Scripture: Luke 1:39-45
As anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to stand near me while singing could testify, I have no musical ability. I have noticed though that not being able to carry a tune has an interesting side effect. It has been my experience that I tend to pay more attention to what the lyrics of songs are saying. I get that song writing must be hard, because sometimes the lyrics that are thrown into a song can come across as odd when they are not being sung. A good example of this is the Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Christian comedian Tim Hawkins does a great job at pointing these oddities out:
The song makes more sense when it is placed in its proper context, and I think we miss the context more often than not. Despite having a hymn like structure, the song Do You Hear What I Hear was written in 1962. The song writer, Noel Regney, was known for a poetic, avant-garde style. The song was written during the height of the Cuban Missile crisis, and the song is a plea for peace during that time. Given the context some of the lines become chilling. Consider the verse: Said the night wind to the little lamb, Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky little lamb, Do you see what I see? A star, a star dancing in the night With a tail as big as a kite.
That is not a reference to the star of Bethlehem but it is about a nuclear missile. In the last verse the song does reference Jesus as the child who brings goodness and light. However, the song is not some artistic rendition of the Christmas story it is a plea for peace in the light of potential nuclear holocaust. This is not just me reading into the song, Regney, as explicitly stated this as well. It is a bit ironic that the song is called “Do You Hear what I Hear?” because most people when they listen to it do not actually hear what the song’s author intended them to hear. I think there is a faith lesson for us as well. I think sometimes God is asking us, “Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?” Much like we miss the meaning of the song, we can miss the work and wonders of God all around us. This morning’s scripture from Luke gives a great example of not missing God at work.
The relationship between Elizabeth and Mary is not clear. It is likely that Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin or Aunt. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth was six months pregnant. It is not uncommon in the sixth month of pregnancy for the baby to be kicking and moving quite a bit. So it is one hot take to feel the baby kick really hard and jump straight to “My relative is the mother of God.” Now the scripture does give us a bit of a clue as to what is happening here. Verse 41 states “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Upon the greeting of Mary, the baby kicked as if to ask “Do you hear what I hear?” and thanks to the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth did indeed. So the Holy Spirit was involved, but still Elizabeth had to be in tune enough with the movements of God to not ignore the Spirit’s movement and understand what it all meant. Elizabeth was able to recognize Mary and the child that she was carrying for what they were because she was in a place where she could hear the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Like a lot of the people we meet in the Bible, we do not get a full snapshot of Elizabeth. We have to read between the lines to get a fuller picture of who Elizabeth is. From the gospel of Luke, other than a relation to Mary, we know Elizabeth was married to a man named Zechariah. Zechariah was a Levite, which means he spent part of the year serving at the temple. We also know that before the birth of John the Baptist, Elizabeth was childless. We do not know how old Elizabeth was, but Luke 1:36 references Elizabeth’s old age. It was likely she and Zechariah had been unable to conceive for quite some time. It needs to be mentioned in the culture of this time period, when a couple had difficulty conceiving it was always viewed as the woman’s fault. It was seen as a divine judgement against her and it would have been a source of great shame.
The fact that Elizabeth was with child was a miracle. It was so unlikely that even Zechariah did not believe it was possible. In the gospel of Luke it is recorded that while Zechariah was at the temple serving the Angel Gabriel came to tell him that Elizabeth would conceive the boy who would grow to be John the Baptist. In response to this angelic message, Zechariah questions how this is even possible because of his and Elizabeth’s age. Elizabeth’s response was much different though in Luke 1:25 it is recorded, “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Elizabeth had experienced the miraculous nature of God, she had experienced God’s favor. I get a sense that this had a profound impact on Elizabeth, it tuned her into the works of God. She knew God was willing and capable of doing good things, so on a fateful day when Mary came to visit and called out to greet her, the baby she was carrying leapt with joy. Elizabeth had ears to hear and eyes to see enough to know this was not just an ordinary kick. She was receptive to the possibility of God being at work in the world, and she was open to the leading of the Holy Spirit which brought her to the truth: The messiah was coming, God was moving ,and soon it come to pass that God is with us. In light of God’s goodness, Elizabeth responded in the most appropriate way: with uncontainable joy!
