Why We Need Each Other
A Sermon on Luke 1:39-56
How welcome Mary’s presence was to Elizabeth. After years of unanswered prayers and living with the pain of infertility, suddenly, in her old age, Elizabeth was pregnant! Nobody but her husband, Zechariah, knew it, however, nor knew that this child, John the Baptist, was destined to herald the coming of the Savior.
For five months Elizabeth stayed in seclusion. In spite of the wonder of her news, she was largely alone. It was not even possible to speak openly, at length, about it with her husband. Zechariah, remember, had been speechless ever since he received the angel’s news of John’s impending birth. He had been reluctant to trust the promise, and so the angel told him he would be mute until after the birth.
This meant that Elizabeth seldom if ever heard the sound of another human voice for months. Imagine the isolation! How welcome Mary’s coming was! How joyous her arrival! How good it would be to hear another human voice!
Elizabeth was a welcome sight to her young kinswoman, Mary, too. Mary herself was in the early stages of an unexpected pregnancy, and it wasn’t problem-free either. Things weren’t happening for her in the order they were supposed to happen. Teen-aged Mary was promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, but they weren’t married yet. As we saw last week, Mary was perplexed at the angel’s announcement. “How can this pregnancy be?” she exclaimed. “It will be by the power of the Holy Spirit,” God’s messenger answered.
Mary then said “yes, let it be” to the call, but many unanswered questions remained. What will Joseph think? What will the neighbors think if they notice her looking a little queasy, or notice her figure begin to grow round in the typical way? And how should Mary raise this child? What did she need to do to help him get ready for his mission? If her own calling was big, her child’s calling was awesome!
Mary didn’t go into seclusion, however. She didn’t stay home alone with the questions. Mary got ready as quickly as she could, and hurried on a journey of many miles from Galilee to Judea to visit Elizabeth.
How good it was to lay eyes on Elizabeth, someone who was kin to Mary physically. But even more they were kin spiritually, kindred spirits. Of all people, Elizabeth would understand what was happening to Mary. Elizabeth understood this business of being called by God—both the blessings and the problems that come with God’s call. What a blessing to be understood! What a blessing to have some company.
How can people manage without spiritual kinfolk? Another way to put that is how can people live without a family of faith? Those of us who know we couldn’t manage without kindred spirits understand instinctively what Mary was reaching out for. We know what it’s like to have the power of a community backing us up, prayerfully, and in so many other ways as well. How good it is to celebrate our joys together! How comforting not to have to carry sorrow all by ourselves!
Mary’s voice was more than music to Elizabeth’s ears. Just then, before she even saw Mary, just at the sound of her voice, baby John kicked Elizabeth vigorously. The Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth, and she cried out with joy. Something big is happening here! God is doing something big!
Then Mary’s eyes met Elizabeth’s eyes. “You are blessed,” Elizabeth declared, “and your child is blessed. And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord comes to see me! The moment I heard your voice, my baby jumped for joy!”
“You are blessed, blessed because you trusted what God said, blessed for trusting that God really is going to keep his promises! God’s doing great things through you, girl! You are blessed for trusting him.”
What an encouragement for Mary! What a blessing, to receive a benediction from Elizabeth, from somebody well along on life’s journey, and on the journey of faith.
The result? Mary bursts out with one of the greatest songs of hope in the whole Bible. It comes out of the mouth not of a wealthy queen, but of one most lowly, an unmarried teenage girl, in a society that saw women as property. The song of hope comes out of the mouth of a girl from a tiny village overshadowed and oppressed by the most wealthy and powerful empire the world had ever known to that time: Rome.
“I magnify God,” Mary declared. “God has done great things for me! God is lifting up the lowly.” Mary’s song says that God lifts up the weak and the small and the sick and the hungry and the powerless, and scatters the proud and the big and the wealthy. God turns things around! Mary’s song is good news for everybody who’s on the underside, for everybody who’s on the outside.
How could Mary have such hope when the child hadn’t even been born yet, when there was still so much pain all around, when the rich and powerful still seemed to lord it over everybody else? She sings as though everything is already fulfilled.
Well, I don’t think it’s any accident that Mary’s outburst of hope comes right after she gets the encouragement and blessing of Elizabeth. What we have here is the very first church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the very first instance of two people gathering in his name, as he himself would later put it. Two of the weakest members of society help one another grasp what God is doing and celebrate it. They are a community of praise. They are a community of hope. There Christ is in the midst of them! Already he is changing both of their lives. Hope is born and nurtured in their fellowship. Already is Christmas for them.
Mary didn’t know all that lay ahead for herself, or for her Son Jesus, Savior. Unanswered questions remained. Struggle remained. But she got a glimpse of where God was going with this plan and these promises.
Hope is born in a community gathered around the promises of God, encouraging and blessing one another. When one person’s hope slips, the others hold on to the hope, and they hold on to the person. We do have the power to help one another hang in there. We do have the power to bless one another.
That is why we need each other, why we need to get together again and again. That is why we gather for worship week after week. That is why we visit one another, and study together and talk and pray and work and play together. We wait for God together. We cling to God’s promises and to one another. We wait together expectantly for what God is going to do. We wait expectantly because we have heard the promise of salvation and healing and we have seen it embodied in Jesus Christ.
Somewhere along the line I heard a story about a man who stubbornly insisted that he could be a lone ranger Christian. He didn’t need to come to worship. He didn’t need to get together with other people of faith for prayer or fellowship. He didn’t need a family of faith. A wise pastor went to see him, and they sat in front of the fireplace, silently watching the flames and the glowing coals. After a while, the pastor got up, took the poker, and separated one of the coals from the pile. Then he sat back down. As the two men watched, the single coal gradually cooled and died. But the coals that stayed together kept glowing brightly. They warmed and empowered one another. Finally the man said, “Pastor, I see what you mean. I will be at church this Sunday.”
We need each other. We need help to hold on to the promises. To keep hope alive we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, expecting the presence of the One who promises to be there whenever two or three are gathered in his name. Reminding one another that God’s love will never, ever, under any circumstances be taken away from us. Knowing that his heart aches for a better day even more than ours do. It is Christmas wherever Christ’s people gather. We meet one another. We warm and empower one another. And together we can go on.
Mary hurried to Elizabeth’s side. Dear people of God, hurry to one another’s side. Visit, comfort and care for each other. Hurry…and get ready to sing!