As we continue with our sermon series based on the book by Adam Hamilton called The Journey, today we return to Mary’s story in the gospel of Luke. In the previous verses of Luke, Mary receives her stunning revelation that she is to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. During her time with the angel Gabriel, Gabriel mentions Mary’s cousin Elizabeth who was also to give birth even when it should have been physically impossible. Luke tells us that Mary went with great haste to see her cousin Elizabeth, perhaps even before she shared her news with her own parents and most probably before she shared the news with her fiancé Joseph.
Clearly Mary felt comfortable with Elizabeth and must have spent time with her to have developed this closeness. Mary also may have been in such a whirlwind that she needed to confide in someone who might be able to help her make sense of her current situation. Who better than a close relative who has also received a miraculous blessing from God? I mentioned last week that tradition locates Elizabeth’s home in a town called Ein Kadem, about 4 miles outside of Bethlehem. In Mary’s confused state-of-mind, she quickly makes arrangements to take the 9-day trip to Elizabeth’s home, possibly volunteering to stay with Elizabeth until after her baby was born.
Elizabeth and Zachariah had found themselves in the roles of Abraham and Sarah – an older couple who had been unable to bear children. Perhaps because of this, Elizabeth held a special place in her heart for her nieces and nephews, sort of adopting them in order to be additional caring adults to their family members. Some of you fulfill this role as well. Our young people need adults they can trust who will be a caring and listening ear when our youth are perhaps hesitant to speak with their parents. You will notice that we use adult mentors for our confirmation class members – I cannot tell you what a benefit it is to have Christian adults willing to help our young people on their faith journey. Mentors, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Elizabeth was possibly a similar mentor to Mary.
Not to diminish the power of Mary’s circumstances, but we need to also consider Elizabeth’s for a moment. Elizabeth’s husband Zachariah was a priest in the temple. At some point he was chosen to serve and offer incense to God – an incredible honor for a priest. During his time at the altar, Zachariah received a visit from a holy messenger – seems like heaven was quite busy during this time! He is literally struck speechless by the fact that he was to be a father (sorry, pun intended.) I can imagine that Elizabeth had experienced several miscarriages during her attempts to have children, so it is understandable that she would want to be in seclusion until she was sure she would carry her baby to term. It seems Mary’s visit to her was what helped her to rejoin the world – perhaps Elizabeth needed Mary as much as Mary needed Elizabeth.
Upon hearing Mary’s voice, Elizabeth feels the power of the Holy Spirit and takes on the role of a prophet. She repeatedly tells Mary she is blessed. Even before Mary could reveal her secret, Elizabeth was able to recognize the baby in Mary’s womb as ‘my Lord.’ Elizabeth reassures Mary several times that this is an honor among honors, to be chosen to be the mother of Jesus. The sheer joy that Elizabeth felt and shared was most definitely received by Mary at a time when she needed it most.
Have you ever had times that were so confusing, so frustrating, so hurtful that you needed a release? Maybe that release came in a phone call or text message from a close friend. Maybe that release came when you paused for a moment and truly gave your burden to God and left it there. Maybe that release came when you gathered with the body of Christ and we celebrated the love of God together even when you didn’t feel much like celebrating. We need each other. We need regular connection with each other so that at times we can fulfill the role of Elizabeth, and at times we can feel the special blessing from others as Mary felt from her cousin. We are all both givers and receivers of God’s amazing grace.
Elizabeth notes repeatedly that Mary is blessed. What does it mean to be blessed? We often think of material things – money, prestige, homes, jobs, even our health and our families. But Mary’s blessedness came from a different avenue. Mary was considered blessed because she was chosen by God to fulfill a specific work that needed done. She was chosen to be the bearer of the Christ-child. This most certainly did not guarantee a life of blessedness in terms we typically use. She lived under Roman rule. Her life and the life of her child were at great risk. Her tentative engagement was in jeopardy. Yet she was considered blessed by God.
Realizing our blessedness may take us down some unexpected and often difficult paths as well. I remember before I was called to ministry I was asking God to use me in some way. I was doing a lot for the church but still felt something was missing. Little did I realize that I was being called to ordained ministry, and that calling would lead me down a path of a massive layoff, a regrouping of spirit, and putting a trust in God that I had never really experienced before. The path has not been easy but I truly feel blessed to be called in this way.
How is God calling you? Are you being called to be an Elizabeth to someone? Perhaps you can take someone under your wing – someone sharing a pew with you today who needs a little bit of encouragement. Maybe you are aware of someone in your neighborhood who is having trouble finding some joy this season. I remember a Hallmark card commercial where a woman and her children noticed an elderly woman across the street from them who checked her mailbox daily only to find nothing there. The family decides to send her a Hallmark card which initiates a loving relationship for someone who felt forgotten by everyone.
Perhaps we need to open our eyes and see things a little differently this Advent season. Maybe we need to get a little u uncomfortable and extend a hand of love to someone who very well may brush that hand aside. We may find ourselves helping someone who is suffering from medical disabilities, and perhaps we just don’t want to go there because we may find ourselves depressed and discouraged. Go anyway. God is calling us to do the little things that can make a huge impact. Small acts of kindness can enrich our lives, strengthen our faith, and encourage those who may feel God has abandoned them.
My mother noticed her neighbor was having significant difficult getting around. When she introduced herself, she discovered the woman was basically wheelchair-bound, and her husband was recovering from cancer. Their children live in different states and rarely come to visit. But my mother discovered this couple loved animals, and when she took her small dog over to visit, the joy in the room was incredible. Something as simple as a visit from a neighbor with a small dog did wonders to boost their spirits and give them a bit of peace during an extremely difficult time. It does not take great deal of time or money to change the world a little bit at a time.
Spread the word – the Messiah is coming. Tell the good news in your words and actions. Emanuel – God with us. Amen.