Giving Birth to Joy Peace Presbyterian Church
Luke 1:39-56 3rd Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 10 December 2016
I flew up to North Carolina for two days this week. It was a gift of presence for my mom and my kids which in turn became a joy for me. To hear Rebecca’s Christmas concert at college, to care for my mother, to spend a night with Catherine and Taylor, and Andrew, it was a whirlwind of joy. With this being the week of joy, and with my having time in airports to reflect on that, I thought to myself about the joy of gift-giving. I thought about the gift of presence as well as presents. I thought about how we busy ourselves at Christmas with buying presents and with food and home preparations that we often lose the simple joy of presence, of just paying attention to people in such a way that brings them joy. There’s no tree yet at our house – only an advent wreath. No big deal – it will be up by next week-end. It is so easy to lose perspective on what really matters this time of year. Children desperately need more presence and fewer presents. There is no greater delight than the presence of someone you trust utterly.
(slide) That’s the gift Elizabeth gave to Mary, which empowered Mary to speak her bold truth about a Savior, who turns the world upside down to make it right. Imagine what might have happened if Elizabeth did not play her supportive role in this story. What if Elizabeth had been self-absorbed when Mary arrived? Mary is apprehensive. After all, she has been visited by an angel who tells her this child is of the Holy Spirit. She’s not sure whether Joseph will believe her. In first century times, she could have been stoned to death for this inexplicable pregnancy or cast off by Joseph. She has ample reason to be afraid. So does Elizabeth, who is old and more likely to struggle giving birth. But Elizabeth responds to the increased activity of John in her womb, and gives Mary the great blessing which inspired the Hail Mary prayer (slide). Notice that Mary is not being prayed to, but being reverenced for her powerful role in giving birth to joy, to life and salvation through her boy. Her prayers for us are sought. I invite you to say it with me.
Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mother, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
Let’s hear the story of the visitation with Elizabeth which gives birth to Mary’s triumphal joy in the Magnificat.
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Elizabeth knows how to bring out joy in another. She recognizes the gift of God that Mary holds within her. Think about doing that with your friends and family over Christmas. Give them your blessing and praise God for the good things you see God doing in their lives. Help them give birth to joy! Elizabeth called Mary blessed. Elizabeth called Jesus, the fruit of Mary’s womb, blessed.
Elizabeth could have interpreted the bouncing baby in her own womb as a sign of his own importance. She could have said, “Wow, my child must be destined for greatness, because he is really active in my womb.” But no, she was looking for ways to bless Mary as Mary brought joy to the world. Elizabeth praises Mary, and Mary in turn praises God.
We are grateful that Elizabeth gave Mary the courage to embrace the Truth in her. Giving birth to joy takes courage to stand up against fear and announce God’s peace and justice. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of Mary’s hymn, the Magnificat. The only extended speech in Luke given by a female character, it casts Mary as a prophet. In the tradition of Hannah and Miriam in the Hebrew Scriptures, Mary celebrates God’s unfolding salvation of her people Israel. She announces God’s compassion for the lowly and introduces a key theme of Jesus’ ministry – the reversal of social structures. “Mary proclaims the topsy-turvy future of God as an already accomplished fact—possibly because that future can already be glimpsed in God’s choice of Mary as the bearer of the Messiah. The song proclaims the reality and promise that the singer embodies…” (Feasting on the Word) Her song is so radical that in the 1920’s in India and in the 1980’s Guatemala, the reading of this part of the Scriptures was outlawed because of its power to incite people to revolution.
It invites us to promote a world in which the powerful are brought down and the lowly lifted up. Economic justice should always be a concern to faithful Christians, because our Scriptures call us to the way of Jesus, championed by Mary’s Song. Mary affirms that the God who came to us in Jesus Christ scatters the proud, and fills the hungry with good things. And the first words out of Jesus when he began his ministry were, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …to proclaim good news to the poor.” So we remember at Christmas-time to make sure we are lifting up the lowly and sending good things to those in need. Thanks for your angel tree gifts today. Thanks for the Alternative Gifts you are buying to lift the lowly. Thanks for the year-end gifts to Peace, which allow us to be a more generous church year-round.
We are to embody the will of God like Mary, who one verse is saying peacefully “Here am I, servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your Word.” And a few verses later is boldly announcing God’s concern for justice. That kind of courage and receptiveness to God’s word is what made her the perfect servant of God, mother of Christ, and model for the church.
“Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” For Christ to enter, we have to get ourselves out of the way. We cannot have an ego so large and boastful or so small and insecure that there’s no room for the Spirit’s implantation of fruit, spiritual fruits in us, Christ in us. It takes a spacious place to hold all the fullness of God as Mary did. The humble have room for God, because they are not full of so themselves. Being selfish makes joy impossible.
We cannot explain the logic of God growing in Mary’s womb any more than we can understand what happens to us in the Eucharist when we receive Christ by faith, and become Christ’s body for the world. Nevertheless, I’d like you to imagine with me that the Holy Spirit has implanted Christ in you – in the womb of your heart and soul. Mary’s first word when the angel said the Holy Spirit was entering her was “How?” She was mystified by this, but she meekly received, saying simply “Let it be with me according to your word.” This is a receptiveness of trust that relinquishes the need to understand how. There are many times in life that we have to trust, without knowing how God can accomplish what God promises. You worry about your child – how will they ever grow up, become independent, get out of the mess they are in? You worry about the end of your own life or someone you love – how will you manage? You worry about finances. How can I still believe God is providing, that there will be enough? You worry about this country and world and all the injustice and suffering. How will God bring good out of such chaos and conflict?
You and I, like Mary, need an encouraging friend or family member to help us believe that indeed God is working out holy purposes even when we see so much pain and suffering and injustice. We need to feed joy with the Word which helps us to know and trust God’s promises. We need to sing songs and pray to be empowered by God’s loving presence.
With thankful hearts, we need to receive the Sacrament which nourishes us in ways we cannot explain. It takes a leap of faith to give birth to joy in a fearful world. So encourage one another to be receptive to God’s Spirit.
Bring out the joy in others by your loving-kindness and listening support. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness you are able to give.” And she did. She used her power for good, working for the rights of employed women, African Americans, Asian Americans and was the first chair of the Commission on Human Rights for the United Nations.
Magnify God by helping others through the travail of life. Nourish a courageous faith with Mary and Elizabeth. Be a doula or midwife for the joy of others to be born! Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.