It`s one the more amusing things about daily conversations that we have a range of ways to indicate that things are not always what they seem to be on the surface: So we talk about giving someone a nod or a wink. We might say there`s an `elephant in the room`- something under the surface of the conversation that no-one really wants to acknowledge or address. Or, we might suspect that someone- behind what they are actually saying has what we call a `hidden agenda`. And so we use other phrases like the truth will out. We speak of `whistle-blowers` or accuse someone of `spilling the beans`.
And it`s this kind of thing that`s happening in our Gospel reading this morning. At the beginning of Luke`s Gospel we hear of what, on the face of things is just a meeting of two expectant mums. But these two mums have a significant destiny and the future of the children they will bear is deeply woven together. And in the few lines we heard this morning this truth comes spilling out in quite memorable and ecstatic terms.
Luke is telling us of the purposes of God, which were there- which are there in our daily experience- and how they come bubbling up to the surface. The hidden thing becomes visible. The agenda becomes known. The thing they had hardly dared speak of is named and rejoiced in. And it all comes welling up because, as Luke says “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry”.
The first thing to notice is that Elizabeth recognises how Blessed Mary was. `Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb`, she says. If you have ever stood at the school gate and sensed something of the under the surface rivalry between parents- or witnessed the competition at sports day- And the parents desperate that their gene pool be seen to be achieving.
Or on other occasions felt dismay when you were so pleased that your little one has learnt their nine times table only to be told that their little Jemima already speaks three European languages – you`ll know something of how remarkable Elizabeth`s reaction is. She doesn`t get tetchy that `her` son will not be the chosen one. Elizabeth recognises the significance of what`s going- and she is genuinely pleased at Mary`s blessedness. But why is this?
Well it`s because, she knows herself to be blessed by God. Notice the humility of her remark: “And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” The point is that she is secure, herself- and confident in his loving purpose for her. A key passage that helps me understand this is in the first letter of John: It`s quite familiar- John says: `In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins`.
In other words- Christian faith, the right way round, always focuses not, on what we do or what we have done- but on God and on what he is about. When you let this hit home- that God always gets there first- that all of this doesn`t depend on us- you no longer have to strive or try pushing yourself to the front. And so Elizabeth recognised Mary`s Blessedness- because she knew herself to be blessed- and as a result became an encourager.
Now, I think this is one of the genuinely funny parts of the Bible. The set up is beautiful. We`re told that Mary goes to the house of Zechariah. That`s important because if you`ve read the few lines before this you`ll know that he`s the chap who had an altercation with the Angel Gabriel and didn`t believe he would have a son called John. And so Elizabeth says to Mary. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ And you can almost hear the sub- text “At least you`ve got more faith than my old man!”
But what really stands out for me is how very specific Elizabeth`s encouragement is. It`s not “Well done Mary”. Aren`t you good and Holy and so on. It`s not about her. It`s `well done for trusting in what GOD is doing`. It seems to me that there`s a world of difference between the encouragement which massages the ego- which needs topping up endlessly – and the encouragement which opens the door to endless resources. There`s a world of difference between constantly topping someone up with- go on you can do it- and pointing them to a place where they will be endlessly supported even at their lowest ebb. We`re talking here of the faith that`s the size of a mustard seed. The faith that clings on by the finger nails but is sufficient to move mountains- or give birth to a Messiah.
So this morning we have the encouragement of two young women- expectant with God. Who have the courage to `name` that experience and rejoice in it. Pray today for the grace to likewise recognise and name the presence of God in your own life- and in the lives of those around you. Pray for the generosity to rejoice in others blessedness- because you know yourself to be blessed. Pray for the grace to be an encourager of others on the way of faith.