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Elizabeth Full of the Holy Spirit + How the Spirit Shows Up in Us

There’s a great book on the Holy Spirit by two theologians I knew in college, Dr. Will Willoman and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas. One is was a highly regarded author and professor at the Duke Divinity School. The other is a bishop in the United Methodist Church and the dean of the chapel at Duke University. I regard both in high esteem.

In their book on the Holy Spirit, which is 96 pages long, they mention Mary 10 times.

Baptism, including the baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit descends in the bodily form of a dove, comes up 40 times, and Pentecost, the holiday where the Holy Spirit inhabits the people and enables them to finally understand each other, Pentecost – the birth of the church – well, that gets its own chapter.

Strangely, the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah is never once mentioned.

It’s strange to me, because in the Gospel of Luke, the first time the Holy Spirit shows up is with these two key figures.

And through them, the Holy Spirit becomes an integral part of the Christmas story.

So as we listen to today’s text, I encourage you to pay attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Text: Luke 1:5-25, 39-45

The Holy Spirit shows up throughout this text. And if we were to read the rest of the 1st chapter of Luke, it would appear again.

Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit when his son John is born, and he gives thanks to God and prophesies that his son will prepare the way for the Lord.

The first person the Holy Spirit inhabits, though, is not Zechariah. It’s not even Mary, who we’re told becomes pregnant when the Holy Spirit overshadows her like a cloud.

The first person we learn is full of the Holy Spirit is John, who we’re told will be full of the Holy Spirit before he’s even born.

And John, before he’s born, is living inside Elizabeth’s womb, a place where Elizabeth and her husband both believed no child would ever be.

When Elizabeth is 6 months pregnant, the Holy Spirit appears again.

Mary appears on the scene, and John, who is full of the Spirit, leaps for joy when he hears Mary’s greeting.

And Elizabeth, full of the Spirit, says something to Mary that Mary would never expect.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

For those of us with Catholic backgrounds, that’s a familiar phrase, isn’t it?

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

It’s part of the “Hail Mary,” and it originates with the words of Elizabeth, Elizabeth who is filled with the Holy Spirit.

Mary, has undoubtedly been told over and over again that she’s crazy for thinking that an angel spoke to her. She’s a sinner for getting pregnant outside of marriage, and at such a young age. People are undoubtedly calling her unclean and looking at her with disgust and pity.

But in this moment at Elizabeth’s house, for the first time, she hears a word of hope.

Much needed hope. Up until this point, Mary was dutifully following God’s plan, but she wasn’t overjoyed about being pregnant at such a young age and without the security of a marriage.

When the angel Gabriel first comes to Mary and tells her she’ll become pregnant – she says,

“I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

Certainly dutiful, but not overjoyed.

But when the Holy Spirit speaks to her through Elizabeth, Mary responds,

“My soul magnifies the Lord. And my spirit rejoices in God. Generations will count me blessed and happy and favored by God.”

God, through the Holy Spirit, speaks through Elizabeth and offers Mary relief, consolation, and yes, even joy.

The Spirit not only works through Mary to reassure her—it also moves Elizabeth to action.

>She opens her home, which is a blessing for Mary, but also a major step for Elizabeth.

She’d been in seclusion for over 5 months, according to the text.

We’re not sure why, but we can guess that she was embarrassed or ashamed that in a culture that emphasized childbearing so much, she was childless, which many saw as a sign of her sinfulness.

Having a pregnancy at such an advanced age may have been an answer to prayer, but she was probably afraid of something going wrong, which, if people knew she’d been pregnant, would add fuel to fire of their scorn.

Being an older woman, I imagine her body was also struggling with the physical challenges associated with being pregnant.

And yet, when she full of the Holy Spirit, she is transformed.

She connects with another woman who has been rejected, and she not only speaks words of hope, but she opens her home and her life to someone else.

In the midst of a very complicated and difficult situation, God breaks into their lives in the form of the Holy Spirit.

God inhabits Elizabeth, goes with her, transforms her.

If God inhabits her, and God inhabits Zechariah and Mary, who is to say that God can’t also inhabit us?

Transform us.

Use US to make a difference, to offer a word of hope or promise.

It’s not always easy to see, but I personally have no doubt that God is in each of us.

God dwells within each of us.

Goes with us wherever we go.

So that begs the question, if God goes with us,

Where are we taking God?

Where are we dwelling most of the time?

Are we dwelling in a place of peace and forgiveness?

Are we taking God into places where God can work through us in the form of words and actions that provide hope and meaningful change?

Are we dwelling in a place of anger and resentment?

Are we dwelling in our own heads, where God is happy to be. God can certainly transform us, even when we’re self-absorbed.

When we need to stay home and grieve, for example, God is with us there.

God has the power to transform us from the inside.

And God also has the power to transform the outside WORLD through us.

Of course, that requires us to go out into the world.

It requires us to open up the doors of our hearts, to hear the greeting to those in need and move beyond our personal situations to care for someone else.

So my challenge to us this week is to embrace the Advent message, and to prepare ourselves to move beyond our current situations that we might bring God into new places, places where God is desperately needed.

Amen.

Benediction story:

I used to go walking in the foothills near Berkeley, California our pet dog, Jesus.

My husband named him that, because he used to live in Texas near a church that had a very active mission program.

And every Saturday at 7AM, they would ring his bell and wake him up and ask him if he’d found Jesus.

And so he said, if I ever get a dog… I’m naming it Jesus.

So when they come by, I can introduce them.

So when he and I adopted a dog in California, he named it Jesus.

I had some hesitation about it.

But it’s turned out well.

Because now, every day, we get to walk with Jesus.

There were some beautiful wilderness areas near Berkeley where you could walk with friendly dogs off-leash.

And I remember my husband getting so nervous when Jesus was a puppy that he would wander off.

But my friend, who’s a dog trainer as well as a Methodist minister, told him, “Don’t worry. No matter where you go, Jesus will follow you.”

Even if Jesus got distracted by a bird or something that smelled interesting, if we turned our backs and started walking away, he would always catch up and follow us.

And that’s not just true for the dog Jesus.

God, whether it’s in the form of the Creator or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, will always follow us.

Speaker: Rev. Sarah TevisTownes
December 9, 2018

Mark 1:5-25

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