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Notes on Message preached 15 November 2009 at PCF: “God’s plan unfolds”
We come in our considerations of Luke’s gospel to the famous passage which describes the visit of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. The passage is Luke’s gospel chapter 1 verses 39-56
We will consider the passage under five headings:
1. The Loneliness of the Call
We pick up the story when Mary has just received the astonishing visit from an angel – and the even more astonishing news to go with it. What must have been going through her mind we can only guess. She is in the place where there is not another soul that she can talk to, not another person that could understand. She has only the word of God to go on – nothing else.
Have you ever been in the place where you are sustained only by naked faith in the word of God? This is a distressing and lonely place to be. All those who commit themselves to serving God have been there or will be there. These are times when everything around us points one way – and the word of God points another. These are hard times – but potentially huge times for our development in the Lord. The way we respond to such challenges is crucial. In Mary’s case there is no doubt that she responded correctly. As Elizabeth says: 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Some of the key moments in life occur when we are on our own with God.
2. The Encouragement of fellowship
Although there can be loneliness in the call of God – there is also fellowship. There is only one person in the world who can have any chance of understanding where Mary is, and that is her cousin Elizabeth. So she leaves (maybe immediately and without telling anyone what has happened) to visit her cousin many miles away.
On the surface of things this would seem a reasonable thing to happen. For a young girl to go to visit an older relative expecting her first baby, to be with her in the months leading up to the birth would have seemed a right and proper thing to do. The visit could even have been previously planned. However, God has something else in mind: support, fellowship and encouragement for Mary. We will look at Elizabeth’s encouragement to Mary later, but let us never forget that God has put us with one another because we need each other.
The picture of these two very different women encouraging each other is a human and a touching one. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth could have done without each other – as they rejoiced together, shared their fears and anxieties together and as they encouraged each other in their faith. Sounds like the first housegroup to me!
3. The Joy of Confirmation
We know that Mary believed the angel – but with no one else to tell at home or on the long journey to Judea it would have been a faith that struggled. God knows the extent of our faith and when it needs bolstering and confirming. When Mary arrived in Judea she didn’t have to wait long for a confirmation of God’s word of the most dramatic kind:
41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
The Holy Spirit revealed to Elizabeth what no one but God and Mary knew – the Messiah was coming to earth and would be born through this young girl from Nazareth. This was all the confirmation that Mary needed, and she started off on her famous song of celebration. It is a joyous and special moment when God confirms to us his word in a way that leaves no room for doubt.
4. The Power of the Prophetic
The Holy Spirit now comes upon Mary and she prophetically brings this great hymn of praise to God:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”
This is a hymn of praise that surpasses almost any every written:
- Praise to the Saviour: Mary’s heart and soul rejoice in who God is. Note that Mary, as an ordinary sinful human, was also in need of a saviour!
- Praise for what God had done for her: Mary thanks God for his amazingly gracious dealing with her in choosing her out of all people to be a part of His plan.
- Praise for His dealing with people. Mary saw that God’s dealing with her was a model of the way in which God deals with people, casting off the arrogant and proud, and blessing those who humbly seek him.
- Praise for his unfolding plan of salvation. Mary saw – to her great joy – that she had a part in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
Each of these four points for praise can be echoed by us. Although Mary’s situation is unique, we too can rejoice in God our Saviour; we, too can thank God for what he has done in our lives; we too can thank God for the way in which he allows the humble to come to him, and we do have our part to play in the plan of God to save the nations.
What a great God!
5. The Return to Reality
56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
What a wonderful three months Mary had in Judea! She had God’s word to her confirmed and (I believe) she witnessed the birth of the one who would be the herald for her own son. She and Elizabeth had rejoiced together, shared their fears and anxieties together. God had cared for Mary, encouraged her and blessed – but now it was time to return home.
When she arrived home she would have to face Joseph, her family and the entire community with the shocking reality of being a pregnant unmarried woman. Who knew how it would end? Mary could not have foreseen either the battles that lay ahead, or the way in which God would care for her – but she entrusted herself into the hands of her faithful God – the Father of the child growing within her.
In the same way God often gives us great blessings: but they are often blessings for the battles that lie ahead, to strengthen and equip us for the day to day realities of life. Mary returns to Galilee to face what is to come, and the narrative turns toward the next great event – the birth of John the Baptist.
But that’s another story.
Questions for discussion:
1. What do you think was Mary’s reason for visiting Elizabeth?
2. How could Mary and Elizabeth have been a support to one another?
3. What does Mary’s song teach us about the way in which we should praise God?
4. What would Mary face when she returned home – and how did God help her to get through it?
5. Are there any challenges you are facing right now? What does this account say to encourage you and help you?