Luke 1: 39 – 45 All in the Family   December 19, 2021


All in the Family

Luke 1: 39 – 45


(preached on December 19, 2021)


My granddaughter Norunn turned six last Thursday, but it seems like yesterday that I first met her in the hospital, on the day she was born.  My job that day was to bring her older brother, Ola, to the hospital to meet her.  Ola was two and a half years old, and a very active little guy.  As I chased him through the hospital hallways, I got a bit frazzled, but eventually we arrived at Norunn’s room.  As soon as I saw my little granddaughter, that frazzled feeling was gone.  To see her, and hold her, filled me with joy.  All the stress of getting there melted away.  It was a wonderful feeling.


The birth of a baby brings joy to the most harried hearts.  The birth of a baby means new life, a new member of the family.  Later this week we’ll celebrate the birth that brings new life to the whole human family.  Our hearts, and hearts all over the world, will overflow with joy to hear again the story of Jesus’ birth.


In our gospel passage for today, from Luke, we find Mary on the way to visit her relative Elizabeth.  Just a short time before, the angel Gabriel has told Mary that the Holy Spirit will come over her and she will conceive a son, whose kingdom of justice and love will never end.  Gabriel has assured her that nothing will be impossible for God.


Mary must have been filled with excitement!  It’s all too good to keep to herself, so she heads out to visit Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is sure to have some words of wisdom to share.  When Mary arrives, Elizabeth is also beside herself with excitement.  Here it helps to know that in Elizabeth and Mary’s world, Elizabeth, as the older one, is supposed to be greeted with honor.  But Elizabeth has no such expectation.  She’s the one greeting with honor here; she welcomes Mary with great respect as “the mother of my Lord.”


We can almost see Mary stand up taller when she hears these words.  We can imagine her holding her head a little higher as Elizabeth declares that Mary is the one through whom God will enter into human life.  She’s the one in whom the Word will become flesh; through her, God will become incarnate.


God becomes incarnate:  that’s the miracle we celebrate at Christmas.  The holy power and presence of God enters into human life.  God comes to us.  At Christmas, God comes to us and takes on our humanity.  It’s a miracle too wonderful for words.  But the birth of Jesus brings another miracle, one that might not be so obvious to us.  The birth of Jesus also means that we humans take on some of God’s divinity.  We become more like God; as John puts it in his gospel, we become children of God.  John writes, “to all who received [Jesus]… [our Creator] gave the right to become children of God” (John 1: 12).  God has come to us, and when we receive him, we become his children.  We become members of God’s family.


We can see clearly what this looks like in a book entitled Good News from Northhaven.  In the book, the author, Presbyterian pastor Michael Lindval, writes about two baptisms that took place in a church in Northhaven, a small town in Minnesota.  The first baptism was held on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.  In the Presbyterian church, the leaders of the congregation are called elders.  On the day of the baptism, one of the elders of the church stood proudly at the baptismal font with his new grandson.  The church elder had the venerable name of Angus MacDonald.  The baby’s name was Angus the third, but he was otherwise known as Skip.


The Presbyterian baptism ceremony, like baptisms in our church, includes a moment when the pastor turns to the congregation and asks for a pledge of support, with the question, “Who stands with this child?”  So, as Angus and his grandson stood by the font with the baby’s parents, the pastor asked, “Who stands with this child?”  In response, an assortment of relatives stood up.  After the service, the congregation departed.  The pastor remained and was putting things in order in the sanctuary.  Suddenly he noticed that one person had stayed behind.


The pastor described the woman as dressed in “Salvation Army style, clutching a black plastic purse.”  He had seen her in church before.  She always sat in the back pew, as close as possible to the door.  Today, when the pastor greeted her, she seemed at a loss for words.  After an uncomfortable silence, she remarked on what a lovely baptism it was.  Then, fumbling for words, she said to the pastor, “My daughter Tina has had a baby and, well, the baby ought to be baptized, shouldn’t it?”


The pastor responded that perhaps Tina could come to see him, along with her husband, and they could talk with him about baptism.  The woman looked up at him and said, “Tina has no husband.  She was confirmed in this congregation, came to the youth group.  But then she got involved with this older boy.  And then she got pregnant.  She’s only eighteen.”


Now it was the pastor’s turn to fumble for words.  He awkwardly mumbled that he would bring the question before the deacons.  A few days later, at the deacons’ meeting, the pastor presented to them the request to baptize Tina’s baby.  Some mumbling followed his request.  Who was the father?  The pastor said he didn’t know.  There were other questions.  How could they be sure that Tina would be faithful to the promises she would be making in the baptism?  But then again, how could they be sure about anybody’s promise?  There was more mumbling.  Then, after some shuffling about, the baptism was approved for the fourth Sunday of Advent.


The fourth Sunday of Advent is the Sunday before Christmas.  It’s an important Sunday in any church, as it is for us today.  The church in Northhaven was filled.  The congregation began the service, singing “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus.”  They lit the Advent wreath; then it was time for the baptism.  The pastor announced, “Would those to be presented for baptism come forward.”  An elder of the church stood and read off a three-by-five card, “Tina Corey presents her son, James, for baptism.”  He looked down and stared awkwardly at the card.

Tina got up from where she was seated and came down to the front, holding two month old James in her arms.  A blue pacifier was stuck in his mouth.  The scene was awkward, just as awkward as the pastor and the deacons expected it would be.  Tina seemed so young, so alone.  As they stood there, they couldn’t help but think of another mother and another baby, young, alone, long ago: another young mother, in similarly difficult circumstances.


The ceremony went on.  The pastor came to the point in the baptism when he asked, “And who stands with this child?”  He looked out at Tina’s mother, dressed in her flea market way, and nodded toward her.  She stood hesitantly and moved toward her daughter and grandson.  The pastor looked back down at his service book to proceed with the questions to be asked of the parents.  But he sensed something.  He became aware of movement within the congregation.


A couple of the elders stood up.  And many stood beside them.  Then the sixth-grade Sunday school teacher stood up.  Then a new young couple in the church stood up.  And then, before the pastor’s astonished eyes, the whole congregation was standing, moving forward, clustering around the baby and [his mother].  Tina was crying.  And little Jimmy, as the water touched his forehead, grew peaceful and calm, as if he could feel this warm embrace.  And the whole congregation was standing, gathered as if this were their child, as if they were all family.  And they were all family: the family of God.


In just a few days, in the stillness of a winter night, a baby will be born into your family.  By the birth of that wonderful baby, you have been made family.  Maybe you’re here this morning by yourself.  Maybe your family is far away, or maybe you’ve lost the family you had, or maybe you just don’t have much family.


But if you listen carefully, you might hear the rustling in the pews as the whole human family gathers and takes shape around the manger.  You might see strangers becoming brothers and sisters as they stand and take their places around the tiny new baby bundled in swaddling clothes.  God has entered human life in this little baby.  In this little baby, God’s infinite love will come to life.  Because of that love, you and I are no longer alone.  We know we are children of God, members of God’s family. “The Word [becomes] flesh, and [makes] his dwelling among us” (John 1: 14a).  O come let us adore him.



Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Advent 4






(portions adapted from Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 54-55).