Singing on the Journey

Christmas Eve

Text: Luke 1:26-55

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:41-44, NRSV)

That gospel passage is a classic Christmas Eve text; yet it might also serve well as a reading for Mother’s Day. Luke writes about two very important mothers, Elizabeth and Mary.

The Bible tells us that Elizabeth and Mary are relatives (and tradition says that Elizabeth was Mary’s aunt). But as near as they are as kin, they possess several significant differences. Elizabeth is old and has suffered infertility all her life. Much like the Genesis character of Sarah, Elizabeth prayed for a child. Mary endures a contrasting and scandalously embarrassing circumstance; she is young and unmarried.

Despite their differences, Elizabeth and Mary are surprised by their pregnancies, in part due to the conception of each child under the shroud of wonder and mystery. Each pregnancy reveals the mysterious hand of God. And each pregnancy’s unexplained circumstances issues forth a boundless joy—joy that bursts into song.

The “Song of Mary” which comprises vv. 46-55 has been known to countless generations of Christians as the “Magnificat.”

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name.

And His mercy is on those who fear Him

From generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm;

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

And exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel,

In remembrance of His mercy,

As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and to his seed forever.                (Luke 1:46-55, NKJV)

Do miracles create singing? Or does singing create miracles? I suspect Luke would tell us that miracles create singing. Certainly many of us have seen this miracle in our own lives.

Once upon a time (long ago) I knew a devoted and generous Christian. However, he lacked joy in his life. He told me that he did what he did out of a sense of duty to God. And he acknowledged that his greatest satisfaction in life was living up to God’s expectations.

But he also told me his spiritual life was as lifeless as a valley of dry bones. He did what he thought God required, but he missed the happiness that other people of faith seemed to have. We talked about his perceived spiritual emptiness often, because his dedication to the church was beyond question. He felt, however, as if his faith lacked something deep and satisfying.

However, one Christmas Eve night, as we stood in church with candles lit, I noticed that he had picked up a hymnal (something he almost never did) and he was singing. Singing “Silent Night.”

Silent night! Holy night!

All is calm, all is bright.

Round yon virgin mother and child,

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

And there were tears streaming down his face. That’s when I knew the Lord had broken through to him on that special night.

Miracles do produce singing. But in this case, maybe it was the singing that produced the miracle. Either way, the Christ Child was born in my friend’s heart that Christmas Eve.

I said that happened a long time ago, and it did. It happened when I was still living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That’s my home town, and of course—for that reason—it’s a place that’s full of Christmas memories for me.

One of the most vivid memories I have, in fact, is of being a small child and going to the train station with my mother and grandparents to meet visitors who were coming for the holidays. My family didn’t get many visitors when I was a boy. And the train station was a big, crowded, busy place, with lots of sights and sounds—especially at Christmas. I guess all those things conspired to burn images of the train station into my mind. And one of my clearest images of that place and time, oddly enough, is about looking up and seeing two huge signs above my head. On one sign, the word “ARRIVALS” appeared; and on the other, the word “DEPARTURES.”

Now, as an older adult, when I reflect upon that memory, I find myself thinking that life is much like that train station. It’s a place where we arrive, and it’s a place from which we depart. Each of us lives our lives metaphorically between the two signs. We arrive at birth and we depart at death. Between these two milestones we live our lives.

In our gospel reading today, Luke speaks to us of elements of the human journey between arrival and departure.

For Elizabeth, the Lord provided a final destination for which she had longed. She had arrived at the birth of a child—the answer to her prayers.

For Mary, the Lord provided her a point of departure through the holy child’s conception in her womb. This pregnancy was certainly problematic, but Mary could not have missed the holiness of the angel’s visit, with its announcement of a new beginning.

Even for Jesus, whom she was carrying, this moment was the beginning of a journey—a journey from cradle to cross.

On this Christmas Eve, God speaks to each of us about our journey of faith. God is more interested in where we are going than where we have been, and gives to each of us an opportunity for renewal, for rebirth—to use the scriptural language, a chance for salvation from sin and death.

Thus, God saves us from something. But God doesn’t stop there. We are also saved for something—for a life of meaning and value, and to love others as God first loved us.

To those like Elizabeth, the Lord provides the hope-filled completion of prayers and dreams. For those like Mary, the Lord provides hope and strength for tasks yet to be undertaken. For you and me, the Lord gives the gift of the Christ Child, that we might trust God more fully and live more completely than we ever dreamed possible.

If our arrivals and departure are truly within the loving concern of God, then—whatever may befall us here and now—we have no real cause for anxiety about the future. This is the miracle of Christmas. And this is the best Christmas gift we could ever get! Thanks be to God for it. Amen.


He Has Come!

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