Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

St. Mary Visits Elizabeth

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:39-56

Mary Visits Elizabeth

by Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons

Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Introduction

The opening section of Luke's gospel, 1:5-2:40, consists of prophecies about the coming Messiah. The messianic age is about to dawn and so Luke shapes the opening of his gospel into a series of prophecies concerning the coming kingdom. Our passage for study, the prophecy of Mary, speaks of Israel's deliverance. God "has manifested his supreme strength" to redeem "his servant" Israel in the terms of the promise made to Abraham: "I will give to you and to your descendants..... the land...... for an everlasting possession." Mary rejoices for she is to share in this deliverance, but even more so, for God has chosen her as the mother of the Deliverer.

The passage

v39. Mary and Elizabeth demonstrate a close friendship. They may well have been neighbors. As was typical of the time, priests tend to live outside Jerusalem.

v40-41. The "greeting" was traditionally a formal address containing a statement about the person, eg. "Hail, King of the Jews!" The greeting caused a movement of Elizabeth's foetus and so served as a confirmation that the Holy Spirit was involved, not only in Mary's pregnancy, but her own. The phrase, "filled with the Holy Spirit", is common to Luke. It is used in the Old Testament sense of someone empowered by God to perform a special task, often a prophetic one. The Spirit comes upon the prophet and he speaks. Such a "filling" is for the task at hand and is not ongoing.

v42-45. All mothers are "blessed", but Mary has received a unique blessing. Mary is "fortunate" in that God has "favoured" her as mother of the messiah, but also because she took the Lord at his word ("believed").

v46-49. The Song of Mary, titled the Magnificat in the Latin Vulgate of the medieval church, is a lyrical poem similar to the Psalms. It has a special affinity with the Song of Hannah, 1Sam.2:1-10. These particular verses express Mary's gratitude for the outpouring of God's special favour upon her.

v50. Mary now affirms that God's kindness extends to all who reverence him. The word "fear" means respect rather than scared. Fear of God is "the Old Testament description of piety", Plummer.

v51-53. The coming of the kingdom serves to reverse the perceived standing of mankind before God. Those favoured with power, wealth, status, the seemingly righteous before God, .... they will be brought low ("put down"). The "humble", lost, broken, "poor", the outcasts from God's mercy, ... they are lifted up ("exalted"). This great reversal, which achieves the redemption of the lost, is best taken as a present reality. In typical prophetic style, God's future intentions are proclaimed as already accomplished; God's Word is as good as done. We must take care that we don't read this passage as if it were a social-justice economic manifesto. The language used of Israel's deliverance from oppression is typical of the Old Testament. The New Testament writers happily use Old Testament imagery, but see deliverance in terms of an eternal redemption, a redemption inaugurated now, but realized at the second coming of Christ.

v54-55. Mary ends by linking the deliverance of Israel to the promise made to Abraham by God. The New Testament writers see this promise fulfilled in Jesus, the "servant Israel." Those who are "in Christ" become the "servant Israel", children of Abraham through faith rather than natural descent.

v56. Mary stays with Elizabeth for some "three months", possibly until John's birth.

Faith as reliance

"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished."

For many years I had a problem with the word "faith". I was never quite sure what it meant. Even to this day believers will speak of faith as if it were a divine quality of perfect trust. It is claimed that a person who possess this spiritual gift is able to accept God and his word without any doubts. I think it was this type of view that confused me, and I suspect that it confuses many others as well.

If faith is a doubt-free acceptance of Jesus and of his word, then I don't have it. I often have doubts, I wonder about it all, I question the ground of my being. So, my faith is certainly not doubt-free.

The other extreme is to see faith in Jesus as if it is a good bet. Having considered all the options in life, we take a punt on Jesus. I mean, if we are wrong we lose nothing, but if we are right we gain everything. Jesus is certainly a good bet, but the bet is not faith.

Faith is reliance on the revealed will of God. Elizabeth declares that Mary is blessed, not because she is somehow more spiritual, righteous, even sinless, but because she takes God at his word. She went with what she was told, along with all her doubts, fears and questions. This reliance on God's word, this sticking to it, this firm resting on it, is what the Bible means by faith. Such a faith is saving faith. Faith is relying on what we hope "will be accomplished" in Christ our Lord.

Discussion

Consider the different ways we understand the word "faith/belief" and discuss them in light of faith as "reliance" on God's revealed will.

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries, Bible Analyses on St. Mary's Visit to Elizabeth

Malankara World Special on St. Mary

Malankara World Special on Shunoyo of St. Mary

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