Advent 4 – Year C
When was the last time your heart leapt for joy? I know this seems like a bonkers question right now.
What gets you out of bed in the morning, floats your boat, makes your heart leap for joy? This might be a difficult question to answer especially if you are in a difficult situation currently.
If we look at the situations of Mary and Elizabeth it is difficult to see what there was to leap about. Mary is 14-ish and pregnant. Elizabeth is well – old and pregnant. Socially and medically this is a nightmare.
The men of the story are absent: Zechariah is mute as we are told a few verses earlier for his disbelief and doubt. Joseph might be the only one considering doing some leaping as he considers whether to jump ship (or not) on Mary.
There are also the babies and at least one of them, John, is leaping in the womb. It was at the voice of Mary’s greeting and being in the presence of Jesus that made unborn baby John leap.
Mary has gone in haste to see Elizabeth after Gabriel has appeared to her with some shocking news. I think that haste is a good word; it means ‘excessive speed, urgency of movement or action; hurry’. We often say ‘don’t be hasty’ when cautioning others (not usually ourselves) about making decisions too rashly.
Mary has good reason to go in haste to see her cousin Elizabeth. She was probably terrified, anxious, unsure. When she arrives at her cousins’ home and goes into the house, Mary receives the most wonderful response to her greeting. Elizabeth’s child (John the Baptist) leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth is overwhelmed in that moment with joy and not fear.
She seems to understand what is happening and her response is one of complete humility. Why her? Who is Elizabeth that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
Both women have now been made aware of the other’s baby from heaven. Mary from Gabriel and Elizabeth from the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth then goes on to bless Mary twice; once for the baby, the fruit of her womb and again for believing that there would be fulfilment of what was spoken by God.
What an example of faith this is to the rest of us as Elizabeth was in a less than ideal situation. This encounter shows us that becoming aware of the presence of God seems to make people leap for joy. Unborn babies, teenage girls and old women. As the Christmas story unfolds other people will leap too.
How aware of God’s presence are we?
My heart can leap for joy at a hundred different things – but not always in church or in prayer or at the communion rail. So I have to ask myself if I have forgotten to expect God to be present?
What would it look like for you to leap for joy at the presence of God? Is it paying attention in the more ordinary and less exciting parts of life?
Maybe it is looking to see Jesus in each other rather than disappointment or criticism?
Maybe it is raising our expectations of God to act in our situations.
Micah, in his prophecy, is told by the Lord to say to Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who was one of the smallest clans of Judah, that from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel. Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was small and insignificant. Yet great things were coming from it. Not for hundreds of years though as Israel had longer to wait and wonder.
In Mary’s response, this waiting and wondering comes to a head as she responds to the double blessing given by Elizabeth as she begins to realise God’s presence and faithfulness to her.
In her great song of praise which follows, Mary expresses her joy at the news she has had and all that it will mean for Israel.
The song, often referred to as the Magnificat, dwells on the great faithfulness of God to his people; his mercy and favour to those who, like her, are humble and meek.
Sometimes we need some reminding that God looks on us with favour – even when circumstances don’t look like it or we don’t feel it. Like Elizabeth and Mary we need humility and faith that God will act. We also need to make space in our lives for God for this to happen.
At Christmas we remember His presence with us and there is no greater reason to leap than that.