling stories and singing around a campfire. They may look typical enough, but these kids share a special bond—they are connected by their pain. Each one has a difficult upbringing with mysterious problems and at least one missing parent. The song they sing spells out those problems—problems of having a Greek god for a parent! (Yes, my son has gotten me into the books by Rick Riordan. This scene is in “The Lightning Thief—the Percy Jackson Musical” based on a nightly ritual at Camp Half-Blood.) Despite all their different challenges, they discover that finding others who “get it” helps a lot. They end the song on a wonderfully high note: “We don’t care where our parents may be / as long as you are here with me!”
Yes, it is a warm, fuzzy moment, delighting in sharing a common pain. Funny thing though: although they bond over their complaints about their parents, it was only when they joined their unique skills and stories to fight a common enemy—and save those same parents—that they are at their strongest. It seems that not only is their pain is diminished but also their quests successful because they are with each other.
I woke up with this song on my mind the other day, and I thought it fit perfectly with the lessons this week. (Listening to your kid’s music on the radio may have that effect.) Oh, don’t worry. I’m not about to sign Jesus our Lord up for Camp Half-Blood and the Percy Jackson world! I know that Jesus is fully God and fully Human. There is nothing “half” about him! No, I woke up with the last line of the song and made that connection: we can get through our problems as long as we have others with us. And that matched my sermon theme: What, exactly, does Emmanuel mean?
It means “God is with us” which means, we are not alone. And I think that is exactly the message we need right now. God. With us. Right here. Right now. In the muck. We don’t face our pain alone! We don’t celebrate alone! God is here. Jesus came as a frail babe in a manger just because God wanted to be with us.
Of course, sometimes we want to know not just that God is with us, but also how God is with us. Maybe you know God is all around. Perhaps you can feel Jesus is there in your heart. But do you sometimes need something a bit more concrete, more present, more obvious? Do you sometimes want to play Mary in the Christmas pageant just so you can hold that physical presence in your own arms! What does it really mean that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us? Let’s ask Mary.
Mary certainly needed to know that God was with her when an angel appeared out of nowhere! He says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” We hear beautiful alliteration to describe her reaction to his presence: perplexed and pondering. She was perplexed, confused, baffled by such a greeting. As Betsy Wilco pointed out in our Advent devotional sheet on Day 14, Mary was just an ordinary girl. Angels didn’t normally appear to her! And yet, here is one right in front of her! She is perplexed.
And then she pondered, wondered, considered—what on earth (or heaven!) was he leading up to! How could God be with her? What did this Being mean? She is pondering.
If you know the story, you may remember this: the Angel Gabriel gives Mary the incredible news that God has chosen her to bear God’s Son and name him Jesus who will be an awesome king and leader, and it’s okay that she’s a virgin because the Holy Spirit is taking care of all that. =D I can only imagine that, rather than alleviating her confusion and anxiety, he just ramped it way up. This was a lot to take in. Perhaps perplexed and pondering just pushed into panic!
Therefore, there is another thing that the angel tells her—something we sometimes skip over. It is this little, but powerful, statement that is my favorite Emmanuel moment in this story. He says, “Oh, and BTW, you’re not the only miracle parent around these parts. You know your, ahem, older relative, Elizabeth? The one who couldn’t have children? Guess what? She’s pregnant, too! Six months along, even! For nothing is impossible with God.”
We usually think this is about the miracle of Elizabeth having a baby at all, especially since that baby is John the Baptist, and how creating life is not impossible for God. However, this week I appreciate how God was with her by giving her an immediate support system, another human who is in this divine muck along with her. Emmanuel means God is with us, but how? By connecting us to others—even in seemingly impossible ways.
“Mary,” says the Angel Gabriel, “You won’t be alone in this. God is with you by sending you to be with Elizabeth!”
I believe that statement is what allows Mary to say, “Okay. I’m here. God’s here. Elizabeth is here. Joseph is here. Let’s do this!” Emmanuel, which means, God is with us.
Do you, like me, need an Emmanuel moment right about now? I hope there is someone you can reach out to, some Elizabeth in the muck with you. Take a moment and think. Who would let you call them, just to chat? Who would take a little off your plate and help you with your burden? Now, make a note to lean on them. You are not alone. God is with you through them.
I pray that God makes that someone clear. However, God isn’t with us all the same way. And so, I pray that perhaps you find someone to be there for. Yes, you heard me right (despite the questionable grammar of that sentence). If you cannot picture who God might have sent to be there for you, perhaps God needs you to be there for someone else. You see, when you are down, it is tempting to close in on yourself and just be angry and hurting alone. However, it might help you more if you look outside yourself. When you do a kind gesture for someone in need and stretch yourself to care for someone else, even when you don’t really want to, that effort can lift your own burden, and suddenly you are not alone with your muck at all. Reaching out to be with someone else may be how God is Emmanuel, with you, right now. It is all backwards, I know. But, well, as the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
So, what, exactly, does Emmanuel mean? It means that we worship and serve a God that cared enough to become like us, to feel human pain, to experience inexplicable joy, to be limited by time and space for a while. Emmanuel also means that God sends the miracle of other people around us to be with us—or for us to be with them. Finally, Emmanuel means that God wanted to be close to us, that God chose to be with us—in the muck, in the mercy, in the mayhem, and in all the marvelous moments of life, now and forever, through Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, our Emmanuel! Amen
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