Saying yes to families and friends on a Journey of Love
Remember back to when something really great happened to you – something you really, really wanted and worked really, really hard to get? Maybe it was a part in the school play or a solo in the big concert or your thesis finally being approved or word that you were expecting a new member of your family? Remember how you almost couldn’t wait to tell your family and friends?
There is something about this kind of really good news that demands to be shared. It is almost as if you can’t bear to keep quiet about it; as if you have to share it to make it a little bit more real. And remember how good it felt to have someone react with joy to your good news? There’s something about good news that demands to be shared.
Today’s Gospel tells this kind of story: how Mary found out she was pregnant and “went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” That’s a long walk for a pregnant woman. Yet when she received the good news of her pregnancy, she couldn’t wait to go and tell her cousin Elizabeth.
And then – when Elizabeth heard Mary say hello – 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 fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
And then Mary shares a prayer we call the Magnificat. This prayer or canticle is also known as the Song of Mary, the Canticle of Mary and, in the Byzantine tradition, the Ode of the Theotokos. It is traditionally incorporated into the liturgical services of the Catholic Church (at vespers) and of the Eastern Orthodox churches (at the morning services).
The Magnificat is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. Its name comes from the incipit of the Latin version of the canticle’s text. Call it a prayer or a canticle, the Magnificat shows us the depth of Mary’s joy, the good news she simply has to share with families and friends.
Mary says: “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.” This is a prayer for the poor, the powerless, the single mother, the radical woman willing to challenge and upend the patriarchy.
Mary says: “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.” This is a prayer that celebrates God’s willingness to step down from heaven and help us change our lives and our world.
Mary says: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” This is a prayer that envisions a loving good – not an evangelical god of anger, damnation, and hellfire.
Mary says: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” This is a prayer that sees God as a source of strength that allows the proud to lose themselves in their own ego.
Mary says: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” This is a prayer that shows a God who takes the side against the ruling class and with the poor and powerless.
Mary says: “he has filled the hungry with good things.” This is a prayer that shows where Jesus learned the importance of feeding the hungry and standing with the marginalized.
Mary says: “and sent the rich away empty.” This is a prayer that suggests those who focus on having their boat come in during this life may miss the path of walking humbly with our God, the path that brings the Kingdom of God a little closer to our place and our time.
Mary says: “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.” This is a prayer that shows a God who remembers his past commitments, even when we – like our ancestors – wandered far away from walking with our God.
What a remarkable prayer – and even more surprising, it is one that is shown as an improvisational prayer. And it follows an improvisational prayer by Elizabeth.
Episcopalians are often not comfortable with improvisational prayer. We are, after all, a people of the Book of Common Prayer. All of our services are included in the Book of Common Prayer (though some new liturgies and prayers have been authorized but not added to the Book of Common Prayer).
Prayer Book using people can find the idea of improvisational prayer intimidating.
I know I did when I started serving as a Hosptial chaplain. During my first night shift as the on-call chaplain – the only chaplain the building – I was called to the Emergency Room to pray with a woman for her sister who was dying. They were not Episcopalians. They would not understand if I pulled out a Book of Common Prayer and read a prayer – one in old Elizabethan English or even a more contemporary text.
They wanted – no needed – an improvisational prayer. So I closed my eyes, prayed for God to guide me, and did the best I could. It worked. And improvisational prayer can work for you, it can become part of your spiritual rule of life. You can just use a simple format – one like this:
Dear God of _______________ (noun),
You ________________(describe God).
We pray/give you thanks for _____________________.
So that ____________________.
And then you say: Amen.
There: you have made an improvisational prayer. Maybe we can try it after coffee downstairs today – we could pair off and make a custom prayer for each other.
As we continue our Advent walk, we invite you to see the Way of Love as a journey that can expand to include family and friends. Last week we heard how Mary said “yes” to the call to birth Jesus, God’s Word, into the world. This week we heard how she immediately went in haste to share her good news with her cousin, Elizabeth-a four-day journey into the Judean hills. And we remembered that this is what happens when we hear good news: we are driven to go and tell others.
The Way of Love is good news that demands to be shared. When our worship and community works well, it helps you find the kind of good news that cannot wait to be shared. Which is how some churches grow: their people simply cannot wait to share God’s good news of salvation with their family and friends.
I know that sounds a little…evangelical. But an invitation to a family member or friend to come to hear a talk about progressive spirituality, or join in prayers for healing, or join in ancient, authentic Christians spirituality: this kind of invitation is a whole lot different than walking up to someone and saying “Have You Been Saved?” Or: ”Have You Been Born Again?”
This Advent we are called to consider new ways of being Christian, and our options include inviting our family and friends to walk with us on our spiritual; pilgrimage through this life. Perhaps that includes telling them about good news, or inviting them to a Sunday service, or an invitation to explore making their own spiritual rule of life. All I am saying is: you’ve got options.
The key challenge we face is to find ways to include our families and friends on our earthly pilgrimage.
Let us pray:
God of timeless grace,
you fill us with joyful expectation.
Make us ready for the message that prepares the way,
that with uprightness of heart and holy joy
we may eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. May the church assembles say: Amen.
Points to ponder:
After Mary’s encounter with the angel she “set out and went in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth. The life – the Word or Good News – that began to grow within her could not be contained. She just had to share her good news with her cousin Elizabeth and set out to the hill country of Judea, a long journey.
By going, Mary found out that Elizabeth, too, was on a journey of love.
• Imagine each part of the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth:
-Mary sets out in haste
-Mary greets Elizabeth
-The child leaps in her womb
-Elizabeth proclaims, “Blessed are you”
-Elizabeth proclaims “Blessed are they who believed there would be fulfillment”
-Mary proclaims a new reality.
Which moment reflects your life today? Why?
• Mary notices that Elizabeth is on the journey of love.
Whom can you invite on this journey on the Way of Love? Or, whom can you join on the Way of Love?
• Mary runs to share her good news with Elizabeth. What good news do you have to share with one another?
• In religious art, Mary and Elizabeth are often portrayed in a supportive embrace. How might you support one another?
• Elizabeth says those who believe are blessed. How have you experienced your faith or trust in God as a blessing?