The 4th Sunday in Advent
December 20, 2015
“The Beauty of Christmas”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read earlier from Luke 1.
My dear friends,
What makes someone or something “beautiful”? What makes Christmas beautiful? Jack Frost nipping at our noses? Walking in a winter wonderland? Sleigh bells in the snow? That might work in the UP of Michigan or Minnesota or Wisconsin. Those 3 states have the highest statistical chance of having a “White Christmas” every year. But in South Florida? Not so much; the idea of a “White Christmas” here makes us scared! What makes someone or something “beautiful”? Women in our culture are too often celebrated for what they look like, instead of for who they are. The airwaves are inundated with ads for diet pills and plans, cosmetics and calisthenics, collagen and cosmetic surgery, all aimed at showing women what they can truly be if only they would improve their appearance. Magazines in the grocery store feature an endless parade of the latest models and celebrity sensations that, on the outside, are considered beautiful.
Well…in today’s text, we meet two women. Luke never bothers to tell us what they looked like. Doesn’t matter. He doesn’t mention their high cheekbones or their hourglass figures or weight or BMI. He pays no attention to their sense of fashion. Nevertheless, he shows them for what they are: truly beautiful women.
The first of these women was probably quite young, perhaps a teenager. Her name was Mary. As was the custom of the age, she was engaged to a somewhat older man, a carpenter by the name of Joseph. And, as you know, she found herself to be with child. An angel proclaimed that her child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary, a virgin, had been chosen to be our Lord’s mother. The angel proceeded to tell Mary that her cousin Elizabeth would also bear a child. And no doubt young Mary knew that Elizabeth would be a good mentor as she prepared for the difficult task of motherhood. So, bursting with youthful energy, Mary hurried up into the hill country to visit with Elizabeth and to tell her the good news.
Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a priest who served in the temple. Unlike Mary, she was advanced in age. But she was no less beautiful. Luke tells us that she was a righteous woman with true beauty of character, the kind of beauty that is more precious than jewels or designer handbags.
Now, as soon as Mary entered Elizabeth’s house, she excitedly told Elizabeth all that had happened: about the angel, about the conception by the Holy Spirit, and about the child whom she would call Jesus, which means, “The Lord saves.” And at this greeting, how did Elizabeth react? Was she perhaps a little jealous that Mary’s news was greater than her own? Was she offended that this young girl, and not she, would give birth to the Savior? After all, Elizabeth was married to a respected priest who served in the temple. Mary, on the other hand, was only a simple girl, set to marry a simple carpenter. But no. There was no jealousy in this beautiful woman. In fact, she was honored, saying, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v 43). At Mary’s good news, Elizabeth’s heart was gladdened, and she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (v 42).
Then, wonder of wonders, Elizabeth’s child got into the act. As Elizabeth added, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (v 44). In holy delight, John the Baptist was already pointing to the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world. Yes, in today’s Gospel we see that human life in all of its stages has been sanctified and touched by the beauty of our beautiful Savior. Yes, there is beauty in the unborn child. Beauty in the godly mother. Beauty in the one who grows older in the wisdom of the Lord. This is a beautiful narrative at a beautiful time of year!
Compare this beautiful biblical scene with the ugliness of sin. In the ugliness of sin, the world says, “A woman should not have to carry a child that she doesn’t want, especially if it gets in the way of her own plans, her own career.” In the ugliness of sin, the unholy trinity of “me, myself, and I” judges others by how they look or dress or the number they generate on a scale. We consider how useful someone is to us – whether that be an inconvenient child, a person suffering with a handicap, or an elderly parent/person who requires “too much” of our care, attention, and love. We say things like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and the beholder of sin and vanity says “have that surgery, get those implants, join that gym, buy those expensive shoes.” How much better is it for us to ponder Luke’s beautiful scene. Here we see a wonderful affirmation of life. Here we see beautiful faith as it is given by God.
Maybe that’s the point of all of this. Society teaches young women to look in the mirror and judge themselves by appearance. But what’s the result? Either vanity or despair. Because, finally, there’s nothing there. Mary and Elizabeth, on the other hand, were women of substance. They did not vainly look in the mirror but were happy for each other, and more important, they put their focus on Christ. Because they were focusing on Christ, even though I don’t know what they looked like, they were beautiful women. They looked into the face of the Lord and reflected his eternal love and true beauty.
So, what does this all mean for us in our world of superficiality and vanity? I suppose that in this season of Advent, we do well to take some time out of our busy schedules and reflect once more on what it’s all about. We all do well to look beyond the tinsel and Christmas lights, fixing our eyes on the Christ Child, finding beauty in the manger and the cross that he would take up on our behalf.
Earthly beauty is a gift from God. And cosmetics are fine. But earthly beauty fades. So, let us move away from the vanity of the mirror and the ugliness of pride. We do better to adorn ourselves with Christ and to put on his Spirit of holiness. We do better to place our beautiful Savior Christ before our eyes and before the eyes of our daughters and sons knowing that Jesus willingly received the scars and nail marks. As he endures the ugliness of the cross, we see his truly beautiful heart!
Our Lord did not choose to enter into some perfect and ideal world. He chose, instead, to enter our world, with all of its warts, flaws and blemishes. Why? Because he loves us, with all of our flaws and blemishes. Indeed, he comes to wash away the blemish of our sins not with Botox or blush, but in and through Baptism. And this, my friends, is true beauty, the beauty of the incarnation, the beauty of Christmas. No snow required, for which we cry “Thanks be to God!”