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December 22, 2015, 8:09 AM

The Candle of Love

Luke 1:46-55
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for the Lord has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is God’s name.
50 The Lord’s mercy is for those who fear God
    from generation to generation.
51 The Lord has shown strength with God’s arm;
    the Lord has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 The Lord has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 The Lord has helped God’s servant Israel,
    in remembrance of God’s mercy,
55 according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Candle of Love
Mary…in Hebrew Miriam, which means ‘bitter.’ A harsh name but filled with such a rich history. Miriam, priestess of Israel, who helped her brother Moses lead the recently freed Israelites through the wilderness. Miriam, priestess of Israel, who led the women in dance and worship after the crossing of the Reed Sea. Miriam! Mary, a simple young girl from a tiny village in the rural regions of Galilee…a simple young woman recently engaged, marriage contract signed, just waiting the required year before the ceremony and her move to Joseph’s house. Mary, going about her daily tasks, the usual work of the household—cooking, cleaning, making clothing, mending clothing and such things.
Can we see her? Perhaps sitting in the shade outside her parents’ home, mending a cloak, humming to herself, and suddenly, she is not alone. An angel of the Lord stands before her, and not just any angel—Gabriel, the archangel, who dwells in the light of God. Is he like the seraphim from Isaiah’s vision, with many eyes, many wings, terrifying and dazzling? Or is he more human-like, yet so clearly something else, something other? Whatever he looks like, he is instantly recognizable as something other-worldly, as of God, as from God. Mary freezes, like a frightened rabbit sensing danger. Angels in her faith’s history were not known as positive visitors, usually decimating villages and turning people to pillars of salt.  Mary’s hands hover over her work as her brain tries to register Gabriel’s opening words, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
Gabriel, perhaps sensing her fear, or sensing her disbelief that an angel of God would be speaking to her, or sensing  her jumbled thoughts as she tries to wrap her head around what is happening right here, right now, offers assurance; “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.” Oh my word, this angel of God knows my name. This is really happening! God’s messenger is here to see…me. And as Gabriel’s message pours out her wonder and fear grow, her heart races, her thoughts tumble. A son! holy child! The throne of David? Ruling an unending, forever kingdom!? She is going to bear this child? She blurts out, “But I’ve never known a man. How can this happen?” How will I explain this to my parents, her mind continues. How will I explain this to Joseph? How can this be happening?
Gabriel explains—the Spirit of God will do this; a holy child, yes, but God’s Son! And then the angel offers her a gift for Mary to cling to—Elizabeth. The angel is talking about Elizabeth! Pregnant, at 6 months! Oh Elizabeth, how she has ached for a child, grieved for her barrenness. Elizabeth is having a miracle baby! I won’t be alone! Mary couldn’t believe how calm she sounded as she spoke, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” And Gabriel was gone. Mary blinked, gasped. Just like that Gabriel was gone. Her hands shook. Her chest ached with the pounding of her heart. Elizabeth. She must see Elizabeth. She must see Elizabeth immediately! She was on the road within the hour.
The almost 100 mile journey to Zechariah’s house gave Mary ample time to think. The act of placing one foot in front of the other freed her mind to race down one thought after another. She is going to have a baby. Will anyone believe her, that this is God’s child and not a result of infidelity? How will she face her parents? How will she explain this to Joseph? What will they do to her? She could be stoned according to the law! No, Joseph is a kind-hearted man, she has seen this in him. Her parents will protect her, won’t they? But she will be shunned, rejected, outcast—to have a child out of wedlock. Will Joseph break the marriage contract? Of course he will. Who wouldn’t? How could he be expected to raise a child that isn’t his? He would be ridiculed and shamed. He will be ridiculed and shamed as it is, to have his contracted wife pregnant with a child that isn’t his. Where will she go? How will she live? What is going to happen to her?
These thoughts and so many others plagued her as she walked. Already she felt alone and outcast. Already she felt the weight of her ‘yes’ to the angel weighing upon her. Each day her fear and worry grew. Will Elizabeth believe her? She is having a miracle baby, but it is Zechariah’s baby. Maybe even Elizabeth will reject her. Each mile made Mary more anxious, more nervous. Surely God will watch over her after choosing her for this impossible task. The angel had said that nothing is impossible for God. She whispered her prayers in the growing dusk. She was almost there, almost to Zechariah’s house.
As she crested the small hill she could see their home at the edge of the village. A small light flickered in the tiny window, a flame of welcome. Mary’s heart fluttered within her. She quickened her pace. As she reached the doorway, she pulled the door curtain aside and called into the house, “Elizabeth? Elizabeth? It’s your cousin, Mary.” Suddenly Elizabeth was right there, standing in front of her, appearing almost like the angel did. Her face glowed in the soft light, with surprise, with joy, with her expectancy, and with something more. Some other flamed kindled within her. She embraced Mary, pulling her tight against her and Mary could feel the swell of the baby—this miracle baby. And even as Elizabeth held her she exclaimed, “Oh Mary, God has blessed you above all women! God has blessed the child you carry!” How does Elizabeth know? It has only been about a week! But Elizabeth continued, “Why do I have this honor! The mother of my Lord has come to me! As soon as I heard your voice my baby leaped in my womb! He jumped for joy! Oh Mary, blessed—happy—is she who believed that the Lord would fulfil the promises God made to her.”
Mary’s heart soared. How great is her God to have given her this gift! Elizabeth turned prophet, filled with the Spirit’s fire, melted Mary’s fears, soothed her anxiety, allayed her worry. God will provide. God will never abandon her. God went ahead of her and prepared Elizabeth as this assurance, this grace. This baby Mary carries will have a cousin to walk ahead of him as well. As Mary relaxed into Elizabeth’s embrace her eyes fell on the flickering candle in the window, a welcoming light indeed. It is nothing less than the Candle of Love, a sign of her welcome and acceptance…a sign of everyone’s welcome and acceptance in the eyes of God. Mary stepped back from Elizabeth and lifted her face toward the stars that blazed in the early evening sky, and she sang…”with all my heart I glorify the Lord! My soul rejoices in God, my Savior…”
The candle of love burning in the small window as a sign of the love within, a love for all. May all the windows in our lives, literally and figuratively, flicker with that light as well, a love for all.
Advent Blessings! Merry Christmas! Thanks be to God! Amen!

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