One of my favorite movies of all time is ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. It debuted in 1989, starring Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, and his father, Professor Henry Jones, played by Sean Connery. The movie is filled with religious myth and imagery as we join Indy in search for the famed ‘Holy Grail’; the actual cup, as legend has it, that Christ shared with his disciples during the Last Supper! Unfortunately, the Nazis are also after this cup, and the race is on!
In one particular scene, Indy is in a race against time as his father struggles to survive after a gunshot wound. Indy must continue the journey on his own to find the Grail and the healing powers within it to save his father.
All of a sudden Indy comes across an insurmountable chasm on his way to the Grail, ‘the path of God.’ There is no bridge, and an endless void between him and the cup of Christ. Indy is forced to risk his own life in this journey as we hear his father uttering ‘You must believe.’ Indy must take steps of faith into the void, trusting that God will provide the way.
Now, does the story of Indiana Jones parallel the story of young Mary as the mother of God? Perhaps not exactly. But this idea of belief is a theme that I think we all wrestle with from time to time. We often think of the Christmas story (I’m talking about Jesus here; not Santa) as this wonderful, joy filled time; and it is with good reason. But if we think about it for a little while longer, we also may notice that such an event would bring with it some great trepidation, stress, and fear for those in the middle of it. Belief may not be such a simple thing after all.
How many of us wrestle with belief in our daily lives? Maybe it’s about belief in a religious topic; maybe it’s something else. Children wrestle with belief in Santa Claus as their peers and siblings begin to whisper rumors of Santa’s fictitious existence. Young adults wrestle with the belief of establishing an amazing career as they confront a squeamish job market and economy once they graduate college. Spouses confront the challenge of belief in marriage once the grind of daily living returns following the honeymoon. Many of us wake up to see the news that yet another bombing has occurred, another teenager shot, another friend has been diagnosed. How many of us wrestle with the belief of a loving God who created the world good? The lists go on and on.
Belief: an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. Trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.
We all wrestle with belief. On one occasion, Jesus was called over to a young boy who was tormented by an unclean spirit. The father only wanted his son’s pain to subside. Mark 9:
23 Jesus said to him, “…All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The story of Mary according to Luke is quite an amazing one, but certainly not as clean and happy as many of the stories we see on the Hallmark Channel. Mary, a young girl who was going through enough of her own struggles being a teenage female at that time and place, was ‘perplexed’ by the angel’s message that she would bear the very Son of God. And as many of us might do after hearing such news, she needed some fresh air and headed for the hills!
Mary headed to Elizabeth’s home for some comfort, and upon their meeting we read that Elizabeth’s child, John the Baptist, leaped in his mother’s womb as Mary entered with Jesus in her own womb. Elizabeth told Mary as much, and then said the following:
45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
This one sentence is what I would like for us to meditate on this morning. This message is not only for Mary, and it could not have been uttered by just any person. No, this message comes from a woman who has also experienced the movement of God in her life, and who now is able to share her story with Mary. The blessing is not only for Mary who now carries the Christ Child, but for all who believe in God’s word spoken to them, including Elizabeth herself who will share her son John with the world, who will prepare the way for the Messiah.
I wonder about belief. Is this something that is just for righteous people who angels encounter with holy proclamations? Is belief for those people who live perfect lives, follow all of the rules, and who never mess up?
If you’re anything like me, we know just how hard it is to believe at times. We try to lead good, holy, lives, but sometimes we just don’t reach that goal. Sometimes things happen that leave us broken, wounded, and doubting. Life happens, and we realize that the world is not as perfect or as good as we wish at times.
That’s where Mary and Elizabeth step in. They did not live perfect lives. They were not wealthy, well educated men (women were not equal) living perfect lives in biblical Israel. No, they struggled much like many of us do each day. They worried just like us. They were wounded just like many of us. And yet God chose them to reveal to the world the light that would penetrate all darkness. The Christ Child, the Messiah, would be born of this young perplexed girl named Mary. And the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah would be born of this older, previously thought to be barren woman named Elizabeth.
If this is how God has worked throughout history to bring about the greatest story ever told, then our Good News this morning is that God continues to bless each and every one of us in our lives today. Blessed is the one who believes in God who can perform such daily miracles!
And this is the story we celebrate when we worship each Sunday, when we gather for Bible Studies, when we get together for covered dish meals and fellowship events. We believe. We put faith in God who works for good within a broken world. We trust in Christ Jesus, who calls us to service, mission, and witness, as we together realize God’s Beloved Community here on earth.
No matter how hard life gets or how dark the days become, the Advent light of Christ rekindles and assures us of our belief in God who is always at work and always present.
Our souls magnify the LORD,
and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servants.
Surely, from now on all generations will call us blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for us,
and holy is his name.