Last Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Advent, and as we approach Christmas our thoughts turn towards the coming nativity. This year, being the year of Luke, our gospel reading gives us Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and her famous song of praise the Magnificat.
Don’t you sometimes have a great day – a day when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and the temperature is just right. A day when you feel really good. A day when, as you’re walking down the street you feel like bursting into song and singing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” Because it’s a beautiful day and like Howard Keel in Oklahoma you’ve got a beautiful feeling that everything’s going your way. Perhaps you feel like that this morning! Well, perhaps not! Particularly this close to Christmas Day with so much still to do to get ready. But most of us have a day like that now and then – just not as often as we would like.
In our Gospel lesson today we are presented by Luke with the weaving together of two stories – two women both of whom are expecting a baby – both of whom are having that kind of day. First, we hear it from Elizabeth, a relative of Mary. And then we see how Mary herself is having that kind of day. We can hear it in every word. Both women are pregnant. Mary is a little pregnant, and Elizabeth is very pregnant – her baby is almost due.
Elizabeth is older than Mary and she had wanted children all her life, but it had never happened. And then an angel came to Zechariah, her husband, and told him that Elizabeth would have a baby. Now, angels don’t appear to people every day, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Zechariah didn’t believe him. And for his lack of faith the angel struck Zechariah dumb. We don’t know much about Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home life – or what Elizabeth thought about having nine month’s peace and quiet while she got ready for the baby’s birth!
And when Mary arrives on her doorstep you might expect Elizabeth to be full of good advice and to want to talk about her own baby. After all, Elizabeth has experienced a miracle! But, instead she greets Mary with these words: 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 leaped for joy.
You can hear the excitement in her voice – the “Oh, what a beautiful morning”. Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit – she is happy about her own baby, but she is even happier about Mary’s baby because the Spirit has made it clear that Mary’s baby is the LORD!
And then we have Mary’s joyful response. And it’s clear that Mary, too, is having one of those “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” moments. Just listen to her words: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour 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.
Familiar words – perhaps so familiar that we miss the excitement in Mary’s voice. Elizabeth is excited! Mary is excited! To be honest, at this stage of Advent, having already done nativity plays, carol services, sung endless carols and eaten far too many mince pies, and the prospect of more to come – I’m not really in the mood to sing “Oh, what a beautiful morning”. But when I read this story, it’s impossible not to get excited too. The excitement of these two women is infectious! It is a story of God touching the lives of two very ordinary women – and blessing them – and blessing the world through them!
And it’s exciting because Elizabeth’s story and Mary’s story show what can happen when God touches our lives. Their stories hold out the promise that God can do great things through the lives of ordinary people.
Just as God touched Elizabeth and Mary and through them brought blessing to the world, so he still touches ordinary people like you and me and uses us to bring blessing to our world today. Now, that doesn’t mean that God is going to give us a wonderful life – that we will always feel like running down the street singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning!” The life of blessing to which God calls us is seldom an easy life. Mary didn’t have her baby in a beautiful, well-lit, antiseptic hospital. She had her baby in a dark, smelly stable. And when her baby grew up she watched him die – crucified – a painful and shameful death.
God does not call us to easy lives. But God does call us to lives that matter! Lives that are blessed by him!
God called Mary to be the mother of the Lord! Mary felt enormously blessed to be so chosen, even though she couldn’t have foreseen her future or that of her child.
Down the centuries God has called all kinds of people to be blessed and to be a blessing to others. Some of them became famous in their own lifetimes, most didn’t. Some earned the title “Saint”, most didn’t. Some were called to suffer and die for their faith, most were just called to live relatively ordinary lives following Jesus. Most were just ordinary people like you and me, called to follow Jesus.
And God calls people to all kinds of things – and not necessarily what you might think of as “big” things. He might call one person to stay at home and raise children in the faith, another to go and work in an office or a shop somewhere. He might call you to be someone who prays for others, or to encourage and support others simply by being a good listener. You may be called to simply live a faithful Christian life as an example to others.
I don’t know what God has specifically called you to do. I only know that God has called you to be blessed and to be a blessing to others. That’s what following Jesus means. If you don’t know what you are called to do, make it a matter of prayer to hear the call. If you will do that, God does not guarantee you an easy life – but he will guarantee you a blessed life – an important life – a life worth living! A life to get excited about, as excited as Mary and Elizabeth were in our Gospel reading. Because it’s a life where you hear God’s call and receive God’s touch, God’s blessing and a life that God uses to reach out and bless others through you.
Live out the calling to which Christ has called you, and you will be able to say with Mary:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour 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.
May God today bless each one of us, and then use us to bless others.