This sermon was delivered by Wendell L. Griffen, pastor of NewMillenniumChurch in Little Rock, Ark, on December 20 2009.

Luke 1:39-45

            The gospel lesson about Mary visiting Elizabeth is morally compelling and profound for several reasons.  This passage is about two pregnant women.   Elizabeth is mature in years, married to a priest, and perhaps had long ago stopped hoping to become a mother.  Mary, her visitor, is a young woman, unmarried, and perhaps had hoped to become a mother, but certainly not so soon and in such a strange way.  At Luke 1:36, we learn that the women are relatives. 


            Luke 1:39-45 is a passage about two women whose lives were dramatically defined by their faith, and whose faith made a dramatic difference for God and humanity.  It is a passage about women of faith in a secular and religious world dominated by men.  It is a passage about women from obscure backgrounds—we would know nothing about the Elizabeth and Mary interaction except from Luke’s account—whose faith takes center stage.  It is a passage about women talking, sharing, and knowing what can only be known by women—the pregnancy experience.  This passage about two pregnant women talking about what only women can experience has much to teach everyone about faith, on the final Sunday of Advent and always.


            Life is surprising!  Mary and Elizabeth were surprised to become pregnant.  Mary was unmarried and had not been sexually involved with a man.  Elizabeth, although married for many years, lived with the burden of barrenness in a culture that celebrated fruitfulness.  In her culture, barrenness was viewed as a sign of divine disfavor.   To put it mildly, Elizabeth and Mary were surprised by their pregnancies. 


            Questions and surprises go together.  Think of the questions Mary and Elizabeth must have asked themselves.  How could God do this?  Why would God do this to me?  What in the world is God doing?  How am I supposed to explain what is happening to me?  How can I do this?  These were probably a few of the questions that overwhelmed Mary and Elizabeth.


            What happened to Mary and Elizabeth was surprising.  Their questions certainly are understandable.  Yet, you and I wrestle with some of the same questions when life confronts us with surprising challenges.  How could God this?  Why would God do this to me?  What in the world is God doing?  How am I supposed to explain what is happening to me?  How can I do this?  All around us, people are pondering questions like these because of a surprising turn of events. 


            Ah!  The surprising circumstances in life challenge our faith, but the circumstances are not always pleasant as was the case with Mary and Elizabeth.  Sometimes the circumstances are downright dreadful.  But whether pleasant or painful, surprising circumstances raise some of the same faith questions that Mary and Elizabeth pondered. 


            We sing a wonderful hymn about understanding things better “bye and bye.” But, in the here and now that defines our separate realities we must cope with questions arising from our surprising circumstances.  Until “the morning comes,” we must live out our faith surrounded by the questions.  Whether the surprising circumstances of our lives are pleasant or painful, life often brings questions that we must cope with as we trust God in our circumstances.  We are pregnant (the surprising circumstances).  We have faith in God.  Still, we must live with the questions “until the morning comes.”  How can we do this?


            Faith needs fellowship.  That answer is presented by Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  They are two women with surprising circumstances and common questions.  They are related not only by blood kinship, but by life experiences.  Their circumstances set them apart from other people—from the men in their lives, from their neighbors, other associates, even from others in their families.  Yet, they needed fellowship.  They needed someone else with whom to share their experience.  They needed someone with whom to rejoice, weep, hope, pray, and wait in faith.  They needed fellowship.


            Mary could not answer the gnawing questions that lurked in her heart about her pregnancy.  She could not explain to herself or her fiancé what God was doing with her life.  She was trying to make it, bear up, press on, and hold her head up the best she could.  Mary was determined to trust and wait on God.  But it is burdensome after awhile to trust and wait alone.


            Meanwhile, Elizabeth could not explain all that she was experiencing.  She could not discuss it with her husband, the preacher—I suspect that has been the case with more than a few lovers, whether their significant others are preachers or not.  Sometimes the people closest to us in life may be the most distant from us when we need fellowship most. 


            So Mary went to Elizabeth.  Gabriel had told her about Elizabeth.  Elizabeth might understand what Mary was going through.  Elizabeth might be going through similar things.  Just as importantly, if not more so, Elizabeth was more mature in life and faith than was Mary.  Mary went to someone who shared her experience, and who had a mature faith. 


            Notice that when Mary and Elizabeth got together they had no answers to their common questions.  They needed fellowship, not facts.  They needed fellowship, not solutions.  They needed fellowship, to belong to a community, to be affirmed in what they were going through.  They needed the side dish of fellowship with their faith main course. 


            We ministers speak of something called “the ministry of presence.”  There is something uplifting about being with other people who can relate to our circumstances when we are “going through.”  They need not have answers to our questions.  It is enough that they can relate to our circumstances. 


            That is what Elizabeth did for Mary.  Luke reports that 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…  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 fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.'”  Fellowship makes life move!  Mary’s presence for Elizabeth had a moving impact on Elizabeth’s spiritual and physical situation.  And, Elizabeth’s response no doubt had a reassuring and affirming impact on Mary’s confidence as an unmarried pregnant woman facing what must have certainly been a disquieting future. 


            What are you saying, Preacher?  I am trying to tell you that we need—even crave—fellowship as we journey by faith through life with its surprising circumstances.  The Advent season is not easy for many of us.  This is a very hard time to feel joyful for anyone who has experienced a recent loss or setback.  This is a hard time to feel joyful for people who are out of work, people who have received a disturbing medical diagnosis, and people who face cloudy futures. 


            During Advent season, as in life, we must confront confusing circumstances and harrowing questions.  We need fellowship while we are trusting and are waiting for God to deliver us.    We need fellowship, because we are social beings even with our individuality.  We need fellowship in faith, with faith, and for more faith.  At Advent, and throughout life, we must live with pregnant circumstances that raise questions for our faith.  We need fellowship to help us while we trust and wait on God.  Where can we experience this fellowship?


            Find some Elizabeth people.  Get up.  Make your way to some Elizabeth people in whom God has been working.  Show up however you can.  Text them.  Tweet them.  E-mail them.  Phone them.  Take your pregnant self—with all the circumstances and questions that come with it—to someone who has seen what God will do.  God has someone in whom the ministry of presence will work a comforting blessing as you journey through your circumstances, with all the questions that come with the journey.  When you face pregnant circumstances, God has some Elizabeth people who will help you journey by faith through the questions. 


            This is what a church must always be for people facing the pregnant circumstances, surprises, and questions of life.  We must be that Elizabeth presence for Mary people who are trying to understand what God is doing with them.  And Mary people affirm Elizabeth people as well.  They encourage us, fulfill us, and allow us to grow in faithful fellowship as they help us face our own pregnant circumstances.  What Hezekiah Walker wrote and made famous in a popular gospel song (“I Need You to Survive”) is true.


I need you, you need me.

We’re all a part of God’s body.

Stand with me, agree with me.

We’re all a part of God’s body.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.

You are important to me, I need you to survive.

You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.

I love you, I need you to survive.

I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.

I love you, I need you to survive.  

It is his will, that every need be supplied.

You are important to me, I need you to survive.


Thanks be to God for Elizabeth people, at Advent and always.  As we trust and wait for God to deliver us, let us so affirm and encourage one another by His love. 

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