39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home (Luke 1.39-56 NRSV).
A couple of times I have mentioned to someone that I can’t believe how quickly time is passing – I can’t believe it is already Halloween … it is already Thanksgiving … or now, it is just a few days away from Christmas … usually the person will look at me, say, “Kenny how old are you?” and then they say, “Just wait, time will only go faster.”
That is such a scary thought!
I honestly can’t imagine how time could go any faster … I can’t picture how I could ever keep up if days moved faster. If there were such things as time machines, instead of seeing what the future holds or reliving events from the past … I would want a time machine that could slow things down … or maybe even pause things.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could call time-outs for things other than football and basketball? Or if we had a pause button – like on a DVD player.
As Luke tells us about the events that lead up to Jesus’ birth, he is not in a hurry. In the first two chapters of his book he even takes a few time-outs. Luke completely stops the story in four places to point out the significance of the things God is doing and people are experiencing.
All of these pauses take the form of songs.
The first pause is the one we just heard – Mary’s song. The story of Mary’s visit with her relative Elizabeth just stops and Mary expands on what God is doing in her life and what her son will mean to the world.
… He has brought down the powerful from their thrones … he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty … He has helped his servant Israel … (Luke 1:52-54)
Zechariah sang the second song after he and Elizabeth followed the angel’s instructions and named their son John.
… And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace … (Luke 1:76-79)
The third song comes from the angels after Jesus’ birth. When they appear in the fields and give their message to the shepherds, the action stops, and before the shepherds have any opportunity to respond to their message, the angels burst out in a song.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14)
The fourth break in the action … the fourth song comes when Mary and Joseph are in the temple with Jesus participating in a traditional ceremony for newborn babies. Luke tells us there was an elderly man in the temple named Simeon. Simeon had been assured by God that he wouldn’t die before seeing the savior God was sending. Luke says that the Holy Spirit led Simeon to the temple that day. When he saw Jesus, Simeon knew Jesus was the one God had sent. The movement of the story stops, and Simeon sings a song that points out the weight of the moment and the purpose of Jesus.
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
Luke refuses to let us speed through the story. Luke calls time outs. He pauses to point out the depth of these moments and the purposes of Christ. He is not in any hurry. He invites us to pause and join in his wonder of Jesus’ arrival.
The pattern Luke sets out in the beginning of his gospel is a good challenge for us. When we are racing along there are so many things we might miss. Could we pause for a moment … could we take a timeout?
In a TED Talk about compassion, Daniel Goleman tells about an experiment with a preaching class at Princeton Theological Seminary. Half the class was assigned to preach on the parable of the “Good Samaritan” – you know that story Jesus told after someone asked him to explain just who were these neighbors he was supposed to love.
In the story the trained and recognizable religious leaders are in a hurry and walk right past a person who had been robbed, beaten, and left to die, while a Samaritan (at the time a Samaritan would have been the most unlikely helper there could be), surprises everyone and helps the person who is in such desperate need of help. So one half of the class preached on the Good Samaritan parable …
The other half of the class was assigned a random assortment of bible passages to preach on.
One at a time, each of the students was told they needed to walk to a different building to preach their sermon. As they walked between buildings there was a man who was doubled over and moaning in pain … there was no way to miss that he was a person in need. The researchers wondered if the preachers who had the story of the Good Samaritan so freshly on their minds would be more likely to help the guy who was groaning in pain.
Daniel Goleman says in his talk,
… Did it matter they were contemplating the parable of the Good Samaritan? Answer: No, not at all. What turned out to determine whether someone would stop and help a stranger in need was how much of a hurry they thought they were in — were they feeling they were late, or were they absorbed in what they were going to talk about. And this is, I think, the predicament of our lives: that we don’t take every opportunity to help because our focus is in the wrong direction (https://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goleman_on_compassion/transcript?language=en).
In that experiment, they found that whether or not a person stopped to help was influenced most by how much of a hurry that person thought he or she was in. This story hurts because that’s my school they are talking about (surely we can do better than that). It hurts because all those preachers who passed by were actually acting out the parable – the busy religious professionals hurrying past a guy who is clearly in need of help. It hurts because it is so easy to get busy and miss the significance of the people and the moments that are all around us.
This week I have felt like I have hurried so much – what have I been missing?
In the way Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ birth and all the events that led up to it, he sets out a pattern for us … a pattern with a few time outs … a pattern that isn’t afraid to stop and recognize the ways God is present and working in the world. It’s a pattern that seems a little daunting, but could help us to understand that our lives and the time we have are gifts from God … and God can use these gifts for some really significant things.
When you walked through that door this morning, you walked into a time machine. I’m not saying that because this building was built in 1874. It is because of what God does in here and what we do in here that makes this a time machine. Its like together we are signaling for a time out. In this space we pause. We stop for an hour – maybe more than an hour, to recognize those moments and those relationships where God is present and calling out to us. This is one big time machine where we say together, “all that other stuff can wait.”
Maybe as we pause here together … we can develop the habit of pausing in other places and with other people to recognize the significance of all those God filled and God inspired moments in our lives?