"Elizabeth and Mary as Part of God's Unfolding Work of Salvation": A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year C

"Elizabeth and Mary as Part of God

Dec 23, 2018

Passage:Luke 1:39-55

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Advent

Category: Salvation

Keywords: love, magnificat, salvation


We rush to get to Christmas, often bypassing the Fourth Sunday in Advent. We can look to Mary and Elizabeth to slow down and recognize God's work in the world. Like them, we play a role in God's unfolding salvation of the world.


May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Are you ready yet?  Are all the presents wrapped?  Is all the food prepared?  Is everything decorated just the way you want it?  Are your travel plans made?  Is the house clean?  Are your bags packed?  Do you have the schedule figured out?  You do know tomorrow is Christmas Eve, right?  You’re running out of time!

But...wait...we’re not there yet.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  Not today.  Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  We’re still in Advent.  Remember, the waiting and the watching we’ve been talking about for the past four weeks.  The waiting and watching we’ve been praying about during these past four weeks.

So, whatever we still have left to do, let’s take this time to stop.  Let’s be present for this service, this celebration of the Lord’s Day.  Let’s stay right here in Advent for just a little bit.

Let’s breathe.  Let’s take in the beauty of this space.  Listen to the sounds of children and music and people greeting one another.  Let’s pay attention to the prayers...the taste of the bread...the feeling of warmth from so many loving people sharing this time together. 

Let’s enter into this story from the Gospel of Luke...the story of Elizabeth and Mary.  Today, let’s not look at this story from afar, from 2000+ years of distance.  Let’s join these two women in their story.

Elizabeth and Mary are faithful Jewish women.  Mary is a very young woman, likely a teenager.  Elizabeth, her cousin, is much older.  Old enough we’re told to be past child-bearing age. 

Mary is engaged to Joseph, but most likely still lives with her family.  She’s just been told by the angel Gabriel that she will bear the son of God.  After she accepts this new destiny, she rushes to see her cousin Elizabeth who lives about 80 miles away in the hills. (Feasting on the Gospels)

Mary doesn’t go to Joseph or her parents.  She hurries to her cousin.  The angel has told her that Elizabeth is also pregnant.  Another unbelievable event.  Not only is Mary pregnant with the son of God, but Elizabeth is pregnant.  Elizabeth who’s never been able to have children and is far too old to get conceive. 

Upon her arrival, Mary greets Elizabeth.  And the child Elizabeth is carrying leaps within her.  When she feels this movement deep inside her, Elizabeth is moved to bless Mary.  She blesses Mary for her place in the sisterhood of women.  She blesses Mary for believing in the promises of God.  And she blesses the child that Mary is carrying. 

These words are so familiar to us today that we may miss the power of this exchange.  This woman who Mary knew she needed to be with blesses Mary with reassurance.  Elizabeth reassures her that her pregnancy is truly a calling from God.

Mary responds with a song...a song that proclaims that God is faithful...not only to her...but to all of Israel.  God is keeping promises made since the beginning. 

No one is forgotten...Not a young, unmarried Jewish woman...Not those who keep the faith no matter what the obstacles...Not the hungry or poor or powerless. 

These two women, one old and one young share this tender, intimate moment.   They’re the only ones who can possibly understand what the other is going through.  They’re both unlikely candidates for God to choose as main characters in this story of grace and mercy.  Their lives are now forever joined in this time of hope and in the journey they both face.

God has heard their cries, their suffering, their pain.  These women are invisible to most of the world, yet God uses them in the unfolding work of salvation.   

So often God uses the most unexpected people and times to help save the world.

These women aren’t royalty.  They’re not famous or powerful.  They’re Jewish women in the ancient world. They live in the Roman Empire where they’re second-class citizens. 

Mary and Elizabeth aren’t even from the city where things happen.  They’re from the country, small rural villages.  They’re women who are faithful to the God of Israel.  Their hearts and minds are steeped in the promises of God... the God who is faithful to those promises...the stories of God who never abandons humankind.

After 2000 years of hearing this story, we place Mary and Elizabeth on pedestals.  Mary is, after all, the mother of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  And Elizabeth’s son will be John the Baptist, who makes Jesus’ ministry possible.

But today, let’s not distance ourselves too far from them.  Mary and Elizabeth are women who walked this earth with all the same hopes and joys and vulnerabilities as every one of us. 

God worked through them to change the world.  And God works through each of us, too.  No matter how inadequate we may matter how little we may feel we have to offer the world...God works in us and through us.

  • God is working in us when we smile at the haggard cashier who is accosted by angry and impatient customers.
  • God is working in us when we offer to give someone a break by helping with their children or parents for a couple of hours.
  • God is working in us when we encourage someone to share memories of the loved one who is no longer with us.
  • God is working in us when we pay for a stranger’s gas as they’re filling up their car.
  • God is working in us when we feed someone who hasn’t eaten since yesterday.
  • God is working in us when we visit someone who is lonely and feels forgotten.
  • God is working in us when we acknowledge and speak to someone who is usually ignored.

These acts may not sound like they’ll bring about the salvation of the world, but they give us a glimpse of it.  They lift us and give us strength and help us to put one foot in front of another.  These are the actions that give people hope...hope that love is real...and that they are worthy of that love.

Forget what the world tells us and listen to what God tells us.  There’s more love in this world than evil.  There’s more good than bad. 

When we slow down, take a breath, and look around us, we see a world hungering for this love.  We see what God has done in our own lives.  We know that we, like Mary and Elizabeth, are part of the unfolding story of God’s never-ending, irresistible love.  We are worthy.  We are called. 

We wait and we watch to see what God’s love does in our lives and the lives of those around us.  We wait and we watch ourselves become bearers of God’s love in the world.  We wait and we watch as the world is changed forever because of this miraculous gift of love.  Amen.