I think there are three things we can learn from Elizabeth this morning about how we can better hear and see the movements of God, and we can better find joy in our own lives. First, Elizabeth waited on God’s timing. I imagine for Elizabeth it felt deeply unfair as others began to have children but she could not. As the years went on, she could have gotten bitter and blamed God. Being childless was a mark of shame and hurt in the lives of Elizabeth and Zechariah, but all indication is despite that they remained faithful to God. Elizabeth is living testimony that life may not be fair, but God is more than fair. God provides, and in God’s timing God provides extravagantly.
Second, we can follow Elizabeth’s example and recognize God’s provision in our lives. I suppose Elizabeth had it easier. She had spent years feeling like she was cursed, only to have God show that God had a special plan. Our personal testimonies of God’s working in our lives may not be as dramatic as Elizabeth’s but we all have them.
We all have them because God provides. One of the things I appreciate about our United Methodist tradition is that we believe God’s grace is previenent in our lives. This is a fancy way of saying that God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s provision is always present in our lives. We believe it does not matter how far someone is away from God, God’s love does not give up on them and God continues to provide. This means that when that unexpected blessing comes, that means when a series of seemingly coincidences aligns just so, that means when exactly what we need seems to fall right in our lap, it is God. It is not Karma, it is not fate, it is not the result of good vibes, or a reward for doing good work. The book of James states “Don’t be deceived my dear brothers and sisters, every good and perfect gift is from above.” God provides, and we are the proof. We could probably sit here all afternoons sharing stories of how God has answered prayers, how God worked in our lives, and how God gave us exactly what we needed when we needed it.
It is probably a good idea for our spiritual health to consider just how God has provided for us. In this season of gift giving, I urge you to take a few moments to consider (maybe even write out) the ways that God has provided for you over the past year. I feel very confident we will be amazed when we do this. I would not be surprised as you begin to consider the ways God has been there for you, you will begin realize the ways God was there for you and you were not previously aware of it. Being aware of God’s provision makes us more likely to hear, to see, and to notice just how truly God is. When we become more aware of how God provides when we catch glimpses of God’s goodness, then like Elizabeth our reaction should be one of pure joy.
In this morning’s scripture, Elizabeth makes joyous proclamations in a loud voice. What I think is so great about this, is that she is not celebrating what God has done for her. She is celebrating what God has done for Mary. I think this is the second thing we can learn from Elizabeth. If we want to have more joy in our lives, then we have to be more joyous. An easy way to be joyous is to celebrate with others. God provides for all and all of God’s provision is worth celebrating and finding joy in.
Unfortunately, sharing in others joy seems to be in short supply. Instead of celebrating God’s goodness and provision with others, there is a pull that some feel to do the opposite. We live in the age of the troll. If you do not spend much time on the Internet, the trolls are the reasons why you do not read the comments. There are people who give into the temptation to tear down instead of buildup. When God provides a glass that is half full, a troll will insist you dwell on why it is half empty. Children portray this behavior in the most undiluted way. If one child works to build up a tower of blocks, you can bet there is another one waiting in the wings to knock it all down. Kids know that it is easier to tear down than it is to build up. Sadly, there are some adults who never grow out of this phase. Instead of finding joy in rejoicing in the accomplishments and the gifts God gives to others they try to steal joy by tearing down others.
It is easy to be a pessimist and a cynic. It is easy to poke holes and point out what is wrong. It is easy to “play devil’s advocate.” Let’s not do that, because honestly the devil has enough advocates. Let’s be God’s advocate instead. Even if we are not the recipient of God’s provision let’s celebrate with others. Let’s build others up and praise God for the great things that God has done. Let’s leap with joy because the Lord fulfills his promises.
May you have ears to hear and eyes to see how good our Great God is. May you know that God has and God will continue to provide for you. May you remember that every good and perfect gift comes from God. May that you feel with joy. May you be able to exclaim in a loud voice, God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.