Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 15, 2013

2013.12.15 “The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem – Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth” – Luke 1: 39 – 55

Central United Methodist Church

The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem
Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth

Pastor David L. Haley

December 15th, 2013

The 3rd Sunday of Advent

Luke 1: 39 – 55

 

         In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would bea fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said:

I acclaim the greatness of the Lord,

I delight in God my Savior, who regarded my humble state.

Truly from this day on all ages will call me blest.

For God, wonderful in power, has used that strength for me.

Holy the name of the Lord! whose mercy embraces the faithful,

one generation to the next.

The mighty arm of God scatters the proud in their conceit,

pulls tyrants from their thrones, and raises up the humble.

The Lord fills the starving and let the rich go hungry.

God rescues lowly Israel, recalling the promise of mercy,

the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham’s heirs forever. “

Luke 1: 39 – 55, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

For those of you joining us today, we are in the 3rd Sunday of our series, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem. So far we have met Mary and her fiance Joseph. We have also been let in on their secret – which in today’s Gospel, no one knows but Mary, maybe not even Joseph.  Her secret is that she is pregnant.

Women, mothers, do you remember that moment when you first knew? It is either one of the most frightening or most exciting moments of your life, depending upon your circumstances and whether you want and are ready to be pregnant. Of course, the first thing you want to do is TELL somebody. Unless – under certain circumstances, such as the ones Mary finds herself in – she may not have been looking forward to telling anyone, her parents or Joseph, for fear of how that would go. So now, confused and terrified, who can she turn to?

Who she turns to is her older relative, Elizabeth, also pregnant with the future John the Baptist, by now six months along. If there is anyone who might believe her can advise her, it would be Elizabeth.  So Mary packs her bags to make the journey of some 80 miles, to the village of Ein Karem, a village on a hill less than an hour’s walk from Jerusalem. The fact that Mary was willing to travel nine days across three mountain ranges to see Elizabeth, speaks volumes about how she felt. She longed for someone who might believe her and help her make sense of what was happening.

Let’s go to Ein Karem now with Adam Hamilton, and as you watch, listen for what he calls the two big ideas in the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  [Video]

The first of the two big ideas is that there is a time in all our lives where we need someone to turn to, someone who can be a source of encouragement, wisdom, and perspective. All of us need an Elizabeth in our lives, an older person who understands, who can guide and encourage and affirm us.

For example, just this week in a Facebook post, one of our parishioners, a cancer survivor, spoke of a friend of hers, who mentored her through ovarian cancer back in 2007. She says:

“I don’t know if I could have made it without her listening, coaching voice. It’s strange to call someone a mentor through such a terrible time in my life but through our sufferings God makes us strong. I thank God for her and all the angels that came into my life and moved me through some very trying times.”

Similarly, those of us who are older need to be an Elizabeth for someone younger; part of God’s purpose for our lives is that we mentor and encourage younger people, as best we can.

Who is your Elizabeth, the older person who serves as a mentor for you? Who is your Mary, the younger person you’re encouraging and investing in?

Second big idea in this story is, how are we participating in what God is doing in the world, expressed in Mary’s song of joy, the Magnificat?

Imagine how relieved Mary must have been to hear Elizabeth’s greeting. It had been at least ten days since Gabriel had appeared to Mary, and she had spent the last nine days traveling with her secret. But then, even before she could tell Elizabeth what had happened, Elizabeth greeted her with affirmation and joy. Elizabeth went on to say, in essence: “Listen child. You don’t have to be afraid. You’ve been blessed. Blessed! Don’t you see it? You’ve been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Such good things will come of this! You are so blessed! And the child in your womb is blessed as well!”  If there is anything Mary’s story teaches us about what it means to be blessed by God, it is that God’s blessing can be a burden as much as it is a blessing!  Be careful what you pray for?  But Elizabeth understood.

As we saw in the video, the joy that Mary and Elizabeth shared is commemorated in a bronze sculpture outside the church in Ein Karem believed to be the site of Elizabeth’s home, showing Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another. In his book, Adam Hamilton said as he stood outside he was struck by the number of women who came to this holy site. He said he watched as African women embraced each other and as European and Latina women came holding hands and laughing together, stopping to have their pictures taken near the statue of Mary and Elizabeth. As women, as mothers, they understood the joy that Mary and Elizabeth shared so long ago, perhaps mirrored in their friendships with each another.  Women, you understand.

At last, with Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary’s fears gave way and she burst forth into song; and the Gospel turns into a musical! “My song magnifies the Lord! My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”

The theme of Mary’s song – echoing the song of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 2) – is one we’ve seen already in both Joseph and Mary’s story. Mary was from a town so small that it didn’t merit a dot on a map. Joseph was a carpenter, someone whose entire net worth could fit into a toolbox. They were working-class people who lived in obscurity, from families scraping to get by. And yet these were the people God chose to be the earthly parents of the Messiah. What does that tells what about character of God? The answer burst forth from Mary’s heart; she was singing what she’d experienced – God favors the humble and those who honor God. But God scatters the proud and pulls down the mighty from their thrones.

In Mary’s Magnificat we find a picture of a God who has a heart for the underdog and is concerned about people who have been made to feel like nobodies. Those are the ones God lifts up. This is the character of the God proclaimed in the Scriptures. This is the character of God’s son, Jesus, who surrounded himself with nobodies, the people others had written off.

But – you might ask – what about those of us who are rich, relative to Joseph and Mary and most of the rest of the world? I don’t want to be sent away empty, do you?  What can we do?

For us, Mary’s words are an invitation:  an invitation for us to humble ourselves before God and be used by God to fulfill the first words of that line – to help the poor walk away full. We are called to share our resources and to pass along the blessings we’ve received. In seeking to bless and encourage them lived up other people, they are set away full and we discover what it means to be blessed.

Isn’t it amazing what Church of the Resurrection does with their Christmas offering? Though we don’t do it that particular way, we do it in other ways. You are a wonderfully generous congregation, paying our conference benevolences, Promise of the Rainbow, giving to need after need. Honestly, one Sunday I counted six different things we were inviting you to contribute to. Perhaps in the future, we can consider giving away our Christmas offering too. Meanwhile, all of us can consider how we can celebrate the birth of Jesus, by helping the lowly and feeding the hungry and lifting up those who have fallen.

Why? Because as we learned regarding Mary and Joseph, and today regarding Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, God has a special concern for the poor, the humble, and those who others overlook. If we really want to do the work of God in the world, honor Jesus at his birth, and join Mary’s in her Magnificat, we must find better ways to celebrate Christmas. Just ask yourself this question? The way we do it now: does it leave us depressed and stingy and empty, or joyful, generous, and full?

Mary, can you teach us your song?

Note to Reader:  This series, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem, was originally preached by Pastor Adam Hamilton at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, in 2010. 

It was made available as a series for other churches by Abingdon Press, and is available through them, (here), through Cokesbury, our denominational bookstore, (here) or Amazon.com (here). 

Adam Hamilton’s most complete presentation of each segment may be found in his book, The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem. Note that it is available in multiple formats: hardback, Kindle, etc.

My sermons are my version, intended to go with the video presentation

watched in worship, which my sermon supplements, which you may view here: (Video)   

Finally, here is a Vimeo of Adam Hamilton’s original sermon (sermon)

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