Our CEO, Scott Sanders introduces our "Being Present" Advent series with a reflection from Isaiah on what it means to pursue peace during this season.
This is a story of three women, Mary, Elizabeth and Hannah and the Jewish tradition of breaking into songs of praise and prophesy at the mystery and wonder of God’s works in the world. The source of wonder for each of these women is the manner in which they become pregnant and the extraordinary lives that each of their sons will live.
We start with Mary and Elizabeth. These are two women from the same extended family who have become pregnant in highly unusual circumstances. They meet together and support each other, as women do when they are pregnant.
An angel has appeared to Mary and told her that she will become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God. Mary exclaims that she is a virgin. But the angel insists that nothing is impossible for God and proves his point by saying that her relative, Elizabeth is pregnant. This is startling because Elizabeth is old and barren. She has long prayed for a child. The baby Elizabeth is carrying will grow up to be John the Baptist.
When Mary meets Elizabeth and greets her, Elizabeth cries out in a loud voice, filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth recognises Mary as the Mother of her Lord and the baby in her womb leaps with joy.
It is at this point that Mary breaks into her famous song, often called The Magnificat. It is an ecstatic proclamation of the power of God, His gift to her and God’s commitment to cast aside the powerful and rich and to exalt the lowly and feed the hungry.
It echoes and continues the long Jewish tradition of songs of thanksgiving and praise. It closely resembles the song of Hannah in the Book of Samuel (Samuel 2:1-10). Hannah is another woman who longed for a child and prayed beseechingly to God. At last she becomes pregnant with a son who will become the prophet Samuel. Hannah’s prophetic song also speaks of raising the poor and needy from the dust. God will guard the faithful and send the wicked into darkness.
At Christmas time, we naturally focus on the baby boy, the Son of God. But now, in Advent, our eye is on these women and how they respond to their remarkable blessings. Advent is a time of anticipation, expectation, excitement and confusion. In other words, it is a time of pregnancy. We must stand in the shoes of Mary and Elizabeth to truly engage with this time of birth and renewal.
Advent is an emotional time for me. As the Nativity scenes appear around the shopping centres and in my church, I am confronted by many questions. What is the significance of Jesus in my life? What am I expected to do if I take his birth, life and teachings seriously? What do I expect of myself as a Christian?
This encounter between Mary and Elizabeth gives me some guidance as I contemplate these questions.
The example of Mary and Elizabeth tells me to be open, present and responsive to what is happening right now, no matter how astonishing or incomprehensible it may be. They show me how to be emotionally engaged with what is happening in my life and to cry out and proclaim my experience of God’s work. They inspire me to encounter and engage with God, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit because all three are present in this story. They tell me that God is powerful and God expects me to take notice and act accordingly.
The core message and the call to action is crystal clear. Feed the hungry. Lift up the lowly. Be rich and powerful at my peril.
Julie McCrossin is a journalist, broadcaster and Elder at South Sydney Uniting Church. Image credit: Jude Beck
Daily Reading Luke 1:39-56
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary’s Song of Praise
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.