Today we hear what for us is perhaps a familiar story – the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth and the joyful sound of Mary’s song : “My soul magnifies the Lord”
It’s a beautiful story interwoven with many other stories against the backdrop of the great story of God’s people Israel.
There’s the story of Elizabeth, about to bear a child despite her age and earlier inability to conceive;
the story of the youthful Mary whose unborn child is also unexpected and unplanned by his mother;
there’s the story of John, born to be the messenger spoken of by the prophet Isaiah who would prepare the way of the Lord,
and of Jesus, born to be the Lord whose coming has long been foretold by the prophets of Israel;
there are the stories of Zechariah and Joseph, men and fathers who fade into the background as John and Jesus follow their own destiny.
Today, though, our story centres on the two mothers, women who have such different experiences of bearing sons but who both know that those sons are destined in some way to fulfil God’s purposes for his people.
We don’t know if Elizabeth lived to hear John’s voice crying out in the wilderness or to suffer the terrible loss of her son, brutally murdered on Herod’s orders.
We do know that Mary lived to see Jesus dying on the cross, to feel the sword pierce her heart but then again to know the joy of his birth into a new resurrection life.
Today is only about the joy, the excitement and the awe of two women whose children, it seems, know each other already, two women whose faith led them to say “Yes” to God.
All generations will call them blessed.
And we are one of those generations. What does their story mean for us today?
Mary and Elizabeth hold within their bodies, and within their hearts and minds, God’s promise of new life, of justice and mercy.
If ever there was a time in this world when we needed that new life, justice and mercy then surely this is it.
But perhaps every generation has thought like that and perhaps in every generation God looks for the people who will say yes to his plans, who will carry in themselves the light of Christ, seeking to shine it into the dark places of this world.
We could listen to the familiar stories this Christmas without getting too involved in them;
Or we could say yes to God and become part of those stories,
part of the bigger story of God’s people from generation to generation.
God may not ask us to lead his people out of slavery or to bear a child for him. But he might ask us to do something which could be more difficult for us:
- He might ask us to be more loving in our lives;
- to think before we condemn people who are different from us and then to be more patient and tolerant of those people;
- to think before we shut someone out of our lives and then to seek reconciliation when we fall out with friends or relatives;
- to think before we assume the worst of people and then try thinking the best of them.
- to think before we criticise and judge and then to offer praise and encouragement instead.
- to pray for the needs of others and then to be part of God’s answer to that prayer.
Only I know what God is asking of me this Advent and Christmas
and only you know what he is asking of you.
What Mary tells all of us is
- that he looks with favour on the lowliness of his servant;
- that his mercy is for those who fear him
- that he remembers his mercy
- and fulfils the promises he makes.
I hope and pray that when we say yes, and perhaps because we say yes, to whatever it is God is asking of us we will also be able to say, with Mary,
“My soul magnifies the Lord for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Let us pray:
as Mary and Elizabeth share their joy
in the fulfilment of your promises to them,
help us to look forward
to the fulfilment of your promises to us
as once again we prepare
to greet the birth of your son
into our lives this Christmas. Amen.