Two Women and a Cause for Rejoicing – Br. David Vryhof

Br. Geoffrey Tristram reads Br. David Vryhof’s sermon.

I Samuel 2:1-10; Romans 12:9-16b; Luke 1:39-57

We have reason to celebrate tonight.  This is a joyous occasion, a remembrance of a happy meeting between two expectant mothers who were to play important roles in God’s unfolding plan of salvation.  It is an occasion of happy reunion, of babies leaping in the womb, of women filled with the Spirit proclaiming God’s greatness and shouting their thanks and praise.  It is an occasion of rejoicing – not only in what is, but in what is to come.  A time when faith proclaims what it has begun to see.

Luke prepares the scene by telling us what has happened to these two women.  Elizabeth, he tells us, was a woman “getting on in years” who was barren.  Her husband, Zechariah, belonging to a priestly order, was responsible for serving in the Temple from time to time.  During his most recent service he had entered the sanctuary of the Lord and had there seen an angel who told him that the prayers that he and his wife had been offering for many years were now to be answered.  They would have a son, whose name was to be John. “You will have joy and gladness,” said the angel, “and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  And so it was.  Elizabeth, long barren, conceived a child, just as the angel had foretold.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy an angel was sent also to Mary, a young girl living in the Galilean town of Nazareth.  To her the angel gave a similar yet even greater message: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son… (and) he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary was stupefied.  “How can this be?” she asked, for she was not yet married.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the angel responded, “therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”  And as assurance that such an unlikely conception was well within the realm of God’s power, the angel told Mary of the remarkable pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth who had conceived even in her old age.  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

“In those days,” Luke tells us, “Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country” where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived.  And this is where the joyous meeting occurs.  When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the child leaps in her womb, Luke tells us, and she, filled with the Holy Spirit, blesses Mary as God’s chosen one and praises her for believing what was spoken to her by the Lord.  Mary responds in joy in the lovely song of praise we know as the Magnificat, praising God for the great things he has done for her.

A joyous occasion, a happy meeting of two expectant mothers, rejoicing in their good fortune.  Or so it would seem.  But if we reflect a bit on the actual circumstances of these two women, we might wonder if it is actually their good fortune that they are celebrating.

In fact, their lives had suddenly been made more difficult.  Elizabeth and her husband, in old age, having long borne the scorn of neighbors who wondered aloud why God might be punishing them with barrenness, now are the subjects of further gossip and speculation.  While news of pregnancy may have been a welcomed word years ago, now Elizabeth’s child is an untimely interruption in her later years, a joy perhaps too long delayed.  Here was a child she would have to care for in her old age, and one she would not likely see into adulthood.  The attention – perhaps even the derision – of her neighbors was more than she desired.  It was a mixed blessing at best.  Only great faith in God could get her through these days.

And Mary, still a child by our standards, joined now to a man considerably older than her in a marriage arranged for practical reasons not romantic ones, is prematurely burdened with the responsibilities of motherhood.  How could she not feel embarrassment and sadness and confusion at the sudden change in her circumstances?  Is this the life she would have dreamed for herself?  It was a mixed blessing at best.  Only great faith in God could get her through these days.

Yet both Mary and Elizabeth believe that God has given them cause for joy. In their difficult and unsought-after circumstances, they see God at work.  Many might consider their response unrealistic or even absurd, given the challenges presented by their circumstances.  But they see the hand of God, they believe in the goodness of God, they witness to the power of God, they trust in the love of God – and so they are able to praise and thank God for what God is doing, even in these difficult and unwanted circumstances.

Each beset with socially problematic pregnancies, each the object of curiosity and gossip and slander, each trying to embrace heavy responsibilities that have come to them in a sudden and untimely way, each with more than enough reason to be burdened and distraught by the awkward situation in which they find themselves… and yet each rejoicing in God!  What is it that gives them cause for rejoicing?  What do they see that their neighbors do not?  How have they found meaning and fulfillment in their predicaments?

The fact is that they see something much larger taking place, a work of God that includes their own individual circumstances but that extends far beyond them.

They see a revolution taking place.

In her song, Mary rejoices that God “has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” and that “the Mighty One has done great things for [her].”  But even more she rejoices in the revolution God is accomplishing, a revolution in which the proud are scattered in the thoughts of their hearts (v.51), the powerful are brought down from their thrones (v.52) and the rich are sent away empty (v.52).  In this revolution God will lift up the oppressed and the lowly and fill the hungry with good things (v.52, 53).  In God’s great mercy, God has come to the help of his servant Israel.

Notice that the verbs in this song of praise are in the past tense, rather than the future tense.  So sure is she that these things will be accomplished that she speaks of them as if they already were.

