Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
We listen to Luke 1:26-45, 56 telling us of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary and Mary’s visit to her kinswoman, Elizabeth. Mary finds affirmation of the presence of God, Divine Love, in her life.
Six months later, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young woman named Mary; she was engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. Upon arriving, the angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one! God is with you! Blessed are you among women!”
Mary was deeply troubled by these words and wondered what the angel’s greeting meant. The angel went on to say to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. You’ll conceive and bear a son, and give him the name Jesus -‘Deliverance.’ His dignity will be great, and he will be called the Only Begotten of God. God will give Jesus the judgment seat of David, his ancestor, to rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his reign will never end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have never been with a man?”
The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you – hence the offspring to be born will be called the Holy One of God. Know too that Elizabeth, your kinswoman, has conceived a child in her old age; she who was thought to be infertile is now in her sixth month. Nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary said, “I am the servant of God. Let it be done to me as you say.”
With that, the angel left her.
Within a few days Mary set out and hurried to the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.
As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of the Messiah should come to me? The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what Our God said to her would be accomplished!” . . . Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned home.
Reflection from Kim
The scene between Mary and the angel Gabriel is well known and celebrated. Do not be afraid. And Mary’s response – Let it be. These words and images are familiar from art and music and popular culture.
But this year, in this season, I find myself drawn to the story of the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth. Maybe this is because in this covid year, we are lacking in such visitations. We are not seeing our kin – our aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, grandparents, and other kin. So we are struck once again by this beautiful story about Mary and Elizabeth.
We are told of Mary going to visit Elizabeth. Mary clearly had some need. Maybe Mary knew Elizabeth to be wise and discerning. Someone who could be trusted. Whatever her need and her reasons, we are told of her journey to visit Elizabeth. And this visit is prolonged. And these two pregnant women, both in unusual circumstances, find solidarity with each other. Elizabeth was stuck at home with her husband, Zechariah, who was struck dumb. So maybe she was feeling lonely and isolated and appreciated the visit of her relative, Mary. And maybe Mary was feeling alone and isolated in her pregnancy. Maybe she needed support and affirmation that she was not getting at home. So we are told of this visit in which each woman finds support and celebration as they bear love into the world.
In this beautiful story we see the importance of community and relationships in the journey of faith. We see how we need others to help sustain us as we seek to live the love we are to share in the world. We see how we are needed to encourage and support others as they seek to live out their call to love. We human beings are not meant to be solitary. We need each other for support and for accountability and celebration.
I remember one year as part of our stewardship initiative here at church we had people talk about how the church is important to them and why they come to church. One comment has stayed with me: I come to church because I never know how I might be needed. Just showing up, we don’t know. We don’t know what conversation, what encounter, what comment, we may have to offer, is desperately needed by someone. We come not knowing what support and encouragement we will give. And we may leave church on Sunday having no idea how we have touched someone’s life. We also come not knowing how we will be visited: How we will receive something from someone that will shed light on how we are being called to bear Divine Love in the world. We don’t know what exactly may happen, but we know that the faith community is a context that is ripe for such interactions and theophanies.
In the book, All About Love: New Vistas, bell hooks says this: “Communities sustain life – not nuclear families, or the ‘couple,’ and certainly not the rugged individualist.” [p. 129] Communities. Hooks reminds us that we need each other. We need each other in the faith community to sustain full, flourishing, abundant life and love. We are not meant to make the journey alone. We all need a communal context in which to learn to give and receive love. As the African proverb reminds us, It takes a village.
But modern society, despite social media, is in some ways more and more isolating. In some ways, our relationship circles have gotten smaller. Hooks makes this keen observation about that:
“Capitalism and patriarchy together, as structures of domination, have worked overtime to undermine and destroy this larger unit of extended kin. Replacing the family community with a more privatized small autocratic unit helped increase alienation and made abuses of power more possible. . . By encouraging the segregation of nuclear families from the extended family, women were forced to become more dependent on an individual man, and children more dependent on an individual woman. It is this dependence that became, and is, the breeding ground for abuses of power.” [p. 130]
This analysis reminds us why the church may be more important in our lives now more than ever. We need the people with whom we have a shared view of reality and with whom we share fundamental values to help us to be who we are created to be. We need our faith community to help us listen for the callings in our lives. We need each other to affirm that we are here to birth love into the world, each in our own way.
The society around us is going to try to make us into economic components, inputs, in the economic system that drives our country. But our faith tells us that we are not here to make money, we are here to make love. To love and be loved. To be part of the unfolding of universal, unconditional love.
The scene between Mary and Elizabeth is a powerful image reminding us that we need each other to bear up and carry out our calling to embody Divine Love in the world. We hear many stories in these covid days of the toll of isolation and lack of social contact. It is real. I know many from our church are simply missing each other. When we finally had a masked, physically distanced outdoor service for Thanksgiving, everyone was simply filled with joy to see each other. For the interaction: the social contact with this precious faith community that sustains us. For we know that just being together at church may be the locus for that word, that comment, that conversation, that helps us to see more clearly how we are being called to love. In this covid time, we are realizing that to be without church, it is almost like feeling starved or thirsty. Cut off from the sustaining support and encouragement that we need to help us hear our call to bear love into the world. You may be someone’s angel Gabriel. Someone may be your Elizabeth. You may be someone’s Mary. While it is harder to be physically together at this moment, may we remember that we have our faith community to sustain us and may this time apart remind us of the importance of our being together. May this covid time be the advent of new life for us and for our faith community. Amen.
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