Don’t you sometimes have a great day? A day when the sun is shining and the birds are singing? 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! No? Me neither! And certainly not this close to Christmas with no idea how everything is going to turn out given how the Covid pandemic is going. But most of us have a day like that now and then – just not as often as we would like at the moment.
And so perhaps we can identify with the joy of the two women in our Gospel reading 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 as well. 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 until the baby was born. We don’t know much about Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home life – but Elizabeth may well have thought that nine month’s peace and quiet while she got ready for the baby’s birth was a good thing.
And then the angel appears to Mary. And unlike Zechariah Mary believes the angel. And having heard the news about her baby to come, she rushes off to see her cousin. 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” kind of excitement. 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 overjoyed! Mary is overjoyed!
At the moment it’s hard to be excited ourselves. I’m not really in the mood to sing “Oh, what a beautiful morning” at the moment. 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 gave birth among the animals. 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.
Now, I don’t know what God has specifically called you to do for him. I only know that, just like Elizabet, just like Mary, 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.