Advent Week Three

Advent 2021 | First United Methodist Church of Rockwall

A Weary World Rejoices

Week Three, December 12 — Lifted Up, Rev. Sandy Heard

Foundational Scripture:

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 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.’

And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 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. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’ And Mary remained with her  about three months and then returned to her home. – Luke 1:39-56 

Advent Reflection: 

If we allow space for new revelation in our traditional interpretation of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary by imagining the struggle for Mary to accept Gabriel’s proclamation as “good news,” then perhaps we empathize with her next move. Mary’s reaction is to hurry to her relative Elizabeth’s house. After all, Elizabeth has also received some shocking news after finally accepting a childless life. These two women have something in common, the impossible is made possible. Curious about why Mary practically ignores him to greet Elizabeth, Zechariah eavesdrops on their conversation and hears grown women practically become giddy girls.

In light of her new circumstance, Mary needs someone she trusts to say, “Yes, this is really happening. Yes, you are going to be o.k. I’m going to be o.k. Not only are we going to be o.k., but God will be glorified through these births.” The two women experience solace because they find themselves in similar, albeit, unusual situations.

Upon hearing Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb dances. Elizabeth recognizes the significance of this movement and connects it with the Holy Spirit. She senses God’s presence and affirms Gabriel’s words to Mary as true. Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s reassuring words is a song — the Magnificat. And through her song, we see that Mary’s focus is no longer on herself, but on God’s mighty acts. Any fearful anticipation Mary had felt while alone, morphs into joyful expectancy.

I remember feeling pulled away from a job I loved by an unexpected opportunity. Although it seemed like something God wanted me to do, making the move also appeared irrational and potentially costly for our family. I prayed about it for days. During one of these prayers, I felt particularly distracted as a name kept popping in my mind: Diane. Diane is a trusted friend and mentor. After hearing her name for the third or fourth time, I ended the prayer and called her. She greeted me on the other line with, “I was just thinking about you and wondered if you have time to come over this afternoon. I’d like to talk about something that has been on my mind.” I hurried over, barely acknowledged her husband who answered the door, and poured out my fears and dilemma. She responded with compassion and affirmation of God’s call. She helped me see things more clearly than I had on my own. Diane blessed me. Looking back, I still give God thanks for this holy, and wholly productive, conversation.

God speaks to people through other people. When we encounter a situation or an experience that causes us to struggle, or news that may not immediately seem “good,” how can we recognize the people God puts in our life to help us see it through a divine lens? Mary’s song is in response to all of God’s action: not just Gabriel’s announcement, but also Elizabeth’s encouragement. 

For Further Reflection:

  1. What does it mean to you when Mary says “my soul glorifies the Lord”? What does glorifying the Lord look like on a daily basis? 

2. We receive nudges from the Holy Spirit all the time. The friend that comes to your mind seemingly for no reason, only to call and find out that they are really struggling and needed a friend to talk to. Or when you feel compelled to strike up a conversation with the woman next to you in the check out line and realize that she’s new to town and in need of a church home, so you invite her to your congregation. What are some instances that you can think of where “the Holy Spirit came upon you” just as it did for Elizabeth in our scripture? 

3. How can we better listen and be connected to the Holy Spirit? 

4. The term Anam Cara means Soul Friends and is usually used in the context to describe a deep connection and knowing between two faith filled people. In the Celtic tradition “soul friends” are considered an essential and integral part of spiritual development. Mary and Elizabeth’s connection through the Holy Spirit is a lovely example of Anam Cara. Who are your Soul Friends and what constitutes a Soul Friend to you? Why are these types of friendships a vital part of our spirituality? 

5. Having companions in Christ reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles. What are some ways you can reach out and invite others to join your community? Do you know someone who needs a good friend right now? Reach out and be a light.

Spiritual Practice: Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) 
Mary’s prayer in the above scripture is known as the Magnificat. The Magnificat (Latin for “[My soul] magnifies [the Lord]”) is a canticle, also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary and is frequently used in the tradition of Praying the Hours. Over the course of this week, end your evening by reciting Mary’s prayer. You can do this on your own or with your family. Each evening as you read The Magnificat take time to reflect on the words. What resonates with you in the Song of Mary? 

Family Advent Moment:
This week’s service opportunity actually took place at the end of the week prior, but it’s not too late for you to participate in helping the kids of Puerto Lempira, Honduras! On Saturday, December 11, our church partnered with Kids Against Hunger to supply food for hundreds of kids in need. Your family may have received an Advent Calendar where you can put a quarter in for each day. Believe it or not, that small quarter represents the amount of money it costs to provide lunch to a student in Honduras. If you already have an Advent Calendar, keep adding those quarters to the calendar! If you don’t, you and your family can collect 24 quarters (do you know how many dollars that is?) by the end of the month and donate them to our church in support of this vital mission. When you do this, you help fulfill Mary’s vision of God as the one who “has filled the hungry with good things.”