Gabriel has been a busy angel. First, he appears to Zechariah as Zechariah offers incense to God in the Temple. Gabriel tells the surprised priest that his prayers have been answered–that, despite their advanced ages, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth will conceive a son, who they will call John. John will serve as a forerunner for God’s Messiah. Despite Zechariah’s doubts–for which he is struck mute–Elizabeth does conceive.
Six months later, Gabriel makes another appearance, this time to a young woman in Nazareth called Mary. She’s engaged to Joseph, but not yet living with him. Gabriel’s message to Mary sounds a lot like the message to Zechariah. ‘You have found favor with God. You’ll conceive, bear a son, and call him Jesus.’ He will be the Messiah, the Holy One of God.’ Then Gabriel tells Mary about her kinswoman Elizabeth, who, in her old age, also has conceived. The last thing the angel says before departing is: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
An old woman conceives–with God, it’s possible. A young woman conceives–with God, it’s possible. Salvation coming through these two women–with God, it’s possible.
What’s the first thing Mary does after Gabriel’s visit? She hurries to Elizabeth’s house.
As soon as Mary says Hi, the child in Elizabeth’s womb–who is 6 months along–leaps for joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. She blesses Mary. Mary responds with today’s Scripture lesson, a psalm often called The Magnificat. Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months–perhaps to help with Elizabeth’s delivery?–then returns home to Nazareth.
Today’s focus Scripture is Mary’s song. We’ll get to that in a minute. Before we do, let’s spend some time with Mary and Elizabeth.
An old-ish woman. A young woman, likely a teenager. Both unexpectedly pregnant. Both keenly aware of God’s presence with them in the midst of the promise and mystery. That they would feel drawn together makes sense.
How much stronger we are when we share our lives together! How much deeper our relationship with God grows when we nurture our friendships with others! How much richer our understanding of God when we talk with and pray with and do things together with friends who have different experiences of God!
It was true for Mary and Elizabeth…and it’s true for us, too. In the last year, there has been a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric and even violence against our friends who practice Islam. Recently, one of our members emailed and said, “We need to get together again with our friends from Ahmadiyya Community!” …which reminded me that, though we had planned to do that after we met last February, planning another meeting had fallen off the radar screen.
A couple of days after I got the email, I attended the Cobb County Ecumenical Thanksgiving service at Temple Kol Emeth. The first person to greet me was Nafis. Isn’t that a beautiful statement? My Muslim friend and I greeted each other in the lobby of a Jewish synagogue….It reminds me of that image in Isaiah, the one where people stream from all the far reaches of earth and climb the Mountain of God together…and as they near the top, all these people who worship God differently, come closer together. As we get closer to each other, we get closer to God. That’s what happened the night of the Thanksgiving service.
And it’s what happens with Elizabeth and Mary. Each had different experiences of God…yet they also had much in common. In the midst of and through their differences and their similarities, they had a profound experience of God together. Elizabeth’s baby “leapt for joy” at Mary’s news and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary’s joy leads her to sing praises to God.
Has your heart ever “leapt for joy” at good news that comes to a friend of another faith? Has your heart ever wept with sadness experienced by a friend of another faith?
In October, over the course of two weeks, many women of Israeli and Arab descent marched together for peace from Israel’s border with Lebanon down to Jerusalem. Many wore t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Women Wage Peace” in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.
Women Wage Peace is an organization “born out of Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas, which included daily missile attacks and killed 72 Israelis and more than 2,000 Gazans.
“Amal Abou Ramadan, a Muslim teacher and single mother from Jaffa, was one of those shaken by the bloodshed. She recounts how Jewish and Arab neighbors stopped speaking to each other, but also how during a siren warning of incoming rockets she found herself comforting a Jewish woman, a complete stranger, on the street.
“‘She was crying and shouting, she needed someone to hold her, so I did,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know her, but it didn’t matter. We are all brothers and sisters.’
“After the war Amal felt deeply depressed, and when a friend invited her to a meeting of a new peace movement, her first impulse was to pass: ‘I said, another movement? What difference is it going to make?’ Today, she is a regional coordinator for Women Wage Peace.” (Christian Century, Dec. 7. 2016)
“We are all brothers and sisters.” When good things happen to our friends, we rejoice. When sad things happen, we weep. So, how do we learn what makes our friends happy or sad? We get to know them.
I’m reminded of one author’s description of what’s involved in taking soup to a neighbor who’s sick. First, you have to know them well enough to know they’re sick. You have to know that they like soup. You have to know what kind of soup they like. You have to know if they have any dietary restrictions. In short, taking soup to a sick neighbor only happens in the context of a well-established relationship. Without that history of friendship, it’s really not possible to take soup to someone who’s sick.
I don’t know whether Mahmooda and her crew have brought soup today, but for 3 years now, they have been bringing food for our Family Promise guests. As the smallest participating congregation in Cobb County, we sometimes need help getting all the meals covered. The generous offerings of Ahmadiyya Community help us ensure that all our guests are well-fed for every meal.
At first, of course, we were simply grateful for the assistance. After working together for 12 host weeks, though, we now look forward to hosting because, in part, it means we’ll see our Ahmadiyya friends again. You are our friends. We love you. And working with you is a joy.
Today, we’ll have an additional opportunity for our communities to work together. When I extended the invitation to Nafis and Mahmooda to come today, I did so because of our common work with Family Promise. Of course, that means we won’t be able to have a wonderful time of sharing after the service like we had in February. Immediately following today’s 10:00 service, several members of Ahmadiyya Community and their friends will join us in the process of setting up for our guests. We are so blessed by—and grateful for—your presence and your willingness to help.
Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s blessing is to sing a psalm of praise to God. “My soul proclaims your greatness, O God. And my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior!” In the midst of her praise, Mary describes God’s working in the world: “You have shown strength with your arm; you have scattered the proud in their conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.” Here’s the line that’s tailor-made for today: “You have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
“You have filled the hungry with good things…” That’s what our communities working together today is all about– Filling the hungry with good things. Providing families without homes with food and a place to lay their heads. Reminding these beloved children of God, that there is help in this community, there is kindness in our world, and that they are loved.
I think it’s a little soon in our relationship to start bringing soup to each other when we’re sick, but members of Pilgrimage and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community? If we keep meeting together and working together and learning from each other and laughing with each other and crying with each other and being joyful with each other….if our friendship continues to grow, there just might be some soup-sharing in our future.
In the name of our one God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2016