Changed (Luke 1:39-56)
Rev. David French
As Mary, the mother of Jesus, was growing up, she was just one of many young girls in Nazareth. Her parents had arranged for her to marry a good man named Joseph when she came of age, which was the common practice at that time. And so Mary’s future was pretty much set. She would be known as Mary, the wife of Joseph of Nazareth. She would help Joseph raise a family and they, like us, would have looked forward to growing old together.
And everything was going according to plan until an angel named Gabriel showed up with a message from God, and in an instant, Mary’s life changed. Mary was going to be a mother, and the message given to her by Gabriel was that the child within her was the very Son of God. To say Mary’s life had changed is, of course, an understatement.
Certainly, we know what this unexpected pregnancy is all about, and Mary, even if she didn’t understand, she did believe what the angel had said to her. But, the community, her family and friends, her rabbi, none of them knew what was going on, and it’s not hard to imagine their response to her condition.
And, what about Joseph? His fiancé is pregnant and he knows he’s not the father. His life was changed as well. I mean, Mary may know that God has chosen her for this great honor, and her soul may be rejoicing in the Lord, but her everyday life has suddenly become very complicated. Before long, her community will believe that she has committed adultery, and adultery was a crime punishable by death. There would indeed be a time when all generations would call her blessed, but not right away.
God in His mercy, however, did provide help for Mary. The seed was planted when Gabriel said, “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.” With one sentence, Gabriel praised God for the miracle of John's birth and pointed Mary to a place where she could be safe as she worked through the idea or simply to come to grips with the idea that her God was living and growing within her womb.
All things considered, Elizabeth had to be the only other woman in the world who understood what was really happening with Mary. When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s home, just the sound of her voice caused the baby prophet within her to start doing his happy dance and the Holy Spirit opened Elizabeth’s eyes to the reason as she confessed Mary’s unborn child to be her Lord. So, Mary had a safe place to stay where she was accepted and found some understanding and peace while she was away from the gossip and glares from the people of Nazareth.
Another benefit and blessing is that Mary would certainly be a help to Elizabeth during her final trimester. She could do some of the chores and run some of the errands and, in general, just help around the house, which would have no doubt been a great blessing to Elizabeth. These two women would both be far better off after their three months together. Elizabeth had someone to help as she delivered her child in her old age, and Mary received the assurance, encouragement, strength, and moral support that she needed for what lie ahead of her.
Remember that when Mary first arrived at Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth spoke one of the most beautiful poems in the Bible known as the Magnificat. The Magnificat proclaims the great blessings that God in His mercy offers to all of humanity.
And even though Mary didn’t know how things would turn out, even though her reputation had sullied and her life had been drastically changed, Mary still found a reason for hope in God’s promise about her child. Despite the very difficult situation she found herself in, still she praises God for all the blessings He had given to her. You see, like you and me and all who call on Christ as their Savior, the Holy Spirit had given her a faith that trusted God promise to bless.
Remember now as then, God is in the business of changing the course of our lives. He scatters those who are proud and lifts up the humble. He brings down the mighty and lifts up the widow and orphan. He sends away those who worship their wealth and blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You see, when God changes the course of our lives, there is real change, because in our baptisms we were changed from people dead in sins to children alive in His Son Jesus, the Christ of God.
But the truth of that amazing change isn’t something we see, but believe. We are taught that God pours out His blessings upon us, but understand those blessings don’t always make our lives easier or more pleasant the way we imagine all blessings are supposed to. And that’s always been the case. I mean, Mary was the mother of God, and while that was certainly an incomprehensible blessing in her life, just eight days after the birth or her son Simeon would say to her, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Now I’m sure these are not words any new mother wants to hear. Because being blessed and a sign spoken against or swords piercing souls doesn’t sound good, and yet, it is a message of the highest good.
You see, satan [sic] wants us to believe that the one true religion is the one that offers us the most blessings, and being blessed by God means: making our lives easier, providing the most security, ensuring the best health and eliminating all sorrows from our earthly pilgrimage. Make no mistake, we are all susceptible to satan’s [sic] deceptions. He wants us to focus on the here and now that we, by nature, desire, and satan [sic] wants you to see the accumulating of riches as the ultimate blessing of God. Satan wants you to seek what is seen and just forget about what is unseen. So, where does that leave us? Well, that’s what today's Gospel lesson is about.
The biggest change for us began in Mary’s womb, where the Son of God set aside His divine power and glory to take on and be born of human flesh and blood. And throughout His life, while He was tempted just like us, He remained sinless. Then He took the sin of the world onto Himself and went to the cross where He would offer His blood as payment for that sin. And the Lord of the heaven and earth was laid in a tomb from which three days later He would overcome death and be raised for our justification and the world was changed.
You see, Christ destroyed death forever, and from the time of His resurrection, our heavenly Father has been inviting sinners to enter His kingdom through the blood of His Son, that is, by the faith created and the forgiveness received by the working of the Holy Spirit in each of us as we were baptized into His Son’s death and resurrection. We may not see this new life the way we expect or want to, but in Christ, we who were dead in sin have been forgiven and made eternally alive. We who were enemies of God are now heirs of His kingdom. We who were destined for the eternal flames of hell are now destined for the eternal joys of paradise prepared for you whose lives God’s grace and mercy changed when He made you an heir of His kingdom.
In His name, Amen.