Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
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.”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What do you know about the Spirit?  In today’s reading, we heard the Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she heard Mary’s greeting.  We read that she named Mary as the mother of her Lord, and credited Mary with believing the promise the angel had made to her—presumedly without yet having heard the story.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and the day we designate for the celebration of the birthday of Jesus is Tuesday.  We’re not quite into the Christmas season yet, while the world is trying to tell us it’s almost over.  It seems as if the Christmas specials multiply every year, and each one almost always has a deadline.  Some tragedy is sure to occur if some certain thing doesn’t happen by Christmas.

Most of the time, one or more of the main characters need to realize they are in love with somebody.  Sometimes, it’s a more generalized theme of helping someone to obtain or regain something termed the Christmas Spirit, often defined as a sense of good will and usually signified by the giving of presents.  Occasionally, the tension includes dire circumstances that might even result in the loss of life—if, for instance, bumbles didn’t actually bounce… or the bad guys reset the altimeter to murder everyone on the airplane…

What is this spirit—this Christmas Spirit—that must be sparked for the success of all those various stories?  And does that Christmas Spirit have any relationship to the Holy Spirit that filled Elizabeth with insight and joy?

A few years back, when the Internet had recently become somewhat user-friendly, I decided to search for family names, and see what popped up.  I thought it might be fun to read what might be out there.  After having done that, I do not suggest you do that! 

The best thing I found was a cousin’s You-Tube video of his house-moving business.  (It seems to be gone now… at least I can no longer find it.)  A different cousin had been lauded for rejuvenating a large but struggling business.  That one wasn’t so bad if you could ignore the workers who no longer had jobs.  Another cousin had been convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison, on top of being implicated in some kind of fraudulent construction business.  Then there’s my uncle…  He’d gotten his pickup stuck in a snow-filled parking lot.  When law enforcement came to see what was going on, he swore at them, which I can tell you was not unusual for him.  Then proceeded to show them how drunk he was, all while believing he was playing the part of a completely sober individual, righteously angry that someone had left a pile of snow in the parking lot.  These details were included in the article published in the local paper, which was then available online.

Honestly, the hope that had filled me as I began my search left me as each new story appeared in my browser.  It was not unlike the Christmas specials that begin with hope that somehow is dashed, and the characters seem to wallow in despair.  If I had to judge my family only according to what was in the news, we’d be in deep trouble!  Today, both my sisters are on Facebook.  What I see from one of them is usually something to do with her cats.  The other most often pictures the many varieties of craft beers she enjoys.  What little I put on there probably doesn’t really interest them.

I know my family is not exactly unique—even though (of course) no family is quite like any other.  We all have things that make us cringe, and hopefully we can all find joys to celebrate.  What I wonder is how the Holy Spirit influences our lives today.  Does the Holy Spirit influence our lives?

When Mary greeted Elizabeth, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she proclaimed her joy and blessings to Mary.

Where is the Holy Spirit today? 

Where is the Holy Spirit today?

The Holy Spirit is here, filling us day to day just as our prayed-for daily bread fills us.  The Holy Spirit is here, though we may not be able always to recognize that Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was with my uncle in that parking lot all those years ago, though I’m fairly certain some other spirits might have clouded his perception.  The Holy Spirit was with my one cousin in prison, with the other in the board room, and with the third in his smaller business.

There are some times we might be more aware of that Spirit than others, just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus with the resurrected Jesus spoke of having felt their hearts burning within them.  There are times we may be completely oblivious to the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Some people seem to feel the Spirit most intimately as they stare into the flame of a candle, singing “Silent Night.”  Others are most moved while they gaze into the eyes of children.  Sometimes the Spirit is most evident when we interact with the oldest of our acquaintances, whether that describe their age or the longevity of the friendship.  Sometimes the Spirit is most evident with the music of the organ, or the piano, a symphony, a large choir, or a single voice.  Sometimes it’s in the silence, or the darkness, or the sunrise.

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit we may be instruments of God’s peace—in a world marked by chaos.  Since we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we don’t have to wait for a specific season of the year to act with good will.  That Christmas Spirit that looms so large in the television specials is not nearly big enough to encompass what fills the people of God not only in the days leading up to the Holy day of Christmas, but all the year round.

As this Holy Spirit comes to us, I pray that we will joyfully be the instruments of God’s Word and God’s grace—that we will not fearfully attempt to keep that Spirit hidden inside of us.  May God’s Holy Spirit fill the world in Jesus’ name.  Amen.