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"Transformed" - Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

Posted on December 23, 2018 by Kathy Miller



Luke 1:39-56

Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

December 23, 2018

There’s a line in one of my favorite songs that says, “I sat beside you and became myself.”  When I first heard it, I didn’t really understand it, but after more years of life, more experiences, I think I do now. How we can encounter other people whose very presence allows us to become in some way more ourselves – to unfold into a more authentic version of ourself. 

In my own life, I think about the people who saw something in me and encouraged me towards ministry, beginning with my mother when, after a particularly meaningful Maundy Thursday service when I was in college, she was the first to raise the question “have you ever thought of being a minister?”  Or I think of how my father encouraged me to meet with the new young woman minister at his church so I might have an example of a woman in ministry.  Beyond my vocation as a minister, I also think of the quiet nights holding Evie as a baby and becoming a mother in her presence.  Or the friendships I’ve had where I’ve understood something more about who I am because of who they saw me to be.  Or people who, have along the way, recognized and spoken to me about gifts or qualities they saw in me before I saw them in myself. In my 40 years, when I really think about it, there are so many interactions and moments in which others have helped me clarify more deeply who I am and who I want to be. 

And as I read today’s scripture, this is what I see happening when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth.  First, Mary has this incredible experience of being visited by an angel.  What the angel says frightens and perplexes her, but she manages to still get out a simple sentence accepting the task the angel sets before her: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”  But that is all she says in that moment and we are left to wonder how she really feels, what she really understands. Likely there is a mix of fear, excitement, confusion, disbelief, acceptance, joy, but her simple response doesn’t give us a great deal of insight into what she’s thinking. 


I’m sure many of you are familiar with the popular song, Mary, Did You Know? and if we were doing a musical of this story, this is where I’d put that song.  Because after the angel leaves, we are left to wonder, what does Mary know and understand about what the angel told her?  Did the angel give her a vision so that she saw all of what is to come or has the angel left her with only the promise that more will be revealed over time?  Mary, did you know makes sense here. 

But that’s why it is good to keep reading.  Our questions about what Mary knew and understood are answered in today’s reading when Mary arrives in haste to Elizabeth’s house.  The author makes a point of saying she goes quickly.  Why?  Well, one commentary suggests: “what’s behind her haste may well be the sheer vulnerability of being a young, pregnant, unmarried woman in first-century Palestine... Or perhaps she wanted some time and space to process what was happening, in this case with an older, trusted relative who would understand - and indeed a woman with her own astonishing pregnancy.  Or perhaps she was simply eager to celebrate with a confidante, since joy is seldom complete until it's shared with someone we love. Whatever her motives, Mary’s first move was to Elizabeth’s home, a sanctuary of inspiring solidarity and support.”

And so, Mary hears from the angel and rushes to Elizabeth’s, with who knows what mix of emotion, and when she arrives she finds Elizabeth running out to greet her and welcoming her, saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

            And it is in that moment, that action, those words, where Elizabeth takes one look at Mary and knows so much; Elizabeth, who greets her in joy instead of with fear or worry, Elizabeth, Mary’s first test to see if someone would believe this amazing news, and who not only believes her speaks aloud the truth of who Mary is and who she is becoming; and it is this greeting which frees Mary to truly become who she is meant to be.  Whatever Mary knew already, Elizabeth cements for her.  Elizabeth’s words make the angel’s words real in a new way to her.  Sharing this news with Elizabeth, Mary “arrives” fully into her authentic, God-created self. While she accepted the news from the angel, Elizabeth bears witness as she steps fully into her life as the Mother of Jesus. 

And how do we know this transformation occurs?  Because one of the greatest poems, one of the most beloved pieces of scripture, a song which flows from Mary through all the generations to come, comes out of her mouth.   

