Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Trip to Ein Karem (Luke 1:39-56)

We don't know for certain the village where Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary's relatives, lived, but the hill town of Ein Karem is a pretty good guess according to a lot of scholars. Having met our two main characters in the story of what leads up to Jesus' birth, we now get the story moving.

Remember, we have Mary, a young girl who today would probably not have her driver's license yet and who agreed to do what God asked her through the heavenly messenger. Even though she risks shame and even death by being seen as an adulterous woman, she will answer God's call. And we have Joseph, probably a few years older, who found this whole thing started without him but who allowed mercy to triumph over the anger and betrayal he probably felt when Mary told him her news.

But that's a few weeks in the future. Right now we have Mary, probably in the next few days after the angel's visit. You might imagine that when she starts to look at her decision after a couple of days she might feel a little uncertain. What seemed like a solid lock when the angel was right in front of her is not nearly so solid a couple of days later. Pregnancy and everything accompanying it probably worry her as much as they would worry any new mom-to-be, and when you add in this "conceived by the Holy Spirit" angle, well, there's just a whole lot of uncertainty.

Her faith may have convinced her that following God and believing God when he said that she would have the child meant that death was unlikely. If she were going to be killed for adultery, then she wouldn't be around to give birth. But the angel hadn't said anything about the shame of an unwed pregnancy, or about what Joseph might do or...perhaps the scariest of all...her parents.

So I think Mary went out to visit Elizabeth and Zechariah because the angel had specifically referred to Elizabeth's pregnancy late in her life. Such a baby would be a miracle all his own, and if Mary could see that for herself she might draw courage to tell Joseph what had happened. Again, these are people who know where babies come from, so she knows that Joseph has absolutely no reason to believe what will sound to him like a verrrrry shaky story trying to cover up a more logical explanation.

I don't mean she wanted "proof" of the angel's message. I think she believed it when it was delivered and still believed it later. I think she wanted to see a solid reminder that amazing things were happening around her and with her. If she could see God's hand at work somewhere else, then that would be a reassurance.

I've found myself in need of those kinds of reassurances from time to time. I know what I believe with my head and I know what I hold to be the truth, but sometimes I wonder. Maybe you do too. Maybe circumstances bring you uncertainty. The things that are going on around you don't seem to provide much evidence of God's work. Or maybe your own experiences cause you to question whether or not God is at work in you. You don't see the change in your life you think should be there.

Perhaps it's a tragedy, either personal or otherwise. This last week we saw that our world has evil in it and such senseless slaughter makes us want reassurance from God that he is real and his work continues even in such an awful world. I can't tell you how to find that reassurance because I don't know what speaks to you, but I know that you can find it, and you may find it unexpectedly. Methodist founder John Wesley was in the midst of a spiritual dry spell that made him question his faith and even whether or not God had called him to minister. He went to a Bible study at the urging of some friends -- he didn't really want to go -- and when hearing someone read the preface of Martin Luther's commentary on Romans, he said he felt his heart "strangely warmed" and he knew that Christ had died so that his sins were indeed forgiven. He had a feeling of assurance that enrgized him and helped the Methodist movement begin to spread.

In times like this, we want reassurance. We Christians proclaim that reassurance is found when we seek the Lord. Mary found it in Elizabeth's words of blessing and greeting, in her visible pregnancy; John Wesley found it in the preface to a commentary. I don't know where God will lead you to find it; sometimes I don't even know where God will lead me to find my own. But I know it will be there.

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