Fourth Sunday of Advent (Healing) – December 19, 2021

I recognize that it might have been a little bit confusing for you to read the “psalm” at the end of the Gospel.  Thank you for your flexibility.  As I said during the announcements, my goal was that you should hear Mary’s song, the Magnificat, in its original context in the first chapter of Luke.  Earlier in this first chapter of the gospel is the story about Gabriel’s visit to Mary, where the angel announced to her the astonishing news that she would give birth to the Son of God.  And you may remember Mary’s immediate response of faith:  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Only seven verses separate the visit from Gabriel to Mary and Mary’s Magnificat.  But there’s more time between Mary’s learning of her role in the salvation of the world and her singing her famous and beloved song – there’s a bit more time that elapses between Mary’s response and her song of praise than we might realize at first.

Luke starts the story, “In those days,” meaning in the days after her visit from the angel Gabriel . . . in those days, Mary hurried to the Judean hill country to the home of her relative Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, where they were awaiting the birth of their own little miracle baby, John the Baptist.  “St. Luke makes it sound like Mary slipped out the front door, opened the gate, turned right, took a walk beside a park for a block or two and showed up on her cousin Elizabeth’s doorstep; nothing more than a stroll . . ..  But it was a 90-mile walk to the village of Ein Karem, John the Baptist’s traditional birth place, and only five miles to Jerusalem from the southwest.”[1]  Keep in mind that the conception of Jesus may have been miraculous, but the pregnancy itself was probably pretty ordinary, and newly-pregnant Mary probably was suffering from morning sickness.  That would have slowed down the journey.  What also would have slowed her down was the terrain – she was travelling into the hill country.  If we guess that maybe Mary would have been able to maintain a pace of 2.5 mph, and might have been able to walk 8 hours a day, her 90-mile trip to visit Elizabeth would have taken at least 4 and a half days.  And though St. Luke doesn’t tell us anything about the journey itself, I doubt Mary was in the mood for much singing while she walked.  Mary breaks into her glorious song only after she arrives at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  She sings only after Elizabeth intuits through the dancing of her own child in her womb that Mary has big news.  She sings “My soul magnifies the Lord” only after Elizabeth responds to her presence and message with joy.  I googled “artwork of Mary and Elizabeth,” and most of the artistic renderings of the moment that Mary and Elizabeth meet show Elizabeth reaching out to touch Mary’s belly, or the two women holding hands and/or leaning into one another, with looks of radiant joy on their faces.  Think “hug.”  St. Luke doesn’t tell us this, but in my mind’s eye, the women embraced.  And then Mary sings her song of faith and praise.

I mention this delay between Mary getting the news about Jesus and her singing the Magnifcat not to throw shade on Mary’s faithfulness.  Her response to God’s call is nothing but remarkable.  I only pause to wonder if maybe it was easier to turn her faithfulness into praise once she had shared the news with Elizabeth.  I wonder if Elizabeth’s response helped her to understand that this thing that was going to happen was really going to happen in and through her, not in some abstract sort of way, but in her own body.  I wonder if it’s easier to trust God’s promises in the company of other believers with whom we are in relationship.

In just a few moments, we will lift our prayers, as we usually do, but then we will also offer individual prayer for those who seek God’s healing.  As we pray for one another, and/or as we pray for you, remember our “wonderings” about Mary and Elizabeth, and receive the story of these two women as a blessing for you on your journey:

+    May your sharing of your struggle, whatever it is, with us – may sharing it in this  community of faith help you to find your voice of praise in the midst of your pain.

+    As we “embrace” you with our presence, may you feel in your own body that God’s      blessings really are for you.

+    And may our prayers help you to remember the promise that, just as God has done great things in the past – showing strength, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry, helping God’s people – so God will also do these things for you.

Together, may our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for in Jesus, God looks with favor upon us.


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