Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; The Magnificat; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

The Gospel for today tells the story of two women. Truth to tell, they are women of whom we know little. The story really begins before today’s reading. God sends an angel to speak to a young peasant woman named Mary. God has chosen Mary to become the 'God Bearer'. The angel delivers the message to her that she has been chosen. She willingly accepts the unexpected demand of God, but her encounter with the angel for good reason leaves her confused. She knows what lies ahead for her in the community. A young, unmarried woman having a child is not in for an easy time. No angelic message can help her deal with her confusion or fear. She turns to an older woman, her cousin, Elizabeth. She knows that Elizabeth will understand. She needs to share not only her fears and struggles, but also her joy, her good news. She knows that her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, will understand.

And so Elizabeth comes into the story. Elizabeth 'consecrated to God'! That is the meaning of her name. However, Elizabeth 'the cursed one' is how she is no doubt known in the village in which she lives. Women who could not have children are scorned. They are considered cursed by God. For years she has been pleading with God asking what she has done to deserve God's wrath. God hears her plea. And now, the aged one, the one all the women in the village felt sorry for, is going to have a baby. She can hardly believe it. She had given up all hope of ever becoming a mother.

And so the stories of the two women come together. Two women caught somewhere between despair and optimism! Elizabeth was in her sixth month when Mary arrived from Nazareth. She had not been expecting the visit because it was about four days journey from Nazareth where Mary lived to Elizabeth's home in Hebron. But she knew instinctively before Mary had a chance to say anything that something even more wonderful than her miracle had happened in Mary’s life. Her response to Mary was better than any angelic message could possibly have been. It is instinctive. It comes from the heart. God has blessed her; because of her yearning she understands Mary's situation.

She is overwhelmed with a sense of unspeakable joy. “And why has this happened to me?” she says. More often than not when those words are spoken it is from a dark place, a place of blaming. There is a very different sense to those words as Elizabeth speaks that day. Usually such words are spoken out of the tragedies of our lives, yet Elizabeth is responding with a real sense of joy and love. She understands more than anyone could imagine that Mary in spite of any sign to the contrary is truly blessed to be the God Bearer. She also understands that Mary is blessed to have listened to the voice of the angel and responded to God's amazing call. She affirms Mary's call. And once again Elizabeth says exactly the right thing. She says that Mary has been blessed with this child because she daccepted that the message of the angel would come true.

The Elizabeth's of our lives are real blessings. They are quiet people who often remain unnoticed. Yet when God wants them to do something important they do not hesitate. They humbly trust God who is able to take our barrenness and turn it into a wonderful gift, a real blessing. They trust that God's word will be fulfilled. They know themselves well enough; they are secure enough in themselves, to enable others to share their own gifts and talents. They don't have to be in the limelight.

The Elizabeth's of our world give wholehearted encouragement to bring about God's purposes. They prepare the way for the Saviour to be born in us. They are models of good ministry. You see, ministry is not about something that you have hired a priest to do on your behalf. It is something to which each of us is called in our own way. The best ministry is done by people like Elizabeth who open up their hearts to those in need. They are the listening ears of the church who always know who is hurting. They are the ones who go about their work quietly in the background. They are the wounded healers of the community who reach out to the abused, to the neglected, to the needy. They bring healing wherever they go

The Elizabeth's of our world teach us about real ministry. They quietly and effectively go about doing what God has called them to do. They know that God can take our barrenness and turn it into a wonderful gift.

So it is with Mary. She responds with the song that has been growing in her heart. This is not Mary, meek and mild, pictured on a Christmas card. This is not some plaster saint. This is Mary emboldened, liberated, given permission by the acceptance she receives from Elizabeth, to sing. Her spirit can rejoice. She can see the situation, frightening as it may be, as a means of fulfillment. Her words are words of joy, but listen closely for they are also words of resistance. Mary declares both her trust in God’s decision to honour her with this calling and her own sense of God’s vision for the future. God is going to do something powerful, and she is part of God’s plan.

God will turn the world upside down. The rich and powerful will be brought low. Those living on the margins in poverty will be raised up. It is a challenging vision to say the least. Even as we celebrate it, it is an uncomfortable message, or at least it should be to those of us who lead such privileged lives.

But it is also a message of great hope. Mary and Elizabeth remind us of another way, the way of hope. In our darkest times we can look beyond ourselves for relief knowing that God will hear our plea, knowing that we too are blessed by God.

Keep yourself in God's hands. Be prepared for whatever miraculous way God's message comes to you. Open yourself to hearing God's call. God may be preparing your life for greater purposes than you can see right now. Let Christ be born in you again and again and again. Amen.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...