This coming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary selections include Luke 1:39-45[46-56], where Mary offers her song of praise, aka The Magnificat. The relatively short passage (even with the additional verses) provides a treasure trove of preaching options. It’s a passage focused on the experience of a woman, and involves s a deeply theological statement, with a strong prophetic angle. This is hardly the demure Mary depicted in so many artist renderings. Instead, her voice is sure and strong, declaring the power of the “Mighty One”: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
These, and related topics, would serve as a fine basis for a sermon, and I may try to touch on at least one on Sunday. What will very likely serve as the foundation for my sermon on Sunday, though, is the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth, something that is often overlooked in the dynamic quality of Mary’s song. Both women are pregnant, each one with a very significant person growing inside. The very last verse in the passage suggests that the women not only visited with each other, but lived in the same household for three months. It’s a fascinating concept to consider.
When I was pregnant with my second child, my best friend at the time was also pregnant with her second child. Each of us gave birth in the spring, just a couple of weeks apart. During our time of pregnancy, we spent a considerable amount of time together, although we did not share the same household. Experiencing the joys and challenges of pregnancy so closely with another person was a gift and an opportunity that I think about often, especially at this time of year.
Carol and I marveled at our changing bodies and fretted about whether or not we would ever get back to our pre-pregnancy body (no, for me). We shared complaints about the intrusive questions complete strangers would ask, the exhaustion that invaded each day, and the indignities that are part of every pregnant woman’s journey. We spent time pondering what meaning we might glean from the kicks, proddings and pokings as each infant began to make themselves known. We wondered about the relationship the new child would have with the older one, and vice versa. Through those many months, we supported and encouraged each other.
I’d like to think that what I experienced was a little glimpse into what Mary and Elizabeth might have experienced, as they shared that expectant time together. I’d also like to think that Mary and Elizabeth serve as a model for companionship on the journey of faith. At this time of year, we are in a particularly “expectant” place. It may feel like we’ve lived through countless Advent and Christmas seasons. Yet, each one offers a fresh opportunity to wonder at our own expectation of who and what this Jesus, this Christ, is in our lives.
While there are important aspects of faith that are concerned with our individual devotion, Mary and Elizabeth lead us to consider deeply how we can be more present with and to each other as we wait and watch, as we anticipate, and as we experience the small proddings of new life, a new awareness of how Christ enters our lives, leading us and sometimes pushing us in ways that are uncomfortable and unsettling.
In this expectant time, how might we turn to our companions in the faith to offer encouragement and support? How can we create a place, a space, where we might share our experiences of wonder and awe, of challenge and discomfort? How can we appreciate more fully this season as expectant time, and to do so with our companions in the faith?
It’s too bad that this holy season, so full of meaningful elements, is bogged down in busyness of various kinds. I would hope, that as we head into the last week of Advent, that we will take a moment to share a moment with our companions in the faith, to support and encourage, and to be about the significant work of being expectant— together.