Jesus is Near
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 23, 2018
I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother when I was growing up. For the first 12 years of my life, my grandparents lived across town and I spent most weekends with them. When I was 13 we moved away. It felt like it was on the other side of world but it was only two hours away.
When she was alive the entire family would gather to celebrate holidays. My Grandmom would decide where we would be and who was doing what. It was our turn to host.
To prepare, we cleaned and planned. By the week of the visit every cobweb and dust bunny behind, under, and near ceiling or floor was found and purged. The air was eau de Pledge and Lestoil.
Before they left home my grandmom would call and let us know they were on the way.
As the distance between us shortened with every minute, I could feel my anticipation building. As the time drew close, I’d go outside so I could watch for the car. I would go to the corner to check, then sit on the porch. I could see when they turned the corner even though it was 3 blocks away.
I always ran to the car, I was a kid after all. I would run along side the car, to the house, my heart leaping for joy because in a moment she would be “here” instead of “there.” It was the end of Advent.
The Jews were Advent people. They would have been anticipating the Messiah as much as I anticipated my visits with my grandmom. They were preparing - looking for signs; reading and studying Scripture - hoping to see his arrival soon.
Elizabeth knew God’s promise too, that one day, someday, the Messiah would come. He would come from David’s line, from David’s home of Bethlehem.The Messiah would be merciful, he would lift the lowly and fill the hungry. His presence would make the world right by turning the world upside down.
For decades Elizabeth would have lived in anticipation, wondering how much longer. Questioning probably, would it happen in my lifetime or some other time? How will I know? Who would he be?
And Mary comes to visit. It was the end of Advent. As Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice she knows the anticipation is over. God has kept his promise. The Messiah was near – through the Holy Spirit and Mary’s yes. And the babe, John, knows it too. He leaps for joy in her womb. The Messiah was near and I imagine her own heart leapt for joy as well.
This joy isn’t lukewarm, it isn’t milquetoast joy; It’s exultation; greatly rejoicing that the Messiah is near! It is the feeling that your heart is going to burst from your chest. The feeling that if you weren’t self-conscious and no one was looking you might jump around like a little kid or do your happy dance.
It is the joy of knowing that God is still with us, among us - to love us, heal us, and feed us.
It is the end of our Advent. The Messiah is near! Are you greatly rejoicing? Have you been waiting in anticipation? I don’t mean anticipating Christmas. I mean anticipating Jesus.
Now, I have nothing against Christmas trees. I love the smell of pine and the beauty of a well decorated tree. Santa Claus and gifts under the tree make Christmas fun for the young and no longer so young.
But anticipating Christmas isn’t the same as anticipating Jesus. There is no Easter without the Nativity; no tomb without the manger; no resurrection without this birth.
God has kept his promise! We are no longer waiting. Jesus is near!
Do we have room for him? Has Christmas filled our inns so all that’s left is a manger in the grotto? Has the distractions of decorating, shopping, and wrapping of Christmas blocked our way to the Jesus? Have we cleared the cobwebs and dust bunnies from our hearts so he has room to live and grow in us?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to call anyone a viper or “snakish”, but do we truly leave room for Jesus? How do we receive the Messiah with great rejoicing in a deeply personal way that changes the world? How do we magnify the Lord?
Jesus wants to fill our hearts so we know the love of God, deeply. He came to open our lives to the experience of abundant life and grace. He wants to be our spiritual food, not just on Christmas, or on Easter or on Sundays but for all days. He wants us to run to meet him.
We are no longing waiting for him; now, he is waiting for us. He is waiting for us to know, like Elizabeth and John, that the time has come. That we are to make the way straight, to turn, and to praise. And we are to bless and go tell the world he is here, now. That he is here now.
He is waiting for us to find our way to the manger and take him into our hearts. He is waiting for us to carry him from Bethlehem through the streets of Spring, through the streets of the world.
Jesus is near and he is waiting. Waiting for us to say yes like Mary, to recognize his coming like Elizabeth, and to leap with joy, like John.
The coming of Christ, the Incarnation, leads to the resurrection and our redemption. But it is also an invitation for us to participate in redemption too, not in a passive way but an active way. We are to run to greet our family, neighbors, friends, strangers and even our enemies. We are to find a way to love, even when or especially when it is hard.
We are also invited to be incarnational. We are invited to share the hope and joy of Christ, to show the world that God is still with us. To show that God continues to do great things through ordinary people. We are to be a way of love so the world our upside down world gets turned right side up.
God has kept his promise, Jesus is near, may your heart leap in exultation, rejoicing greatly!
Now Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hill and everywhere!