            It is called the Magnificat because of its first word in the Latin translation. Mary’s song has been recited, studied, set to music and prayed countless times and ways for the last two thousand years.  It was even been banned as being too revolutionary and subversive in the 1980’s in Guatemala.  This scripture which emanates from Mary’s soul with Elizabeth as her only witness, is Mary’s testimony to what God is doing in her, it is her first step on the path from young, engaged woman to Mother of Jesus – a woman who has seen the future and despite its challenges, despite the suffering she will endure, knows this is who she is meant to be.  We sometimes think that Mary’s only suffering came as Jesus went to the cross, but from the angel’s visit forward, this is no easy path.  She will have to tell Joseph and then her family.  She will have to ignore the whispers about her in the community. She will have to give birth in a stable.  She will have to run for her and her child’s life to Egypt where as refugees they will have nothing but the kindness of strangers.  She will have to say goodbye as Jesus leaves home to begin his ministry and worry as she hears news of how he is upsetting important people.  And then there will be the cross.  While she may not see every detail of what is to come, her Magnificat bears witness to her understanding of how enormous a thing God is doing through her.  And her faith is so sure, she is so clear about what God is doing, that her song is all in a past tense – to say that it is as if God has already done these things it is so definite that they will happen.

            And would she have become the Mother of Jesus without Elizabeth, stepped so confidently into this path?  Yes, I think we believe she would still.  But Elizabeth’s confirmation and affirmation opened Mary up in a profound way.  Elizabeth offered Mary an act of love, words of love, which gave Mary the strength and courage to step fully into herself.  Elizabeth could have laughed at her or shamed her or told her to run and hide.  Elizabeth could have asked her if she was delusional or told her no one would ever believe her because she was just a young girl.  But Elizabeth had eyes to see the truth of who Mary was becoming and she rejoiced on her behalf.  If Mary was having second thoughts or anguishing about how people would treat her, Elizabeth is the best first encounter she could possibly have had.  It was just what she needed: to be strengthened by this connection, to see how her story was part of something larger, to sit for a while with this woman who sees her for who she truly is and who calls her blessed. The angel is the first one to tell Mary that she has found favor with God, but it is hearing it from Elizabeth that gets Mary singing.  Mary hears and accepts her calling, but it is Elizabeth who helps her confirm it. 

            And we all need that. We all need confirmation along our way.  We need to be affirmed by others who can see in us the gifts we do not yet see or which we aren’t quite sure we are ready to share.  When we are baptized, we acknowledge that God has called us to a life of faith, a life of listening for where God is calling us to go and who God is calling us to be.  In our baptism is the promise that God has plans to work through us in this world.  And so, we each spend our lives seeking out that work, that calling.  We search ourselves for the gifts God has given us and for what good purpose we can use them.  And this is not just the work of the young.  How we use our gifts and what gifts we have change throughout our life.  How to follow God and share our gifts is a question for every age and stage.  We change and grow, the world changes, and we have to keep figuring out our place in it, who we are called to be in each season and each place where we find ourselves.  We will certainly find some of these answers by ourselves.  I don’t in any way discount the stories in any of our lives where we find our calling in a quiet moment of prayer or on top of a mountain we’ve climbed or in the midst of a challenge in our life or some other personal and private moment.  But, in a culture that can tend toward the individualistic, which often celebrates the mountaintop experience more, we sometimes lose sight of how meaningful it can be to have another person recognize something important in us.  People who see something we have not yet seen in ourselves.  People who can confirm and affirm, encourage and support.  People who can know us in deep and powerful ways and speak the truth to us.

            That’s a big part of what we are meant to be doing here in community together.  To be aware enough of God’s movement in the world that we can catch sight of it in each other’s lives and joyfully, bravely, point it out to one another.  It is part of what we promise each other in baptism and in membership of this community.  That we will celebrate and suffer together.  That we will point out each other’s gifts and help each other to use our gifts.  Of course, church isn’t the only place we should do this for people, but it is a great place to practice.  To practice giving thanks for the people who have been the Elizabeth’s in our lives – helping us to step into who we are meant and called to be.  And to practice being Elizabeth to others – paying close enough attention, noticing and affirming, celebrating and uplifting each other to be fully who it is God has created us to be.  So, as we come to an end of this Advent season, as we prepare for Christmas and a new year, may we keep our eyes and hearts open to the people God will put in our path.  People who will speak great truths to us and people to whom we have the opportunity to speak truth. 

I’d invite you to practice, even starting today – find someone today for whom you can point out a gift or quality you appreciate in them or someone you can thank for how they have helped you to know yourself better.  May it be a sign of our love and of God’s love.  Amen. 



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