Midweek Advent Worship – Holden Evening Prayer- December 19, 2018
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 leapt 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 leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
(In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
Our reflection on Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer, The Mother of God, picks up right after our gospel story from St. Luke from last week. Mary hears the news from The Messenger Gabriel that she is going to have a baby, and this baby will be the Messiah, the Christ... When she asks how this can be, the Angel shares that her relative Elizabeth, even though she can’t have children, she is pregnant too.
Mary accepts her calling to be the Theotokos, and as our story shares tonight, Mary set out with haste (that same word that will be used for those shepherds who made haste after they heard their message from the angels…)… Mary set out with haste to go see Elizabeth, to go see what miraculous things God is doing with her own eyes.
And then we get some of the most beautiful words in all the scriptures.
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed… (and here’s a portion of the famous Hail Mary prayer within the Catholic tradition) ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’ …why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?’
As we move closer to Christmas, with Emmanuel on the way, what do we “make haste” for? What is it that “leaps” within us? Do we notice where we use our energy, where we place our hope, where the Holy Spirit moves and directs us during this season?
What was within Elizabeth greets and leaps in response with what was within Mary.
Elizabeth and Mary help us see more clearly what God is up to in this world and how we are called to respond to it.
And it’s not just Elizabeth who is inspired, Mary is inspired as well. Her encounter with Elizabeth inspires a song. Sometimes words aren’t enough. The Gospel of Luke is like a Broadway musical, when the story moves to a peak of meaningfulness the characters just break out in song and psalms!
That is why we sing hymns in worship and still sing and recite the psalms, these songs and hymns capture who we believe God to be and move us to action.
The song that Mary sings is the Magnificat… named from the first line of the Mary’s poem and song, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
To magnify… to make larger, to make clearer, to bring the details into focus.
I don’t know if you have ever played with a magnifying glass, or a microscope, or even if you wear glasses… I know I need my reading glasses more and more.
Mary’s soul, the essence of the Theotokos… enlarges or helps God become less blurry. She helps us focus on the often out of focus details.
Now I'm sure God does not need Mary (or us for that matter) to make God bigger. God does fine on God’s own. But in our fast pace, cluttered, and noisy world, sometimes the important details get out of focus.
And so what does Mary magnify? She magnifies what God is doing in the coming of the Christ. She makes clear the details of what Emmanuel/God with us, looks like.
That God looks with favor on the lowly,
The proud will be scattered,
Those who abuse their power will be brought down,
The lowly will be lifted up,
The hungry will be filled,
Those who abuse their riches will be sent away empty,
A promise that goes as far back as Abraham, will be remembered and fulfilled.
This is a snapshot of Mary's theology, it's a character sketch of who she believes God to be. It is a theology that is passed on to Jesus. Jesus learned a lot from his mother. And this understanding of God is passed on to us.
Over the course of these mid-week worship services we have seen that Mary is a sign letting us know God is on the way, she is an example of discipleship that responds to God’s call in our lives, and now she becomes a prophet. Through this song Mary -the prophet, points out what God is up to in the coming of this promised Messiah that will be birthed into our world.
As so with Christmas just a few days away… as those baptized into the family of the Theotokos… we take our lead from Mary.
We can be signs of grace, pointing to a God who does love all people.
We can be disciples, who listen and respond to God’s call in our lives.
We can be prophets, who magnify the hope filled details of our faith that often get out of focus.
I like this last verse, which raises a lot of questions for me, “And Mary remained with her for about 3 months and then returned to her home.”
So, if Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant, and Mary stayed there 3 months, was she present when John the Baptist was born?
And if Mary conceived the Christ through the Holy Spirit right after Gabriel’s message to her and she went to see Elizabeth right after that, then when she returned home she would have been 3 months pregnant… I’m sure she got a lot of stares and a lot of questions.
Needless to say, the Bible doesn’t say… “And Mary lived happily ever after.”
So when we return home, when we experience and bear witness to the promise and message of Emmanuel/God-with-us, all of life’s problems and questions aren’t magically swept away.
In all reality, it may get tougher.
But take heart, beloved of God… God has drawn near to you.
Do not be afraid, for God is with you.
Mary, the Theotokos, bears a child, whose name is Jesus, for he will save his people.
May our soul’s magnify the Lord and may we rejoice in God our Savior.