Preached by Michael Cheuk, December 20, 2015
Taken from Micah 5:2-5a and Luke 1:47-55
As we gather on this fourth and last Sunday of Advent, many of us may be a bit preoccupied and possibly stressed with the buying of the presents…finding the right gifts, getting a good deal, but not coming off too cheap. I guess one could say that it is human nature for us to be focused on the presents—the gifts of Christmas. But as we gather here this morning, days before we celebrate the birth of Christ, Christians around the world are reading this gospel lesson, a text that perhaps will grab our attention away from the shopping and remind us that it is indeed our presence – our calm and mindful attention – that is much more important than the presents or gifts that we give or receive.
As our gospel lesson opens, we find Mary not focusing inward on her own pregnancy, but rather reaching out to others by setting out to see her cousin Elizabeth. Keep in mind: this trip to see Cousin Elizabeth was not a walk around the block for Mary—rather, this was a 78-mile trek by foot and donkey by a pregnant teenager. And when she arrives for a three-month stay, there was no mention of any housewarming gifts, no talk of food platters, or beautifully wrapped baby gifts. Maybe those presents, those gifts, were there and not mentioned – but what is mentioned is the presence of God in Mary, who in turn gives Elizabeth the gift of her own presence. These words of greeting literally fill Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit, which prompts the baby in Elizabeth’s womb to leap for joy!
And Elizabeth, seeing that Mary is with child, calls her “the Mother of my Lord.” It is interesting to note that this is the only time in the New Testament that there is a dialogue recorded between two women.
In a few days we will celebrate the birth of Mary’s child: Jesus, the Son of God, the son of Mary, born fully human and fully divine. Our Christmas present is the perfect presence of the Christ Child. Our Christmas present is the fact that we all have the indwelling of God, which is Emmanuel, God with us. We all carry the presence of Christ.
Richard Rohr, in his book, The Naked Now, says, “[We] still think of ourselves as mere humans trying desperately to become ‘spiritual,’ but the Christian story reminds us that we are already spiritual and our difficult but necessary task is to learn how to become human.”
In short, Rohr reminds us that we are all spiritual—the spirit of God lives in us as with Elizabeth and Mary. Jesus came to Earth and became fully human, in order to show us how to be human to ourselves and to others. And how did he do this? It was by being present to others. Flip through your mind for your favorite gospel stories—Jesus at the well with the woman, Jesus healing the blind, Jesus dining with the sinners, Jesus calling to Peter on the water, and so on. Wherever he went, he brought people the gift of his presence – he listened to them, he ate with them, he touched them. And our needs are no different 2,000 years later. Everyone needs that internal peace and joy that comes from the presence of God.
This is what Mary’s visit did for Elizabeth. Mary’s visit was gift and grace to Elizabeth. So, too, the family and friends we visit this Christmas give us an opportunity to bring the same gift and grace into their lives, to bring them closer to God, and to share with them the Spirit of God in us—the Spirit of consolation, of courage, of peace and joy, just as Mary did. It is easy to go online an order a present, or to drop in at a mall and pick up a gift—but to give the gift of ourselves, to make time to be with another, that is the gift that many people long for but do not receive at Christmas. Indeed, I do not think that there is a greater gift that we can give than that of ourselves, our presence, our time and attention.
Beginning Tuesday with the Winter Equinox, the light will increase as our days become longer and our nights will become shorter. In just a few days, we will celebrate the birth of the Light of the World and we will soon welcome in the season of Epiphany, which some traditions call the festival of lights. Even our advent tree today is lit with this growing presence of light, the nearness of God’s presence that shines in the darkness.
One day the sun and a cave struck up a conversation. The sun had trouble understanding what “dark” and “dank” meant, and the cave didn’t quite get the hang of “light” and “clear” so they decided to visit one another’s homes. The cave went up to the sun and said, “Ah, I see, this is beyond wonderful. Now come down and see where I have been living.” The sun went down to the cave and said, “Gee, I don’t see any difference.”
As the Gospel of John so powerfully reminds us, Jesus is the light of men, and the darkness cannot overcome it. May we live in this light and soak up this presence, so that like a lovely full moon, we can reflect the sun’s ever brightening light to those in darkness. With just a few days left in Advent, try to find the time to slow down a bit…invite that frazzled person in line behind you to get in front of you…don’t fret if the Christmas cards don’t all get out in time…and it will be okay if some presents do not arrive till after December 25th.
In fact, I gave myself a gift this week – and based this sermon almost entirely on one written by Jim Knipper, as published in a compilation of homilies and reflections called Hungry, and You Fed Me. His sermon was a gift to me – and hopefully one for all of us. Knipper concludes with the reminder that while our parties and preparations and gifts can be an important part of Christmas, the greater challenge and value can be to make time for one another… and make time for yourself. And never forget that the greatest present you have and the one that you can give time and time again is the presence of God who dwells within you, the God who loves you, the One who is Emmanuel, God with us.
 Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, (OFM, 2009), p. 69.
 Deacon Jim Knipper, “When Elizabeth Heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb” in Hungry, and You Fed Me: Homilies & Reflections for Cycle C, pp. 19-22.