This morning my colleague Emily preached a great sermon. The focus text for her words on this Fourth Sunday of Advent came from the end of the annunciation story in The Gospel According to Luke, the part when “in haste” Mary visits Elizabeth and soon after is compelled to sing The Magnificat. At one point in her sermon Emily suggested, as I heard her anyway, that as we make our way toward a greater and deeper faith one helpful tool might be to ask, “Who are the Elizabeth’s in our life?” In other words, who are the people that can help us recognize the gifts of God in our lives – gifts that sometimes seem so hard to believe – but are gifts that can save us, and our world?
Sometimes (most of the time?) God’s gifts are hard to accept and they often take time to come to terms with. Perhaps that’s why at the outset of the story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel, when Mary is perplexed by the good news – that news being that she was favored by God – an angel of God tells her, “Do not be afraid!” For surely Mary had to think, “Favor with God means a scandalous pregnancy?”
In Matthew’s Gospel it’s Joseph, not Mary, who needs reassurance. Just when Joseph is about to dismiss Mary quietly because he’s so worried about the very same scandal, his Elizabeth, in the form of an angel, comes to him in a dream and reassures him with the same holy words issued to Mary: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child conceived in her is from the holy spirit.” Never mind what you or what others think Joseph… this one is of God.
It’s funny that in the church calendar this year just five days will pass between today (the day that we heard about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth) and the day that we will hear the story of the birth of our savior. Funny because a lot happened in between. Luke’s story of the annunciation – and of Mary’s time with her Elizabeth – ends the following way: “And Mary remained with her [Elizabeth] about three months… and then returned to her home.”
I wonder what happened during those three months. I wonder how many conversations it took between Mary and her Elizabeth for Mary to decide to return home and let God’s will be revealed. I wonder about how hard those months between promise and fulfillment were for Joseph after Mary left in haste and who must have been a basket-case by their end. And then, after Mary came home? A decree from the emperor, no room at the inn, the birth of a child and a flight to Egypt? Yet all were part of God’s promise.
May each of us, in the midst of our struggles this Advent, find our Elizabeth. Such that we can, without fear, accept the gifts that God has given us.
Happy Monday and Merry Christmas,