Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Notes For the Message for the Third Sunday of Advent; Based on Luke 1:26-55

Scriptures this week: Luke 1:26-55

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010

Liturgical Color: PURPLE

Hymns this Sunday:

    • UMH 215 – “To a Maid Engaged To Joseph”

    • UMH 198 – “My Soul Gives Glory To The Lord”

      This Sunday our youth will lead us in the Chrismon Service. SPREAD THE WORD, BRING YOUR CAMERAS.

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      We tend to read the Bible with rose-colored glasses. We tend to see what we want to see instead of what the Biblical narratives are trying to convey because there are almost 2000 years between the last scroll that became a part of what we know today as The Bible, and the times that we live in. This discrepancy between what we understand and what the Biblical narratives are trying to convey is obvious in today’s reading.

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      We know that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. Today no one has even heard about the city of Sepphoris, but at the time of the events that we heard about in today’s reading, Sepphoris was the place to be and Nazareth was kind of like a low income housing project. Most travelers went out of their way to avoid it, and no one wanted to live there by choice.

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      The city of Sepphoris had a stadium, a theater, places to shop, paved streets, nice villas with colonnades and even a park. It had a population of 35,000 or so people. While Sepphoris was an important cultural and strategic center, most people had never heard of Nazareth.(http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/Sepphoris.html) (http://gulfshoressteven.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/israel-pages-sepphoris-and-nazareth/)

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      Nazareth was approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) outside the city walls of Sepphoris. Many of the dwellings in Nazareth were made from caves – the cheapest possible places to live. In the Gospel according to John, chapter 1 verse 46, we hear the future disciple Nathaniel asking Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What Nathaniel was saying is, “Really? You want me to become a disciple of someone who came out of that hole…”

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      It was in lowly Nazareth, not in sophisticated Sepphoris, that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. And Gabriel told Mary that she would be pregnant, and not by her future husband, and that her son would be the long awaited Messiah. In case you are wondering, that would be especially troublesome news because the punishment for marital infidelity was stoning.

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      To a twelve or thirteen year old girl that was such a shocking revelation that she had to question what she had really seen and heard. In effect she had to ask herself, “Am I crazy? Did I go nuts for a short time? Did I eat something bad and have a hallucination?”

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      That is why Mary took off from Nazareth to visit her older cousin Elizabeth (today we would call her an aunt) in the outskirts of Jerusalem. To a healthy, strong country girl like Mary that was a grueling 10 day walk that covered 65 miles. Also we know that although we celebrate Jesus’ birth in December, more than likely he was born in March. That would mean that Mary was traveling around July or August: the hottest months of the year.

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      So Mary came to see her aunt and she discovered that what Gabriel revealed to her was correct, that she was not crazy and that Elizabeth was indeed pregnant.

      Today we saw our children tell us the story of Christmas. As they tell it to us, they also are learning this story, they make it their own, they learn to recognize the beauty of that story and the meaning of that story.

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      Mary’s song tells us something important about Mary: we know that she was not a stranger to the Sabbath school in her synagogue. Why do I say that? Because Mary’s song, also known as the Magnificat, is similar to Hannah’s prayer found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. More than likely Hannah’s prayer was learned by every Jewish girl in the Sabbath School, and Mary’s song was based on this prayer. To Mary, Hannah’s song was like Amazing Grace is to us. Amazing Grace is such a part of our American culture that even non-church attending folks can squeeze out at least one verse from memory.

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      “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” That is the first line of Mary’s song. Most of us think that Mary rejoices because she is going to have the baby. If a young woman wants to have a child, and she has a support system (like a husband and a loving family) she will rejoice when she finds out that she is pregnant. That was not Mary’s situation. She is not married, and by the law of the land she was supposed to be stoned for cheating on her betrothed. We now know the rest of the story, but Mary had no assurance for her future. I think that Mary rejoiced in God, her Savior because she learned something about God out of that experience.

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      Mary learned that God calls the least likely people to God’s service, and that God is even with people who live in places like Nazareth. As a matter of fact, look at verses 52 – 53.

      “He [God] has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He [God] has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).

      If you really hear these lines, they go against everything that we believe as a society. If I were to preach a sermon and say something like that, how long would it take for our Bishop to get bombarded with e-mails to remove your “socialist” pastor? Mary’s song is a song that challenged the established order of first century Palestine. Mary’s song is a song that challenged the authority of temporal rulers like King Herod and the Roman occupiers, and brought hope to the lowly, to the ones on the periphery of society.

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      In Mary’s song we see the seeds of Jesus’ ministry. Mary’s song points to the ministry of a man from Galilee, who was probably less educated than the priests of the Temple, but what he taught us still moves our hearts today.

      When was the last time that Jesus moved your heart? When was the last time that God surprised you? When was the last time that you were so filled with the Spirit that you wanted to spread the Good News of what God is doing in your life to your neighbors?

      This Christmas season I want to invite you to take the time to reflect on what Jesus means to you, on what God has done and is doing in your life and where the Holy Spirit is guiding you in your tomorrow. How would your life have been different if there was no Jesus in your life? Don’t you want everyone to experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness in their lives. Don’t you want the whole world to know?

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