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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Emmanuel, Even in June

Luke 1:39-57
Emmanuel, Even in June
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Luke 1:39-57
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

46 And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his 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 his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.


It's kind of weird to be reading what's usually an Advent passage in June. We don't normally think about Mary and the baby Jesus until Christmas is around the corner. I think most of us kind of assume Jesus was conceived around Thanksgiving and born four weeks later at Christmas. I'm guessing Mary would have been OK with that. But, it's more physically accurate if we read about Mary visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, the mother-to-be of John the Baptist, NOW, instead of December. Because, if Jesus was born at Christmas, that means, Mary has about six months to go in June.

Those of you who grew up Roman Catholic or as more high, holy liturgical Protestants, either celebrated or vaguely remember a Holy Day known as, "The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth." Churches around the world celebrated it last Thursday. Since Presbyterians don't normally get that high or that holy, we usually let this holiday slide. Which is a shame, because there's so much arguing about reproductive rights these days. It would be a good day to stop arguing and do something like visit a women's health clinic, or take a pregnant lady to lunch day. It would NOT be a good day to walk around the mall, patting mothers-to-be on the tummy. That's a good way to get tased. Basic rule #1: If you wouldn't do it if she weren't pregnant, don't do it if she is. Rule #2 for men: Never, ever ask a woman if she's pregnant unless you can physically see part of the baby.

So, anyway, I'm looking at the global church calendar last week, and I see this holiday, "The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth," and I think, "Christmas in June? What are those Episcopalians drinking?" And then, I realize that if we're going to be scripturally faithful, and biologically accurate, we really do need to be reading this passage now. Mary visits Elizabeth in her third month. About six months to go before Jesus is born. If we think of how Mary was a real person, and if we think of how Jesus was a real baby, then, it's due. Plus, it's kind of nice to think about Christmas in the summer, while there's still plenty of time to go shopping.

We usually compartmentalize the birth of our Savior into December. But Mary would tell you, and scripture does tell us, it didn't really happen that neatly. It didn't happen any more quickly than any other birth. Christmas didn't sneak up on Mary. It was on her mind, and growing within her, for a long time. We talk about Christmas miracles. But when it came to the birth of Jesus, it took longer than the average miracle. In other words, God didn't break any rules. God followed the laws of nature. Jesus followed the laws of nature. Even before he knew the laws of God. Christmas took a long time. Longer than the shopping season. Longer than even nine months. Christmas took a long, long time.


Way before before Mary and Joseph, there were prophets. And the prophets gave Jesus a name. They didn't call him Jesus. That came later. The first name, the prophetic name of the Savior was a different name. The prophets called him, "Emmanuel." He was named, "Emmanuel," which means, God-with-us.

God-with-us. Interesting name.

Not, God-above-us. Not, God-who-is-different-than-us. Not God-who-is-better-than-us. Not, God-who-is-angry-at-us. Not, God who sets up the universe and then takes a vacation from us.


Long before he was Jesus, he was, "Emmanuel," God-with-us. Interesting.

Emmanuel. God-with-us. Even in June.


It's summer, now. School's out. The pools are open. People are thinking about vacations. Are you going anywhere this summer? Are you getting some time away? Anybody going to DisneyWorld? It's a nice place. But honestly. Only Americans would think going someplace so ungodly hot, crowded, and expensive is a vacation. It's funny, because the Floridians all come to Gatlinburg. Because it's not hot, crowded, or expensive at all. Summer's kind of like half-time. It's time to get away. Time to relax. If you don't have small children. Time to reflect and breathe. Maybe go to the mountains. Maybe see some relatives.

Interesting. Because that's exactly what Mary did. She went to the hills to see her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was on the opposite end of her birthing years. Which, back then, would have made her an old woman of, what, 25? Mary goes on what we might euphemistically call a "vacation." Away from home. Away from the small-town people who would have been giving her looks, wondering about her baby, and Joseph, and her morals. Asking her embarrassing questions and invading her personal space. Mary has a visitation with her cousin, Elizabeth, who's going to give birth to John the Baptist pretty soon. They have a lot to talk about. It was probably pretty consoling, if not relaxing. To know you have a kindred heart. To know you have someone who understands what you're going through. To know you have someone who'll listen. Someone who'll be there. Someone who's with you.


How are things going for you in 2012? Anybody kind of worn out? Anybody need a break? Anybody hoping for someone who can be a listening ear or a supporting shoulder? The year can get long.

Maybe you get tired of the way things are for you. Maybe you wish you could just speed ahead and get to the good stuff. Maybe your daily grind is grinding you to a pulp. And you're thinking, Please, just get me to the end of the year.

I'm thinking Mary probably felt that way, too. But even for Mary, even for Jesus, God wouldn't break the laws of nature. Even for Mary, even for Jesus, the days passed 24 hours at a time.

So I'm thinking all those months, all those days, all those minutes must mean something. All those months, all those days, all those minutes must have meaning. All those months, all those days, all those minutes you've been given must have been given for some purpose. Maybe they've been given to us for the same reason they were given to Mary. And that's because they're the same months, days, and minutes all of us are given. We can't fast-forward through them, so they must mean something. Right?

If you're thinking summer should be a time to pause, good for you. If you're thinking summer would be a good time to reflect, a good time to get away, a good time to get a change of scenery, good for you. Life in 2012 is pregnant with so much. There are so many expectations. So many pressing issues. We have to carry so much.

It's so easy to forget the first name of Jesus. God-with-us. It's so easy to lose sight of the fact that Jesus is NOT only coming at Christmas, but that God-with-us is already with-us. In beautifully mysterious ways, we carry him - or maybe he carries us - during the long months. During the hard times. Out of season. And in season, too.


So, I challenge you to spend this summertime, half-time break, in a Mary kind of way. Visit somebody. Might be a relative. Might be a person you feel related to by life-events. Someone who gives you a place to be away. Maybe you can travel. Or maybe it means renewing a Facebook friendship. Find a good book. Find a mountain stream. Find a quiet corner of a closet. Wait for Mary, wait for Jesus, to come visit you. Reflect on how Jesus's original name isn't "The One Who Comes at Christmas." But, "God-with-us." God-with-us all year-round. God-with-us, as we wait. God-with-us, as we endure. God-with-us, as we hope.

It's kind of weird to celebrate Christmas in June. So, I'm not going to wish you, "Merry Christmas," because that's not the point. Instead, I want to say, "Merry God-with-us." Or, just, "God-with-us." Doesn't have to be merry. "God-with-us," y'all. May your next six months bring you tidings of good news and great joy. And may the hope, peace, joy and love that we talk so much about at Christmas, be with you. May Mary's visitation bring you a well-deserved break.

Sent with Writer.

- James