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Advent 4 Year C, St Mark’s, 30.11.03
Micah 5.2-5a: [Messiah] to be born in Bethlehem
Hebrews 10.5-10: a body you have prepared for me
Luke 1.39-45: Visitation
Collect: as she looked for his coming… so may we be ready to greet him
Post Com: fill us with your grace that we may [with her] embrace your holy will (979-59 = 920)  

Summary: God sends Jesus for us all that we may enter into his way, the way of mercy, righteousness, justice and peace.

          As those of you who have been mothers will know, pregnancy can be a time of patience and a time of impatience, a time of joyful expectation and a time of fearful waiting.  It can feel like a short time or an endless time.  It can be a fulfilling time or a frustrating time.   
In today’s gospel we encounter two impending births that will occur in the fullness of time. 
And so in today’s gospel from Luke two pregnant women meet, one old and one young.   
          If you were Luke, how would you tell the story?  Luke writes as one who knows his scriptures and traditions thoroughly, and he wishes to show how they have reached the rich fulfilment of all that they have promised.  In order to show this he has crafted his story in such a way that those who would hear his gospel would know that the time has come.  Thus, in the words of one of our Christmas carols, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”. 
      Behind the way he tells his story Luke has in mind three prophets: Samuel, Elijah and Moses.  
         Luke has fashioned his story of the conception of both babies so that it carefully matches the story of the conception and birth of the prophet Samuel. That is, he patterns his story on the story of Hannah, the barren but beloved wife of Elkanah.   She prayed fervently in the temple at Shiloh that God might grant her a son.  Eli the priest at first mistook her for a drunkard, but then he told her that in due time the following year she would bear a son.  And when that son was born, she brought him to the temple to give thanks and to dedicate the child to the service of the Lord.  That son was the one God called to be the prophet Samuel.
And now, as Luke tells it, we have two women bearing two more prophets who will make God’s will known.  And the one mother says that her baby leaps with joy within her womb at recognition of the greater one who will follow him.
Israel hoped for the return of the prophet Elijah as the one who would be the messenger spoken of in the Book of Malachi, the forerunner who would prepare the way of the Lord.  It was this expectation that led the Jews at every observance of the Passover meal to set out a fourth cup of wine, which was called the cup of Elijah.  And now, in John the Baptist, as the gospels tell us, Elijah has come.
The third prophet is Moses.  In the Book of Deuteronomy Moses promises that “The LORD your God will raise up a prophet like me…” (18.15), then towards the end of the book (34.10) it says, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face”.  This gave rise to the expectation of a great coming prophet.  We speak of Jesus as “Prophet, Priest and King”, and it is Luke who most emphatically of all the evangelists picks up this strand of the messianic hopes as helping to proclaim who Jesus is for his followers: the proclaimer of God’s will for all people.
And our gospel reading is immediately followed by what we have just sung for a canticle: the Magnificat.  The core of the Magnificat is based on the Song of thanksgiving that Hannah sang when she presented the baby Samuel to Eli at the temple in Shiloh .  And on whose lips is the Magnificat?  The manuscripts are divided on this.  Although many say Mary said it, there is another line of transmission that puts it on the lips of Elizabeth , and there is certainly a sense that it would be very appropriate as a duet between them.  For between them their children will usher in the dawn of salvation in the fullness of time.
          What this salvation means for Luke he spells out in the first three chapters, and especially in the canticles.
The Magnificat speaks of bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry and sending the rich away, and all this is in accordance with God’s promises to Abraham and his seed.
          Then we move on to the Benedictus when John’s father, Zechariah, opens his mouth and prophesies, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  He picks up the promise to Abraham and speaks of forgiveness and points forward to Jesus as the dawn that will give light and guidance in the ways of peace to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
         Next the heavenly host gives glory to God and holds the promise of peace on earth for those on whom God’s favour rests.
     When Jesus is presented to Simeon in the temple we then have Simeon’s Song, the Nunc Dimittis, which speaks of God’s salvation prepared in the presence of all people, the glory of Israel and the light for the Gentiles.
     Finally, Luke’s conviction that Jesus comes for all of humanity is seen in the genealogy that he gives to Jesus, which does not stop with Abraham but goes all the back to Adam, son of God.
     This then is the good news for which we have been preparing this Advent and which we shall celebrate this Thursday: God sends Jesus for us all that we may enter into his way, the way to which all people are called, which is the way of mercy, righteousness, justice and peace.