Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

St. Mary Visits Elizabeth

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:39-56

"When God Comes With Blessing"

by John Jewell

Scripture: Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

It is almost mind boggling to realize that we stand at the beginning of the third millennium since the good news of God's blessing the world through the Christ child was proclaimed.

Yet, the words of the angel Gabriel, Elizabeth and Mary continue to stir the hearts of Christian people around the world today as they have for countless generations. Though ancient, these words come to us with the newness of a fresh dusting of snow and they refresh our spirits with the wonder of a God who comes to us with blessing when we hear them. Many of the phrases in these verses of scripture are some of the most beloved gems in all of the bible.

"...nothing will be impossible with God." [Luke 1:37]

"...let it be with me according to your word." [Luke 1:38]

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." [Luke 1:42]

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..." [Luke 1:46]

And then in the midst of Mary's song, there are these incredibly powerful words of promise and good news to those who are most in need of good news - revolutionary words of genuine "liberty and justice for all!"

"He {God} has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. [Luke 1:52-53]

Our scripture reading from the gospel of Luke today is the heart of the "Good News" and the amazing story of what it is like when God comes with blessing. Mary's response to the angel Gabriel's message is a model of loving obedience to the God who calls to us in the midst of our daily lives. Her actions in our text points to;
[1] News that must be shared,
[2] News that must be celebrated, and
[3] News that must be lived.

[1] News that must be shared

As soon as the angel Gabriel departed from Mary - Mary departed for the hills to see her cousin Elizabeth. There was news to share. Elizabeth and Mary both had amazing stories to tell each other and Mary's news was news that was literally "earth shaking."

When God gives good news, it is news that must be shared. All of us are gathered here today because someone shared God's good news with us. Perhaps it was parents or Christian teachers. Maybe it was a friend. But someone brought God's good news to us and our lives are richly different because of it.

As we bask in the spirit of joy that accompanies this wonderful day it is good to ask ourselves, "Who do I know that is in need of God's good news today?" As Mary's heart turned to her cousin Elizabeth when she received the news, so the most natural thing in the world is that our hearts be turned to those who are in need of good news.

When you and I receive good news, the very first thing we want to do is to share that news with someone we know and love. When a new child is born to a family, there are joyous announcements and long distance phone calls. The news of a long sought after job is soon shared with family and friends.

It has been almost 2000 years since the greatest news in history came to earth. Amazingly, there has not been greater good news since that time. To this day, the news of God's intervention into this world through a child born in a stable remains the greatest news of all time.

It is news that must be shared.

[2] News that must be celebrated

When good news is shared, the immediate response is joy and celebration. Can you recall the moment that first child was born? Remember the time the doctor told you everything was going to be okay?

Good news gives birth to great rejoicing and celebration. Even the child in Elizabeth's womb "jumps for joy" when Mary came with her great good news. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and then Mary begins the famous, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!"

The joy that sparkles in the story of the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is a joy that comes only to those who are engaged in the life of faith. It is the joy of obedience that leads to celebration. Mary's journey began in earnest when she embraced the promise of God as brought to her by Gabriel, "...nothing will be impossible with God." Mary's response was the key to joy, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

Hannah Whitall Smith's classic, The Christian's Secret of a Happy life, contains a line that goes to the heart of the issue of joy in the life of faith. "Perfect obedience would result in perfect happiness if only we had perfect confidence in the power we were obeying."

The joy of our celebration is rooted in the obedience of Mary and Joseph and then of Jesus whose heart's desire was to honor God and obediently carry out the work God gave him to do on our behalf.

What joy there was in that first proclamation of the good news that took place between Mary and Elizabeth. God had come with blessing - first to Elizabeth and then to Mary - and the whole world would be blessed by the results. Mary breaks into song and behind the words of a young peasant girl from long ago lies the world's greatest announcement of justice and liberty.

[3] News that must be lived

In the beautiful words the Christian world has come to know as "The Magnificat" (so named for the translation of the Latin word for "magnify") the humble, unassuming young woman from Nazareth praises God for her blessing and utters the most revolutionary words.

Through her, the Holy Spirit speaks of how God's divine plan is to bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly - to feed the hungry poor and turn away the rich!

"He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." [Luke 1:51-53]

As well as news that must be shared and celebrated, this is news that must be lived. When God comes with blessing, there is a specific promise that wrong will be made right and injustice will give way to justice. The poor and dispossessed will be filled the powers of those who are filled will be scattered.

In his commentary on this passage, Bruce Larson tell how "William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, warned his missionaries to India never to read the Magnificat in public. Christians were already suspect in that country and they were cautioned against reading verses so inflammatory."

As we celebrate this wonderful joyous day, our hearts are drawn to the day God came with blessing through a gentle mother and tender child in a tiny village across the oceans. And in the words that are "joy to the world," there is a promise to all who have been "left out."

It is my prayer in this season that our hearts will also be drawn to give something to our Lord who has need of our joyful obedience. The good news is new to live as well as news to celebrate. It may be difficult to do, but we must look around at those who have need of God's good news even on this day. There are so many in our world who are not included in the blessings we enjoy. My struggle with Mary's revolutionary words are that - just at the time I find myself most wrapped up in family and friends and the blessing we enjoy - I hear a call to look at others with the eyes of God. And when I look, I see so many who long for the time when God will exalt the lowly and fill the hungry with good things.


Many of you know the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero who became known as "Bishop of the Poor," because of his commitment to the Salvadoran peasants. Romero's heart for the poor was a surprise to his superiors - it was an encounter with their plight that awakened his heart and opened his eyes to people who needed the good news of God. His commitment cost him his life when an assassin's bullet ended his earthly life because he chose to stand with the poor.

This may all seem like "hard news" to hear on Christmas Eve - yet it is news that is intimately bound up with the "good news" - the good news of God is news that is "Joy to the World" - all of the world.

What a wonderful Christmas gift it would be for Jesus Christ if his people would rise up and join him in, "...exalting the lowly," and "...filling the hungry with good things." Then we will discover the perfect obedience that leads to perfect happiness. Then many who have been left out will come to know the God who comes with blessing. Then we will join Mary in her song,

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..."


Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, Westwood; New Jersey: 1985 (p.215)

Bruce Larson, The Communicators Commentary, Vol.3 Luke, Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983, p.39

For an interesting article on developing a social concerns ministry in the local church, see:
"How to turn a Lukewarm Parish into a Hotbed of Social Justice"

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries, Bible Analyses on St. Mary's Visit to Elizabeth

Malankara World Special on St. Mary

Malankara World Special on Shunoyo of St. Mary

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