The revolution is first of all a moral revolution.  God “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”  The proud are those who care nothing for God; those who imagine themselves to have no need of God.  But in the reign of God they will find their pride destroyed.  In God’s reign it is the poor in spirit who are blessed; it is the meek who inherit the earth; it is those who hunger and thirst after righteousness who are filled.  The proud and the haughty will receive no reward from God.  Those who are righteous in their own eyes and in the eyes of others will find that they have no claim on God.  Those who boast in their own goodness will find themselves least and last in this kingdom.

The revolution is also a social revolution.  God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”  Those who dominate and oppress will find the tables turned in God’s kingdom.  They will be exchanging places with the poor and the outcast.  In the reign of God, leaders are servants.  The first learn to become last.  And the last, in their broken and unworthy state, find themselves exalted.  In God’s reign there are no “untouchables,” no outcasts, no forgotten ones.  Every person is valued and loved, no matter who or what they are.

The revolution is also an economic revolution. God “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”  Those who hoarded their wealth and built bigger and bigger storehouses for themselves will find themselves resource-less and empty-handed.  They will see that they were meant to have been stewards of the good things they were given, with responsibility for those in need.  Their greed will be exposed and the riches to which they cling with such intensity will be given away.  In God’s reign it is the poor who will benefit, the hungry who will be filled, the broken who will be healed, those who have had nothing who will be rich beyond measure.

And what Mary and Elizabeth saw was that this kingdom was now here.  It was not just a far-off promise to be hoped for, but a very certain reality that was already being accomplished.  Yes, it was yet to be fully realized, but it was also taking place now, and their sons were to have key roles in ushering it in.

The reign of God has begun.  The revolution has begun.  God is at work in our world, through those who have grasped the vision.  You and I are part of it.  We are called to live its values and to invite others to do so as well.  We are bearers of this good news and catalysts of the changes it foretells.  We are “kingdom people” in whom and among whom these changes are taking place.  We value the lowly and resist the proud.  We honor every living creature and resist those who would oppress them.  We are working to make sure that the hungry are fed, and standing against those who believe it their right to amass wealth without thought for the common good.

God is at work in our world.  And even though our circumstances in life may be difficult, even though the particular path we have been given to walk seems always to lead uphill, we are able to give thanks and praise, because we are certain that God’s promise is sure and that God’s purposes will be accomplished.  That is why Mary and Elizabeth were able to rejoice, and it is also why we can be people of hope and of joy.

“Rejoice and be glad.  The kingdom of God is at hand.”

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  1. Karen on May 14, 2017 at 20:31

    I thoroughly enjoyed this sermon. I believe the revolution is here. It is seen in our politics, our economy, in nature, our increase in terrorism and crime in small towns and large. We were told by Our Lord that this was coming. I feel strong and faithful, Thank you Jesus!

  2. Ruth West on May 9, 2017 at 00:20

    Br. David, this is a great message. Thanks! I cannot understand how I missed it in 2015.
    We desire a perfect world, but, due to the fall of mankind, as recorded in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we became sinners through disobedience. The story is still repeated in today’s world. A revolution is needed in the heart of mankind. Jesus came to give us a chance to be redeemed, to be saved from our disobedience. I am so glad he made it possible. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
    Mary’s beautiful words set forth what God is doing, has done, and will do. Your sermon speaks to each part of it so well.

  3. John David Spangler on May 7, 2017 at 08:32

    Dear Brother David, I can only repeat my plea made in my response to this homily on August 7, 2015. Why cannot all God’s creation — be they Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, whatever —heed your very wise words: “In God’s reign there are no ‘untouchables,’ no outcasts, no forgotten ones. Every person is valued and loved, no matter who or what they are.”? It is time that the swirling controversy about sexuality ends. These words should put an end to the controversy, but they do not. Even those who call themselves Christians ignore our Lord’s teaching that there are “no ‘untouchables,’ no outcasts, no forgotten ones.” and that “Every person is valued and loved, no matter who or what they are.”.

  4. Rhode on May 7, 2017 at 07:26

    I too, want to welcome the Messiah, create a wake, start a fire, better lives and baptize everyone in a river of love. Scripture beckons me to be passionate …where is my horsehair shirt, my dinner of locusts? Thus, my own surrender to the revolutionary calling of the most high God seems a slow drip compared to the river of saints in history. It has taken long conversations and reasoning with God for me to accept that my scarlet sins are really white as snow and that I am truly part of The Great stream of grace happening every minute all around me and wthin me. (No horsehair shirt or locusts required). Good Sunday thoughts.

