31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 12, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Many of us can imagine how Elizabeth felt because many of us, upon greeting a loved one, have felt something within us lift, perhaps even leap for joy, upon being reunited after a long or even short absence from someone dear in our lives.
That has especially been true during these long months of pandemic when we have been told in so many different ways that what is truly loving is to stay away from others, loved ones included.
Our separation from others, our disconnection from friends and family, neighbors and fellow community members began way before March 2020 though. In January of that year, I shared a message series called Connecting, that was about connecting to strangers, to neighbors, to Christian community, to friends and of course, how we connect with Jesus. (If you missed it, the series is posted on FCC Bristol’s youtube channel.) In January 2020, long before stay at home guidance and a global pandemic, there was an abundance of material about how loneliness was the new health crisis, more dangerous than heart disease or cancer.
And we get it. We get it in a way we might not have understood 21 months ago. We need nurturing relationships. We need community. We need each other, and so when we have the opportunity to gather with family and friends, one on one or in a larger group, something within us lifts, perhaps even leaps for joy, like the child within Elizabeth did upon hearing Mary’s greeting.
The child within Elizabeth leaped for joy at the presence of the Christ child. Some would say greeting our loved ones, no matter how treasured and special in our lives, is not quite the same as being in the presence of the Christ child, the Messiah, Love incarnate.
However many faithful Christians would disagree. Henri Nouwen wrote how our friends and family are mosaic pieces that together make up the face of God, and Mother Theresa, remembering Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” said that she saw the face of Jesus in each hungry, sick, or dying person she helped. Through her words and her actions, Mother Theresa encouraged the whole world to look for the face of Jesus in the face of others.
That’s a really big ask, and yet, in this Advent season, when we are being called to wait and prepare for the Christ child, we are also being asked to watch for him. To look for him as we decorate our homes, bake holiday treats, and wrap gifts, to see him in the face of our children, our parents, our partners, our friends, our caregivers, our neighbors, and even complete strangers.
This past Friday, I volunteered as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. I’ve never done it before however when I was helping our partners at the Salvation Army promote this volunteer opportunity, their sergeant was telling me what a blessing it was to greet people and share the love of Christ. And something within me said, yes, yes, God is calling me to do this.
And it was a blessing. My face hurt after smiling for two hours. I knew it would be a blessing to help this ministry that helps so many, and I suspected that I would be blessed to meet people and share a few words as people entered and exited the grocery store. I did not expect Matthew to ask to pray for me, and then put his hand on my shoulder and do exactly that – and then to invite me to pray for him. And I did not expect to encounter Joshua who told me that when I smiled at him, he felt important. And I could go on and on with stories of blessing after blessing after blessing that came from greeting people and connecting with them – even in this small way.
In her exuberant greeting of Mary, Elizabeth acknowledges the great blessings that come with connecting with others. She names Mary as blessed and blessed also is the child within her. In the Message translation, Elizabeth also calls herself blessed to be visited by Mary, and perhaps most importantly, Elizabeth calls Mary blessed a second time because Mary “believed what God said, believed every word would come true.” (Luke 1:45, The Message)
Blessed. We are truly blessed by community, relationships, and connections. They not only make us happier and healthier. They not only make us smile and laugh. They help us prepare for the Christ child and see God in our midst. Our connections with others bless us because they help us to believe what God said, to trust in God’s promises, to believe every word will come true.
This Advent and Christmas season, however you gather with others, I pray you will pause for a moment and remember this scripture. I pray your heart will lift or even leap for joy and you will remember that Christ lives within others and Christ lives within you.
May all of our gatherings, large and small, boisterous and intimate, be ones of great blessing, ones that prepare our hearts and our world for the Christ child.