Advent 4 – December 19th 2021 – Rev Alison Way
Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1.39-45(46-55)
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen
In another familiar gospel reading, we encounter Mary hot footing it to see Elizabeth. The ‘hurry’ here is important. Mary has just had her encounter with Gabriel and heading off to see Elizabeth is the very next thing she does. Was this a response to needing to find wise counsel for herself? Knowing that Elizabeth would know what to do if anyone would know what to do in Mary’s circumstances.
Elizabeth was a woman of her day and had some status. She was the wife of an important priest (Zechariah). There is a significant contrast here – where Elizabeth had some status, Mary was a slip of a girl, unmarried and with very little status. Indeed, Mary was in danger of being deserted by her husband to be, which would have been a disaster for her in the society of her day. Elizabeth’s status had been diminished hitherto, as she had been barren and she had had to live with the social stigma that brought. Now she was pregnant against all the odds, but in God’s time and to God’s specific and well planned agenda. Mary knew this and Mary knew this because – The angel Gabriel had told her in Mary’s encounter about Elizabeth being pregnant. The angel said And now your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
This meant Mary must have thought Elizabeth would have really unique insights and after an angel encounter, rushing in haste to see the other person mentioned in the dialogue that you know makes sense to me!
I think it is not unreasonable that Mary, six months on, would have known that Elizabeth was pregnant. That that amazing news would have travelled to her. But not God’s hand in it and amazing is the right word for it, as Elizabeth was well beyond child bearing years. But it is pretty certain in these days before instant communication that Elizabeth however did not know what had happened to Mary. All of which makes what happens next all the more surprising
Both the baby – who would grow up to be John the Baptist, and Elizabeth herself recognise the importance and status of Mary and the event that is to come. The growing presence of God inside her. This is a real case of the deep things of God – speaking to the deep things of God and the people involved being open to how the spirit moved. As they met God took over the encounter as his Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth.
I love the freedom and spontaneous joy of this image of the scene painted in acrylics on canvas by Hanna Varghese. See https://images.app.goo.gl/MLzxo2qWAMhCRvjH8. It captures the utter delight of these 2 women carrying 2 special babies. Mary is pictured running down the hill – whilst Elizabeth is moving to embrace her. Mary must have been relieved to see Elizabeth, but what Elizabeth felt and said came from God. Did she even understand what she was saying and the gravity of it – Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
When we say something is blessed it is a pretty significant thing for us to say. It indicates the hand of God in it and something powerful and awesome in that. It is important to realise with that cry out that Elizabeth is recognising blessedness here and not offering the blessing (that Mary had come to see the only person on earth who might have wisdom to impart – in all those Elizabeth will know what to do thoughts).
Elizabeth recognises that blessedness in two dimensions both Mary as the servant of God and her unborn child as something really, really special. Dealing with that first one first. Unfortunately Mary over the years has developed something of a cultic following where it feels like some branches of our Christian faith have made Mary more important than Jesus – with the notion of Mary being a perpetual virgin and the queen of heaven – being an extreme of it! Don’t get me wrong Mary and her response to God are important and can teach us a great deal about going where God leads irrespective of personal cost. However, it is a reality that the queen of heaven sort of approach has so hijacked these expressive words of Elizabeth into something they were not intended to be.
In my second year at theological college, I regularly used to get a lift to the university with one of my tutors and he was more than a bit more catholic than me. As we drove into the university car park almost invariably he would say the following prayer – Hail Mary full of grace, please find me a parking space! In part I have to say to wind me up!!! But we did always find a space! Even with my reservations! We can respect others with views that differ from us, but one of the joys of anglicanism is that we do not have to agree.
But getting back to the point. Elizabeth with no fore knowledge of what had happened to Mary but through the power of the spirit within her. She hit the nail on the head. She had fully understood what was happening to Mary and how Elizabeth continues bears this out – And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
Elizabeth’s question comes in reverence and fear of what God has done. Elizabeth expresses her overwhelmed realization that she is being visited by the one who is pregnant with the messianic child. The mother of my lord being a clear reference to this. Lord was the phrase in constant use to prevent jewish believer’s having to say the sacred name Yahweh. Elizabeth would have understood Lord
As “The-Lord- who will-Provide,”
As “The-Lord-who Is-My-Banner,” over her in times of conflict
As “The-Lord-who Is-Peace,”
As the Lord who is the God of Israel
And “The-Lord-of-hosts,” witnessing to the Almighty God of sovereign power who is surrounded by His heavenly hosts
We need to recognise God in these ways too in what Jesus brings us and have him as our Lord in these ways as well – Elizabeth recognising Jesus as Lord is really important!
As well as Elizabeth recognising the truth, she also explained her child’s reaction – the child to be John the Baptist. He also responded to the sound of your greeting and he responded with a leap for joy. I have not been pregnant but the sensations of the baby as it grows inside its mother in the most part is often the source of much joy!
What we have seen today in Elizabeth and her unborn baby John, starts with recognition. As we get into the business end of our celebrations of Advent and our focus shifts to Christmas – Let’s resolve to make sure recognition of Jesus’s lordship is at the heart of our celebrations and his lordship over our homes, our lives and our hearts with their capacity to love, which can be topped up by his powerful spirit. This is Lordship that must guide us in our stewardship of all that we are and all that we have and to be beacons in our communities sitting light to the material aspects of the season, but concentrating on the spiritual aspects of this celebration.
A Christ free consumer driven Christmas just does not make sense as we recognise Jesus as Lord of all and Lord of our lives. Let’s shake off the tinsel and the glitter, and get back to basics. Let’s recognise the Christ child in the coming days with real spirit filled joy. Joy (is not to be confused with happiness) – in fact we can still be joyfilled in the most dire times in our lives. Joy is a simple heartfelt response to God’s overwhelming love for us. Outwith the circumstances and current trials and tribulations – joy is also a spiritual fruit
Joy as expressed in that painting at the heart of the encounter of Mary and Elizabeth and joy that is ours in abundance and for flourishing as God knows is best for us in our hearts and in our lives. If we let the Holy Spirit in and more importantly let the Holy Spirit take over Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995