Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 2018
Trinity, Worcester
Text: Luke 1:39-55

Watch here (minute 22:55).

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Years ago, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson did an experiment.

Randomly, they selected elementary school students at a school  in California, and then told the students’ teachers that these students had been identified as having the best potential to make the biggest gains in their IQ development.   Not that these students already had the highest IQ’s, but tests showed they had the best potential to make significant gains in their IQ.

Again, the students were chosen randomly.  While the teachers knew the students had taken an IQ test, it measured IQ, but it did not predict IQ. Nothing had predicted that the students chosen would show any difference in IQ development than the other students.

Guess what happened?  When the students were tested again, the students selected, the students the teachers believed had the greatest potential to increase their IQ scores,  actually had the greatest gains in IQ!

What happened?

Had Rosenthal and Jacobson somehow miraculously identified the students that indeed had the most potential?  No, that was not the case.

Rosenthal and Jacobson theorized, that once the teachers believed these students were the ones with the most potential, then all of their thousands of interactions with the students, consciously and subconsciously, reinforced that belief over time. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If little Johnny had been identified as having great potential, then when he was disruptive in class, instead of being dismissed as good-for-nothing, the teacher may have spent more time refocusing him. If little Suzy had been identified as a great gainer, then when she wasn’t paying attention and getting her work done, instead of dismissing little Suzy because she had no future, the teacher may have spent just a bit more time trying to draw her back.  Not these these were necessarily conscious decisions by the teachers.  Knowing which students were predicted to succeed may have had an effect that directed the teachers subconsciously.

The teachers believed that hidden in these students was great potential. That belief shaped and formed the teachers. Believing they saw greatness hidden in the students, they actually made it possible for them to make the greatest gains in IQ when tested again.

With that lens, we come to today’s Gospel reading. Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. In that visit, in faith, Elizabeth recognized in Mary the potential of God’s work.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb! Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed with a loud cry:  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is this fruit of your womb!”

It’s important to consider that in this encounter, Mary was probably not visibly pregnant. When Mary conceived, she was told that Elizabeth was already six months pregnant. Given that Elizabeth was still pregnant in this encounter, Mary could have been no more than 3 months along, perhaps still in her first trimester. I don’t know much about pregnancies, but it’s likely that Mary was not showing.

Did Elizabeth even know that Mary was pregnant? Mary knew Elizabeth was pregnant – the angel had told her. But, did Elizabeth know that Mary had conceived?  Did Elizabeth know the reason for Mary’s visit?

What scriptures tells us … is that in faith, Elizabeth recognized Christ hidden in Mary’s body! As a work of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognized deep within her own body – the child in her own womb leaped for joy – Elizabeth recognized God’s work.  In faith, the invisible became visible!

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, I believe that is the lesson  we take from our Gospel reading. We are invited, like Elizabeth, to recognize and rejoice in Christ hidden in the body of the other. Filled with the Holy Spirit, as an act of faith, we are called today to recognize Christ as he comes to us hidden in the bodies of those around us.

What we learn today, in this meeting of Elizabeth and Mary, is the way we would be open to God’s work, Jesus Christ, as Christ comes to us in hidden ways deep inside those we meet.

At times, Christ comes to us in the body of a family member, like with Elizabeth and Mary who were cousins. At other times, Christ comes to us in the bodies of strangers, hidden beneath layers of profound differences in world views, political leanings, economic class, national origin, skin color, age, gender, sexuality, or any of the other ways we divide humans one from another.

That person that makes you feel uncomfortable, that plan, that initiative, that objective that you disagree with, that view, that opinion, that belief held by others … With the eyes of faith, empowered by the Spirit, how might you rejoice in Christ hidden in that person, that plan, that view?

Now, let me be clear, this is not to say that the other is completely Christ. Sin is alive in the world. Seeing Christ in the other is not accepting that all of the other person’s behaviors are from Christ, or that we blindly and obediently accept the opinions and behaviors of the other because they might come from Christ.

Rather, it is the openness to the possibility that hidden beneath the sin, hidden beneath the differences, hidden beneath that in the other which causes various negative reactions in us … Christ lives.

In faith, how might we see Christ in who we might consider the most unredeemable among us? Filled with the Holy Spirit, how might we make space in our hearts and in our minds, to see Christ hidden in the other?

In the alcoholic or drug addict – how might we see Christ at work in the person calling the person to sobriety and recovery?

In the person who is lashing out, and who is mean and nasty – how might we see Christ kneeling before the profound inner pains and hurts that is leading to the awful behavior?

In the person who making others feel uncomfortable and destroying friendships – might we seek Christ at work tending to the hurt and loneliness of the person that is breaking relationships.

Rosenthal & Jacobson’s experiment with the teachers in California all those years ago demonstrated … the choice we make as to what we expect to find in the other, what we choose to see and recognize in the other, has profound consequences!

In our flesh, we can choose to see in the other demons, monsters, and aliens. If that’s what we choose to see in others, if that’s our worldview, what behaviors in us do you think will follow those beliefs? Who, exactly, will start behaving like demons, monsters, and aliens?

Or, in our faith, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, like Elizabeth today, we can choose to see Christ in the other. If we can rejoice in God’s work in Christ hidden in the other, if that’s our worldview, then what behaviors in us do you think will follow those beliefs? In faith, expecting to meet Christ in the bodies of those around us, and rejoicing in the presence of Christ hidden in all we meet – who do you believe will start acting and behaving like Christ?

Expecting to find Christ in those around us, and shaping our behaviors around that belief, I believe we will then see what Mary saw:

the Lord doing great things for us …

the proud scattered in the thoughts of their hearts …

the powerful brought down from their thrones …

the lowly lifted up …

and the hungry filled with good things …

The Good News today … on this Fourth Sunday of Advent … is the good news of the hidden Jesus Christ who desires to be made known! Even as we are open to seeing Christ hidden in those around us, we celebrate the Good News that God’s work in Christ is a public work, it is God’s work in Christ to be made known and visible!

Here, hidden in the bread and cup – here is Jesus Christ alive and made known today! Here in the bread and wine is Christ who meets us in a way we can see, and taste, and touch. Here is the invisible made visible – announcing to us forgiveness and grace.

Hidden in us – here is Jesus Christ alive today in order to be made known! In faith, God works in Christ to be made known in us, that people in the world would clearly see in us, Christ’s disciples, public and unequivocal acts of mercy, grace, and reconciliation that could come from Christ alone.

Alive with Elizabeth and Mary today in faith, recognizing and rejoicing today in the work of Christ hidden in us, hidden among us, and hidden all around us, may we rejoice with words and deeds of love, giving birth to that which is hidden. Alive in faith and rejoicing, may others see in us the very real and powerful ways that Christ is born, and lives today, for the healing and salvation of the world.

Thanks be to God.