Third Sunday in Advent

This week’s live-streamed worship video can be found here:

Follow along with the liturgy and hymns:

December 13, 2020

Today’s Song of the Season is one of the best-known in scripture: Mary’s Magnificat. On the Third Sunday of Advent we light the pink Gaudete candle (Latin for ‘rejoice’), and we can hear Mary’s joy flowing through the words of her song. May the Spirit inspire those same feelings in us as we open the Word:

Luke 1:39-55

  • When the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive, he gives her this sign: “your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:36-37). Have you ever witnessed God do something that you thought “impossible”? Have you ever asked for a ‘sign’ from God? The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes.” She meant that ‘signs’ of God’s presence surround us in our everyday lives, but we’re not always paying attention. How do we cultivate our awareness of what God is doing in the world and in our lives? 
  • Mary sets out to go and visit Elizabeth and see for herself this ‘sign’ the angel had said. While there’s no historical record of where exactly Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, we can assume that it was in the hill country not too far from Jerusalem where he did Temple service. The distance from Nazareth to this southern region is about 100 miles. Imagine Mary’s journey, most likely on foot, probably in the company of other travelers but not necessarily anyone she knew well. What do you think she was feeling about what the angel had told her? What do you think she was praying during those days on the road?
  • She arrives at the house of Zechariah, and “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb” (verse 41). At six months pregnant, it’s not surprising that Elizabeth can feel the baby kick, but in this instance it is another ‘sign’ from the Holy Spirit, which we’ve seen in the Biblical narrative before (Genesis 25:21-28). How is Elizabeth like the early matriarchs Sarah and Rebekah? What significance do these similarities have in connecting God’s story across generations? Why is remembering these stories important to our faith?
  • Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and greets Mary with words that will become part of the familiar Ave Maria. “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?” (verse 42-43). Elizabeth is the first person in the gospel to call Jesus Lord! She anticipates the other women who will be the first to proclaim the resurrection from the empty tomb (Luke 24:1-10). Though historically dismissed, the witness of women has been central to the Christian faith from its beginning. Which women in scripture inspire you? Which women in your life have helped nurture your faith? Why is it important to make sure that the voices of both women and men are heard in the life of our church; how do we do so?
  • Elizabeth calls Mary ‘blessed,’ and she responds by worshiping God in song: “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” (verses 46-48). Compare Mary’s Song to Hannah’s Prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. How are Hannah and Mary alike or different? Both of these young women speak prophetically of God’s faithfulness not just to them personally but to all people. They expect to see God’s justice overturn systems of oppression and poverty: “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird their strength…He has scattered the proud and brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” For these marginalized women, a world turned upside-down would finally be God’s kingdom making everything right-side up. What is the connection between our worship and our work for justice? How do you see Mary living out Micah’s understanding of the faith: “What does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” How do we follow in Mary’s example?

The “Canticle of the Turning” is a hymn that paraphrases Mary’s Magnificat (#100 in our hymnal). The refrain says: “My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fire of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.” As we eagerly anticipate the coming of Christmas in just a few more days, I pray that each of you is blessed by the same Spirit that graced Elizabeth and Mary.

Peace and Joy to you all!

Pastor Maggie Rust

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