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  6. Mister White on August 7, 2015 at 12:52

    I am grateful and I rejoice! Thank you beautiful Sirs!
    Now if the kingdom of God is here why are we not innocent of notions like poverty, disparity, suffering, lowness, outcasts? why is there still a need for breaking, pain and gratitude even ? why does this kingdom have uphill struggles ? Why are we not talking about instead of a place where people live forever, love forever, rejoice forever, walk the verdant vales drinking of God’s bounties and sparkling waters and drinking of each others’ love? Why do we still long for the Golden Age of Cronos (that Plato spoke of) and the Love in this Golden Age depicted by Pauwels Franck? Why do I sometimes cry out with despair at this abandoned state of affairs and all my own mistakes and my own fallibility and at my own horrors committed despite the intentions? Why do I weep at innocence lost and love unrequited and so much scarcity (of freedom, necessities, love, kindness)? Why must the first be made to feel last instead of the first’s mind and souls being changed and the very knowledge of evil (which is a sad loss of innocence) ended? Why is there still the sin of pride when God make us innocent of even familiarity with this sin? Why must some receive rewards and others not? Are we not all innocent and worthy children of the Most High? Why is “justice” taking from some and giving to others? Why is our God not able to give everyone everything : beauty, youth, wealth, joy, virtue, love, lovers, friends, health, freedom, potency? Forgive me kind Sirs and Madams and God for anything I have ever said or done or thought that is incorrect or untoward or unbecoming. My unending love for God and all that is good as well as for the Good Christians of England and Scotland, and her fair and comely and gentle and loving peoples!

  7. Marta e. on August 7, 2015 at 09:35

    This meditation/sermon is so apropos for the modern generation also, those who are expecting new births of family members, not knowing what kind of future our country (world?) will give the new additions to our population, the quality of stability and nurturing, the kind of educate and leadership potential that might or might not be afforded to the newborns, etc. so, this is also a letter for troubled times and an insecure future . . . .

  8. Diane on August 7, 2015 at 08:37

    Thank you. I plan to re-read this message when encountering speed bumps along the way.

  9. John David Spangler on August 7, 2015 at 06:27

    Dear Brother David, your sermon is one of the innumerable reasons to rejoice in God’s goodness. I thank you. I wish that at this time with the swirling controversy about sexuality that all would heed your very wise words: “In God’s reign there are no ‘untouchables,’ no outcasts, no forgotten ones.  Every person is valued and loved, no matter who or what they are.” These words put an end to the controversy. Regarding those who will be “brought down”, let me add a word of caution. We must not rejoice in their being “brought down”. If we do rejoice in that way. we are no better than those being “brought down”.

  10. John on August 7, 2015 at 05:31

    Thanks for increasing my awareness of these women’s difficulties emotionally, especially after their children were born. Yet they were grateful, even as they anticipated no doubt their difficulties.

    I experienced much abuse before age ten. I’m now after forty-eight years of life, prayer and therapy healed. Sometimes I wonder what could have been, but am learning how to be grateful for what has actually happened.

  11. Judy Hefin on September 20, 2013 at 04:02

    I rejoice in God’s goodness to us, even in the face of our present challenges. I ask all to pray to God that our current Congress in the US will sucumb to their consciences; taking from the poor to give to the rich is clearly against God’s plan…

  12. DLa Rue on September 19, 2013 at 06:45

    Publications can be like children at time, needing nurture and faith in their ultimate delivery into the light. This reminder of the sign of Elizabeth and Mary, to bear forth whether early or late, is one I shall take as a vocational reminder to continue the work begun long ago in me, by faith and with rejoicing.

  13. Robin Antonia Hendrich on July 9, 2013 at 13:06

    Thank you so much and thank all of your brothers who provide daily food for me. I should respond more often.
    Thanks so much
    Robin (flute player)

  14. Martha on July 9, 2013 at 11:47

    Thank you for this message today. I am struggling with my leadership role in our diocesan ECW and seem somehow to have lost my energy and confidence. I am saddened by my loss of enthusiasm and this message is so kind and gives me encouragement,

  15. cindra anderson on November 6, 2011 at 13:29

    Dear Brother David,

    How is your God son, Alcott Covington? HAve you seen him lately? I hope he is well and his mother too.
    How lovely that these 2 women bless God for their unusal and somewhat burdensome great blessings!
    I find that I am “the rich ” who goes away empty when i am not sharing what I have with others.”
    I find that I am ” filled with good things” only when I give freely and am not forced to do so by anyone ; I give freely.
    I find that I am the “greedy one” and find that I am still capable of clinging to my security of things and possessions until God’s spirit speaks to my heart and once again I see my humaness and imperfection. Each day I die to my desire to cling to my worldly goods and ask God’s guidance to be a good steward.
    I am the rich (the comfortable) one .
    The poor have no choice but to trust God for they have no other means, and God blesses them thru the rich one letting go to love.
    It is a revolution that takes place in my heart daily, and the leader is the Holy Spirit.

    Peace to you,

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