s072g00 24/3/00 Lady Day service Christ Church North Adelaide
"My soul magnifies the Lord" Luke 1.46
I wonder how many times over the many years of her life, Elizabeth had suffered miscarriages. Whether reliable contraception was available or not in those days, clearly Elizabeth and Zechariah wanted a child and if they had stopped "trying", it would only have been to avoid a repetition of the pain. She considered her barrenness a disgrace. I wondered about her miscarriages, because we are told that as soon as she became pregnant she "went into seclusion" (Luke 1.24). She knew what to do through long and bitter experience. She only "broke" her seclusion when Our Lady visited. Whenever she actually realised that her cousin Mary was pregnant too, she could well have been stunned that Mary dared to be out and about visiting relatives, in her state.
Our Lady was probably not skipping up the garden path, banging a tambourine and praising the Lord as she went. She was probably dusty, sweaty and rather out of breath. I recall Catherine saying how much a tiny f¤tus, even very early in pregnancy, affects the much larger mother greatly. Elizabeth's heart would not unnaturally have gone out in love and concern for her visitor.
So Elizabeth might, quite reasonably, have exhorted Mary on the dangers of walking about alone in the hills in early pregnancy. I'm not being critical here, she would only have been trying to save Mary some of the pain she had gone through. Elizabeth was of course older and wiser than Mary. Aren't Aunts full of good but unbidden advise? If not good advise, then perhaps a good cup of tea, or the equivalent thereof for those times.
Of course we in the Church have the wisdom of the aged on our side too. Repent, believe, follow my example, it will save you the pain I went through ... We too in the Church are often want to give good suggestions as to what others should or shouldn't do.
I look at Elizabeth and I see the Church, elderly, often barren for long periods, and yet the Lord blesses her, when she doesn't expect it, when she doesn't ask for it, indeed when she believes those sorts of promises of God are beyond the realms of possibility.
I have been asked to speak on "Making a Difference", our theme for this year in Mothers Union. I reflect that the words of the "Magnificat" on which we today during this whole service are extensively meditating, have echoed down the centuries. These words have been the focus of the devotion of countless people. These words of praise themselves have "made a difference" to so many people. And so it is worth our while to see what lies behind them, to see what caused these words to be spoken. For if it turns out that it is in our power to replicate those conditions, perhaps we might find grace to emulate them and find similar words of praise being uttered, and similar differences being made in future generations.
I suppose it would be sexist to comment that when those of the female gender meet for the first time in a while, they would have lots to say to one another. Elizabeth obviously had lots to tell Mary of how the Lord had been gracious to her. I mean, after so many years of disappointment, which I am sure few males could ever begin to fathom the resultant sadness, to be suddenly pregnant, one's whole life would be filled with joy and exuberance. Elizabeth had lots to tell Mary. And how often are we in the Church exhorted to, and some of us bursting to, share with others what the Lord has done for us?
Of course the fact that Mary was pregnant too was hardly unusual. That a young female, betrothed to a young man, was not pregnant in those times would have been more unusual. Humanly, as far as Elizabeth was concerned, Mary had little news, that on the surface was particularly startling, to tell her.
So here we have Elizabeth seeing Our Lady coming up the garden path, and the baby in her womb does a "360", making it's presence felt. She is bursting to have a decent chat with her relative and tell her of all her news of what God has done for her - but what does she do? She does something completely miraculous. She sets all this aside, the cup of tea, the advise, the news, her baby, and sees in her young relative - God. For all that God had done for her, what does she do but see the divine in someone else.
We are told: "when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "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. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." (Luke 1:41-45).
And the rest, as they say, is history.
No, it isn't just history, because of course we can replicate these conditions. For all our excitement at what God has done for us after so many years, for all the wonderment of "our baby" doing cartwheels in our tummy, for all we might want to give good advise to others, God calls us to stop, stop to see God in others.
God calls us to see God in others, not just in those who replicate our faith journey, but God in those whom we see God leading down a different path to the one we have taken. God calls us to see God in the young, when so often this is the last place the world and the Church looks to find things divine. We, in the Church, are so busy telling the young what to believe, how to behave, and when and with whom they can express their intimate affections - all this in the name of God and the Church.
The words tell us that this perception of Elizabeth, this ability to put aside our own concerns and to see beyond the normal human appearance to the divine beneath, is a direct result of the action of the Holy Spirit.
Now there are some who want to say that when the Holy Spirit comes, then great outpourings of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecies, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretations take place (1 Cor 12). I want to suggest that the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to see in others, the divine at work, and that all these other things that St Paul lists, can only be interpreted in the light of this "seeing God in the other". The wisdom and other gifts are not given to magnify those given them, but to magnify those about them - to see in others the divine.
And of course this squares entirely with the life, witness and work of the ministry of Jesus, who was crucified by the religious authorities who objected that he saw the good in others, others who didn't go to Church, like "tax collectors and sinners" with whom he regularly shared a meal.
The song of praise that Our Lady sang was spontaneous. She was not forced to do this. We in the Church often make hard work of evangelism, and I suggest this is because so often it focusses on getting others to believe, getting others to act in ways we think are appropriate, getting others to be something they are not already. The kingdom spontaneously erupts when we like Elizabeth and like Jesus see the divine in others, and make some effort to demonstrate this to them.
I focussed for a short time on the fact that Elizabeth didn't expect God to cure her of her barrenness, that she had most likely long before, stopped praying for a child, knowing the pain of disappointment so keenly, thinking that a child at her age completely beyond the realms of possibility.
The Cross is a bit like that too. The last thing we would ask God to do for us is send his own Son to die and to rise for us and for all. We certainly wouldn't expect it of God, humanly we would think that it was beyond the realms of possibility. And yet God did precisely this and it was done for us and for all people. But even knowing this, still we too, like Elizabeth are bidden to stop from explaining to others the miracle of salvation, - to stop telling others how to become like us, even if our motivation is to save someone else the pain we have experienced. The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to stop and see God at work in those we meet. It is then when a difference will be made.
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