Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:46b-55
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

So it has been just about 4 weeks now. 4 weeks that we’ve been looking forward with hope, 4 weeks that we’ve been at peace knowing that what is coming is coming and it will be good, 4 weeks of expressing our love for the coming event that promises to bring us boundless joy… I’m of course talking about the almost 4 weeks since the trailer of the Avengers 4 movie came out. Seriously, this was like one of the most anticipated events in history, like almost as much as the coming of the actual Messiah.

And really, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The fact that it this movie is so looked forward to by millions, and also that I’d eventually bring it up in a sermon. This is the movie event that was hinted like 7 years ago. Like, literally 7 years since Thanos the Mad Titan showed his face on the big screen in the original Avengers movie in 2012. And after the epic 3rd installment, Avengers: Infinity War movie that you know I loved, the internet was really looking forward to even just the trailer of the 4th, as it will give clues to as to how the events after that 3rd movie will unfold.

And so the trailer dropped and bandwidth around the world went crazy, like when you’re showering in an older house and someone flushes the toilet. I mean, it’s still passable as a shower, but you know some of that water is going somewhere else. People’s eyes were glued to their screens, excited, on the edge of their seats, hoping that their expectation to be yet again blown out of their minds and that their needs for just a sneak peek be satisfied.

That anticipation, that hope, that longing for this movie to drop, really I do think is comparable to the coming of the Messiah. It is at least among giant nerds like me. I know it sounds a bit crass to compare salvation out of exile and oppression to a pop culture movie, but that is like the definition of first world problems.

The Jewish folk back in the days of Roman occupancy spent centuries looking forward to liberation, religious redemption, and a hero to come to save them from their enemies. They read the prophesies, heard the promises, listened to the fan theories of how all this was supposed to go down. And every day that passed just told them that they were one day closer to that coming day. So while oppression and exile isn’t the same as waiting for what has the potential to be the greatest movie ever made, that anticipation and hope are. The looking forward to something that you want so badly, the built up excitement that it is coming any day now, just the sheer emotion around that expectation of having your mind blown… well I’m sure we’ve all felt that before in some shape or form.

Perhaps your graduation day, all the years of hard work paying off. Or the day they announce your promotion. They day of your wedding. The birth of your first child. Or the movie event of the century. You catch my drift.

So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to at least just this trailer. It was hard for me to not keep reading about the ideas of when it will come, about what it might contain, and what we could expect it to reveal as so far, even the title of the 4th Avengers movie was super top secret. So if you’re one of the 0.00001 percent of the world that hasn’t seen it (or the 90% of this room that hasn’t), your dreams can now be fulfilled as well:

Huh. That was it. It… didn’t tell us anything. It answered no questions, it revealed no insights, even the title “End Game” kind left us wanting for something more. What a disappointment. I was expecting to be wow’ed, to be blown away, to be filled with a satisfaction and peace in knowing that the world is now a better place.

But I wasn’t. Like, at all. I was more annoyed than anything. As I’m sure all of you are as well after I was pumping it up as much as I was.

And probably the same with the people of Jesus’ time when they first met him. Well, maybe not the shepherds and angels who were reported to be full of joy and stuff, and probably not Mary and Joseph who would love and be proud their kid regardless, and perhaps the Magi who came later with a bunch of gifts and so forth, but when you first hear the story of how the Messiah was born? Or when you see what backwater place he came from and in what environment he came into the world? That doesn’t sound fit for a king at all. Not fit for anyone of any importance. It’s not even really all that fit for anyone regardless, for that matter, let alone the one who is promised to save us all.

And then comes his parents. Unwed. Uneducated. Unimportant. How could they be expected to raise a saviour? Joseph was a common carpenter with calloused hands and questionable family ties. Mary was underaged, illegitimately pregnant, and a history of strange but vivid dreams of angels and grandeur.

Nobodies. Under the radar. Disappointing.

But that doesn’t stop them. They press on. They do what they do. They have a baby who indeed saves the world, and they are called blessed for all of time.

However, they aren’t called blessed because of what they have done. Mind you, they did do a lot, raising the Son of God would probably be a handful for any parent. Actually raising your own regular kid is a handful for any parent. But that isn’t why they are called blessed. I mean, it can’t be. Today’s gospel reading and Psalm tell us so. Both those passages, which happen back to back chronologically, both happened before Jesus was even born. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth has a real mom moment when the baby in her womb leaps for joy at the arrival of Mary into their home. Mary herself breaks off in song almost like her last name was Poppins, and praises God for blessing her and her being called blessed for generations.

Well, they sound joyful. Maybe that is why this week is the “joy” week of Advent, because we see that unbridled, spontaneous-singing kind of joy displayed by both Mary and Elizabeth. But what is the source of this joy?

As we see in the text, it isn’t something that they have done, as they didn’t do anything yet but disbelieve at first. It isn’t who they are because we already established that Mary isn’t really anyone that you’d notice. It might just the pregnant glow, but really Mary is pretty young and Elizabeth is pretty old, so I’d think that them being pregnant is more scary than anything else.

But in that fear, they have joy. In their strange and unusual situations, they are full of joy. In the midst of the disappointment and disillusionment of what was supposed to happen in contrast to what is actually happening, that didn’t stop Mary and Elizabeth joyously leaping and dancing and singing out of appreciation of all that God has done.

You know, as disappointing as the Avengers trailer is, that didn’t stop the droves and droves of Youtubers from talking about it and picking it apart. As un-meeting of expectation as it was, it didn’t stop the true hard core fans from analysing it and coming up with new theories of how things are going to pan out. As off the mark as it was for at least me, for many out there it was still perfect and exactly what they needed to keep up the hope, the peace, the love, and the joy.

Because really, it is still a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that is coming out. It is still going to be amazing as I haven’t seen an MCU movie that wasn’t amazing (except for the Incredible Hulk and Thor: Dark World, but hey that is just 2 out of like 20 so far… pretty good odds). This movie is still going to be what those who look forward to it want it to be: the answer those burning questions that came from the last movie and satisfy us as fans, moviegoers, and super huge nerds.

So yeah maybe the Messiah’s arrival into the world was disappointing. Maybe the Saviour’s birth seemed to have missed the mark of our expectations. Maybe Jesus’ parents seemed like less than stellar choices to help raise the King of Kings. And really, many people can look at the whole story of Jesus, who he is, where he came from, and what he’s done, and think there is no way that a Messiah would come to the world in that place, at that time, through those people. But at the same time if you step back, look at the story as something God put in place, and allow it to speak to you then you’ll see how God is active in places we don’t expect, how God isn’t bound by our expectations or wants, how God is very present and with us, calling us blessed and bringing us joy.

This is the hope of Advent, this is the story of Christmas, this is us, as God’s people called to be in the world but not of the world, joined with the saints of all times and places, and redeemed by the love and grace of an unexpected and unlikely Saviour. So just as Mary and Elizabeth rose up out of the ordinary and was declared blessed, as the ancient Israelites were told that the small, humble, and relatively unknown town of Bethlehem will be lifted up in providing for the world a king, as Jesus himself came from questionable beginnings, under the cloud of oppression, and in a smelly barn in the presence of strange shepherds, so we are brought up out of whatever we might be going through, whatever unmet expectation, whatever disappointment we face, and called blessed and brought into joy as God chooses us, welcomes us, and saves us.

As we come to the end of this season of hope and anticipation called Advent and enter into the season of joy and regal appreciation called Christmas, may we see God working both in these seasons and always, entering and working in our lives even in the ordinary and disappointing, and bringing us joy. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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