God has a plan. God has always had a plan. He had a plan in the very beginning when “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep’.
Ever since the beginning of time God’s plan has been unfolding bit by bit, step by step and by grace upon grace.
The people of Israel are caught up in God’s plan, looking forward to the day when God’s Anointed One, Messiah, will come to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
And today we witness the meeting of two women intimately caught up in God’s plan. In fact, at the moment, God’s plan depends on them. Surely now, in this meeting, Mary and Elizabeth are the only two people of Israel who know that the time has come, that God’s Messiah and his Herald will shortly be born – their sons, Jesus and John.
Two women: one far too old now to have a baby, living with the shame of being childless; the other very young and not yet fully married to the man to whom she was betrothed.
Two women sharing the hopes and dreams of their people, the people of Israel. The hope that God would act to free them from the rule of the occupying forces of Rome. The dream that God would establish the rule of his own anointed King who would bring justice and peace into a world of bullies and tyrants.
Two women caught up in God’s plan because they said “yes” when God asked them to be part of it.
Two women filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking prophetic words of praise and thanksgiving, joy and celebration.
A couple of weeks ago (our curate) was talking about how soon-to-be mums and dads might wonder what sort of person their daughter or son might be, what they’ll enjoy doing, what sort of work they’ll want to do and so on.
Mary and Elizabeth already know a lot about their sons.
God has spoken to Mary in the words of an angel. She knows that her son is to be the gift of God, he will be great and called the Son of the Most High. He will be a king whose kingdom will never end.
Six months earlier God had spoken to Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, also in the words of an angel who appeared to him in the holiest of holy places in the temple in Jerusalem. Elizabeth knows her son is to be called John and that, filled with the Holy Spirit, he will play a vital role in the unfolding of God’s plan.
Now, as Mary greets her, Elizabeth senses within herself the excited, joyful, celebratory leaping of her child and offers a prophetic response to the presence of Mary’s son.
Every year we tell this story, and act out meetings with angels, shepherds and kings. And every year we hear the angel’s words to Mary
“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.”
Zechariah heard the same words spoken by his angel,
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”
Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favour with God.
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.
We, too, have our part to play in the unfolding of God’s plan but we are not to be afraid.
We, too, live in a world that needs God’s rule of justice and freedom, peace and reconciliation, love and compassion. But we are not to be afraid.
Our radios, televisions and newspapers bring us news from all over the world of people caught up in war and violence, poverty and natural disasters, oppression and persecution, tragedy and needless suffering.
Our local newspapers tell us of crimes, abuse and tragedy in our own communities and around us there are always families living with conflict, addictions and poverty.
Would it be any wonder then if sometimes we become overwhelmed with the sadness and pain of it all and long for a better way of living?
Like Mary and Elizabeth and all the people of Israel we may long for the coming of God’s kingdom, we may feel we walk in darkness and need to see a great light.
But we are not to be afraid.
The good news of Christmas is this
“The Word becomes flesh and lives among us.”
God doesn’t stand back and leave us to try and sort out the world’s problems by ourselves. He isn’t waiting until we’re perfect before coming to rule over us. He rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck in alongside us, determined that his plan will not be defeated.
And if we look at all the tragedies of the world believing that God is already at work, we might catch more than glimpses of places where his will is done here on earth as it is in heaven.
And we are not to be afraid.
In the Holy Land, in Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever there is conflict there are men and women dedicated to finding peaceful resolutions and reconciliation between warring people.
In Newtown, Connecticut a gunman gets into a school and kills 20 children and 7 adults. One teacher hides her pupils in cupboards then tells the gunman that they’re all in the gym. He shoots her and leaves but the children are safe. She gives her life to save them.
There are families in a village in Africa struggling with poverty, as a church we send them a cow which can transform their lives.
Cases of historic abuse come to light and a dedicated help line is set up to offer support to those affected.
There are people in our town with not enough food to eat. We give generously to a food bank so that food is given where needed and help offered to support families in need.
I really believe that bit by bit, step by step and with grace upon grace God is still bringing in his kingdom through men and women of every generation who, like Mary and Elizabeth, say “yes” to his invitation to get caught up in his plan.
With confident hope in his promises to our mothers and fathers in faith and to us surely we have cause not to be afraid but to say with Mary
“Our souls magnify the Lord,
and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour.
The Mighty One has done great things for us,
and holy is his name.”