Sermon for 4th Sunday of Advent: Two mothers: preached at the Parish Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday 19 December 2021 by The Reverend Lesley McCreadie (Micah 5: 2 – 5a; Luke 1: 39– 55)
Our gospel reading this morning is the most wonderful portrait of two women. A young woman meeting an older woman – there might have been tension but there is none. Both women are moved by the Holy Spirit; one into shouting God’s praise and the other into the wonderful song we have come to know as The Magnificat. Underpinning it all is a celebration. God has taken the initiative; he has caused these two women to have much to celebrate but their celebration is not limited to their own joy it is our joy as well. We join with them to celebrate the coming of the Messiah and his herald.
Meeting each other were two insignificant women – insignificant in worldly terms – they were of little or no interest to the society of the day and to the authorities. One considerably older; in the last months of her pregnancy; uncomfortable, tired, but at the same time filled with joy for this, precious, unexpected gift of a child in her old age. The other woman younger, in the early days of her pregnancy, but still able to make the considerable journey from Nazareth fairly easily. She was taking some time out from the security of her own home and all that held for her; still in shock at what was happening to her body, not fully understanding, not knowing how it would all pan out or what the outcome would be. At this stage she had no idea of a birth that would be away from home, away from all that was familiar, away from her own mother whom she had hoped to depend on.
This wonderful moment, which Luke describes so beautifully for us, gives us an opportunity to reassess how we encounter people in our everyday lives. We are given a model to follow. Mary and Elizabeth meet in joy, in hope, in trust and in faith. They bring an honesty to their relationship, all is revealed. In our relationships with God and with other people can we claim to be so honest? Do we put up walls and barriers in the hope that somehow we can hide behind them so that God, who sees and knows all, will not see and know us? Do we hold back from offering all to God? Our world needs us to have honest conversations with God and with each other, so that we might have a genuine solidarity with humankind as we all search for that deeper relationship with God and for ways to make our world a fairer and more just place for people to live as God intended.
To be chosen by God as both Elizabeth and Mary can be a bittersweet blessing. It can be something of great joy and fulfilment but there is often a time of pain and suffering. Elizabeth knew the great joy of being chosen to carry God’s herald especially as she had given up all hope of ever having a child. But she also experienced the wagging tongues of those around her who could not hide their disbelief that God would do such a thing. I wonder too if Elizabeth lived long enough to lose her son to the desert and even to death.
Mary too of course experienced the same feelings of joy, but had to bear so much in those early months as she and Joseph came to terms with the enormity of what their lives would be in the future and the responsibility they would have to nurture the Son of God. Those of us who are parents know how difficult a task it can be to nurture a child, but the Son of God? That was something else. Mary too would live to see her son die on the cross; the most horrible of deaths. It is clear from these two women’s experience that God chooses us to use us and in using us life can be both joyful and sorrowful.
With all this in the background Mary then utters the wonderful life changing words of what we now call the Magnificat. Its beauty speaking of three of the revolutions inspired by God. The moral revolution of the banishment of pride. Jesus sees us as we are and we need to live in this light not puffing ourselves up to be something we are not. The second revolution is the end of those who think rank, education or profession is what really matters. God values each one of us in exactly the same way; all can be saved by the love of God there is no distinction on the grounds of wealth or status. The third revolution is an economic one. Within a Christian society there should be an emphasis on a fairer sharing of the world’s resources so that no one dares to have too much while others have too little.
Within these words which are a foretaste of the kingdom her Son would come to establish. There is a loveliness within the words but there is also dynamite; a way of seeing the world which brings such change through the actions of those who believe in God’s way.
I am sure that Mary and Elizabeth did not completely understand their positions in this wonderful unfolding of God’s plan straightaway. They had to sit and ponder how these things could be. Just as we too need to meditate on what God is saying to us and how we understand our place in God’s plan today. For God does have a plan for each one of us and as we watch and wait in these remaining days of Advent we might like to consider our own journey with God and where it is leading us.