Draw Near to Each Other

Luke 1:26-55

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 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. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

Today’s challenge is to figure out how to “not be afraid” or to get past our fear. God’s message to us, through the Scripture is very clear:

  • From Isaiah “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
  • “Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not”
  • From Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
  • Angels speak “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
  • “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
  • Even Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
  • “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

What do you do when you’re afraid?  I mean, really afraid.  I am talking about the body-numming, paralyzing fear where you can’t see past the current moment.

  • I mean the kind of fear that happens when you lose a job and you don’t know how you are going to pay next month’s rent or mortgage bill.
  • The kind of fear that comes when someone close that you trusted with your heart has ended a relationship with you…because of differences, because of influence of other relationships, because of misplaced trust, because of death
  • The fear that comes when a health diagnosis alters all plans and dreams you have had
  • I mean the fear that exists when your faith is completely shaken because a faith community has shut the door on you
  • I mean the fear that is there when you seem to have no hope
  • I mean the kind of fear that comes when you feel trapped in your current situation with no way out…trapped in a relationship, a job, an emotional state, a bad habit.

I am talking about life-changing fear.  What do you do?  Pause How do you move from the paralyzing fear, to hearing the angels words “Fear not” to a heart of gratitude as Mary had when she offered her song to God?  Think for a moment…

How did Mary get there?  She was stunned by the angel’s news that she was to carry a baby that would change the world.  She heard the angel’s words “Don’t be afraid”.  And finally, she was able to sing the words “My spirit rejoices in God my savior”.  How did she get from point A to point B, really?

I want to share two personal stories with you that begins with that paralyzing fear in my life.

Somewhere, about 8-10 years ago, while Jason and I were still living in an inner-city neighborhood in Charlotte, engaged in intentional Christian community, and ministering to a low-income, at-risk neighborhood, I felt absolutely trapped.  It was a feeling that had built up over a few times over strained relationships in the community, over being stolen from time and time again, having my home broken invaded and bank account emptied, a car stolen, verbally abused by neighbors and friends, crying for help with no answer, taking up for others, after having to pretend everything was okay…I felt trapped.  I was supposed to be a “minister” to this broken community in need and I couldn’t even find hope myself.  I found myself kneeling over my bed one day sobbing because I didn’t see a way out and I couldn’t figure out which way was forward.  Jason said to me something to the effect of “that’s what hope is for.” I replied that I could even comprehend hope.  I didn’t see hope in that moment.  And he gently said to me, and I will never forget it, “then I will hold on to the light, to hope, for you, until you CAN see it again for yourself.” It took time…quite a bit of time…to find ways to trust people again, to feel like I had purpose.  But those words, from someone who never left me, pulled me through.

And now, I can say confidently to a family that is grieving the loss of a loved one…I am holding the light for you.  I can say confidently to someone who is struggling emotionally, I can see God’s light for you and will hold it for you until you are able to see it for yourself.  I can confidently say to a community that is mourning…that God has been making light out of darkness for years.  I can say to a family that is in medical crisis that a candle is lit for them…because I know God is the light.  I KNOW God is the light.  Someone believed for me…now I can believe for myself.

 

My second story is one that I have shared before.  Most of you may know this story in some version.  About three years ago now, I was pregnant.  I was excited about this pregnancy but it seemed that the weeks following my discovery that a third child was on the way into our family, door after door kept being shut.  I was lonely.  Jason was lonely and also struggling at the time.  It was another dark time.

Again…I was reminded how smart Jason can be. He suggested that maybe I/we would feel better if we shared our secret with someone.  Find someone you trust, and tell them about the pregnancy.  After weeks of holding this secret, I finally heeded the wisdom shared with me, and decided to embrace the excitement of this new child.  It was time to let love trump my fear! It was time to share the good news given to me.  So, who was the first person I decided to tell?  I ran with haste into the open arms of my sister-in-law who was also expecting a child of her own.  “I am pregnant.  Eight weeks.  I am excited and wanted to share with someone that I knew would also be excited and hold this secret with me.”  My eyes well up with tears when I remember her reaction.  She WAS excited! “Oh, we can be pregnant together!  I have felt so alone and now we can walk this journey together.”  This, to me, felt like the unconditional love that I need and even deserved.  She continued, “How far along are you?  How are you feeling?  I need to see you.  Let’s be together.”  And she acted on that, she came the next week and spent time with us.  A relative, my friend, embraced her gift of life and mine.  I turned to her out of my own fear and need for guidance and wisdom, and yet she blessed me.  And together we recognized God.

I don’t think it is coincidence that I needed someone else to hold on to God’s light for me.  Mary did.

Although the context of Mary’s trip to visit her relative Elizabeth is not detailed, we know that she visited Elizabeth while they were both pregnant.

Lauren Wright Pittman, one of the writers and artists with Sanctified Art that created our Draw Near Advent series wrote this about Mary and her visit to relative Elizabeth…

It is unclear, exactly, of the reason for Mary’s visiting Elizabeth. She may have been seeking comfort or community, or she may have been wanting to offer comfort to Elizabeth. Whatever her intentions, it is clear that Mary is emboldened and empowered by Elizabeth’s affirmations as she breaks into the Magnificat. It is as though Elizabeth’s words, “Blessed is she who believed,” creates space in Mary’s heart to proclaim the broad implications of what is taking place within her womb.”

 

This statement and my own experiences working through fear, and I hope some of yours too, bring to life the scripture that proclaims “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.”

Lauren Pittman continues,

When we draw near to one another, we can recognize and proclaim God’s movement in one another’s lives and be encouraged in our own journey. When we draw near to one another, we live more fully into who we were created to be.”

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Christmas is also a time where gather together more: family gatherings, travel to be with family and friends, invite friends over, office parties, celebrations at church, services of remembrance, etc.

Fear is a natural part of our life.  Fear will come and go.  And we are called to move beyond our fears…to move closer to God.  And often…it takes someone else to point us toward God.

God heard the pleas and felt the need to be with us, God knew how fears overwhelmed us…so God took on our human flesh and came to BE WITH US!!  God drew near to us through the birth of tiny baby we celebrate.

It is important to be together!!!  We need each other.  And in each other we see God.

Listen to this song by Chris Rice:

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting
Welcome Holy Child

 Hope that You don’t mind our manger
How I wish we could have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home

 

 

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