A sermon by The Rev’d Wendy Morecroft

Advent 4 – Sunday 23 December 2018 Based on Luke 1:39-45


Today’s Gospel records Mary and Elizabeth sharing their spiritual experiences. It reminds me of my favourite prayer from our Morning Prayer Services.

As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, So may the light of your presence O Lord, Set our hearts on fire with love for you, Now and forever. Amen. Mary and Elizabeth’s hearts are certainly on fire with love for God.

Many of us experience the light of God’s presence in our daily lives.

The more we pray this prayer the more we may notice God’s presence. What a gift it is when we share our experience of God’s presence with others.

What a gift it is when Mary rushes to Elizabeth to share her spiritual experience. Without Mary even speaking, John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit

As a natural outflowing she prophesies, confirming what Mary has been told and blessing Mary.We will hear Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s blessing when the choir sings her beautiful Magnificat shortly.

Two weeks ago, on the evening before the ordination service in which I was ordained a priest, Our Archbishop Geoff Smith and his wife Lynn invited we five ordinands, and our retreat leader Archdeacon Andrew Mintern to dinner. After dinner he asked that we each in turn share our spiritual journeys.

Some hour and a half later we were all the richer for having heard each other’s stories. The Archbishop then encouraged us to encourage others to share their stories.

He said that in our post post-modern society sharing our spiritual experiences is critical in our witnessing to the Gospel. People like and need to hear our stories. Helping other believers and non-believers to understand how God is present in our lives encourages belief to happen and faith to grow.

So I thought I would give you an example of the light of God’s presence in my life:

It was the half hour before the ordination service. We five ordinands, Rev’d Andrew Mintern and Rev’d Peter Williams were sat around the Cathedral office meeting room table, waiting. There was a lull in the conversation, so I said “Don’t worry about me if I cry a lot. I cry quite easily, and I’ll be fine.”

Andrew said “don’t worry Wendy. I was taught many years ago by a parishioner at St Martin’s Campbelltown, that tears are a sign of the Holy Spirit at work.” This sounded very familiar to me and I tentatively asked if that parishioner was by any chance my father?” (He died 23 years ago). Andrew paused, leaned back in his chair, searched the ceiling for the name of the parishioner, “John Clark” he said still looking at the ceiling.

Then with a surprised smile, leaned forward and said YES it was your father. As Rev’d Jenny Wilson reflected with me, this was God’s gift for me on my ordination day.

Many of these kinds of stories are shared amongst us. Many a newcomer describes being called to come and can’t explain why.

Many of us are moved to tears during a service – particularly while singing particular hymns. This week someone described noticing God’s provision. Another, the hope taken from a tree shoot alongside the grave of a loved one. Another the healing from abuse. Another the coincidence of praying “Here I am” before a midweek service, then noticing the light of God’s presence when the sermon was a silent reflection on Mary’s words “Here am I.” Most of us are aware of Christ’s presence when receiving the Eucharist.

When we share these things, we not only encourage one another.

Just like looking at photographs, we remember God’s presence.

We affirm our experience and others may confirm what God is doing in our lives. We in turn may notice how blessed we are. May we, like Mary, treasure these things in our hearts.

In order to more fully understand the significance of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, let’s recap on Luke’s Gospel Chapter One so far:

The faithful priest Zechariah was worshipping in the temple. The angel Gabriel appeared and told him that his and his wife’s prayers had been answered. His elderly, barren wife Elizabeth would bear him a son. The son was to be called John. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah was made mute until the baby’s birth.

The angel told him that even before his birth, John would be filled with the Holy Spirit. “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and the power of Elijah he will go before him to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Six months later the angel Gabriel does a similar thing. He appears to young Mary. He says that she also will conceive a son, names him Jesus and says, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Gabriel tells Mary that this will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit “therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” He also tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth who was barren, is six months pregnant. Mary says yes to God and the rest as they say is history.

Can we imagine the magnitude of this experience for Mary? Can we imagine her joy? Can we imagine that she might doubt? We may resonate with Mary’s rushing to share what happened with Elizabeth – someone who surely would understand what just happened.

When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting the child in her womb leaps for joy. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaims with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Most importantly Elizabeth affirms Mary’s yes decision and says

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary’s response, the Magnificat, has been carefully crafted by Luke.

It reflects much of the sentiment in the prayer of Hannah in which she gives thanks for her child Samuel and praises God for all that he has done for his people, Israel.

The NIB Commentary explains, “More than predictions of what is to come, the Magnificat praises God for the goodness of God’s nature and the redemption that Israel and the church have experienced. The Magnificat also makes clear the pattern of God’s activity. In every line there are echoes of the Scriptures of Israel.”[1]

Raymond E Brown in the Birth of the Messiah says, The Magnificat both ends and brings together the two annunciations. Elizabeth has praised Mary the mother, Mary transfers the praise to God “who has the principal role in the drama of salvation. The visitation has also confirmed the destinies of the unborn John the Baptist and the unborn Jesus as foretold by the angel. Even before birth, John the Baptist has begun to act as a prophet in hailing Jesus as the Messiah.”[2]

As we now hear Mary’s Magnificat sung,may we reflect on all that God has done for us

In the sharing of our own experiences of God’s presence, may we each be so vocal in giving God the glory.


[1] NIB Commentary IX, p 55

[2] Brown, 365