We See God in Each Other
#Blessed. We in the Bible belt love to bless the mess out of stuff. We bless our food, our football, and we bless everyone’s hearts. We bless out of pity. We bless in excitement. And we bless instead of cursing. I wonder if Mary felt blessed as she headed off to Elizabeth’s after receiving the news from the angel. Was she thinking, “I’m too blessed to be stressed?” or “I’m just blessed to be a blessing.”
Today we return to Mary after receiving the angel’s news. If you recall, the angel gave her a sign that her relative Elizabeth who was barren was now in her sixth month of pregnancy for nothing will be impossible with God.
So Mary makes her way to visit Elizabeth. Maybe she was thinking, “I’ve got to see this to believe it.” Maybe she wanted some comfort for her own difficult journey that lay ahead. Either way, she made haste, she rose up and went to Elizabeth as fast as she could. Now this was no small trip for her, some estimating between 50 and 70 miles.
Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, the one who would grow up to be a bear of a man, living off locusts and honey and crying out for people to repent and believe. Mary is the mother of Jesus. One woman is carrying the one who will prepare the way of the Lord. The other is the mother of the Son of God. This is the space where the two birth stories converge.
Mary enters Zachariah’s house and greets Elizabeth. She probably would have bowed with her hands together in respect of Elizabeth, an elder and the wife of a priest.
I can just imagine it. Mary’s head bowed down. Mary hasn’t even looked up yet and Elizabeth is already responding. At the very sound of her Mary’s voice, Elizabeth’s baby leaps inside her and she is filled with the Holy Spirit. She then sings out in joy and blesses Mary. Then Mary breaks out in her own song of joy and prophecy. This is a song that tells of all that God will do, a song that speaks of the great reversal in which the poor have a place in the kingdom of God.
Here in this moment, two lowly and ostracized women come together: an older woman who was barren for years and a pregnant teenage girl who is unmarried. God is changing their story, and they are breaking out into blessing and song.
You may recall that Zachariah didn’t believe what the angel told him and was mute for quite some time. Breaking through his silence is the sound of these two women praising God and singing. Their praises are true Christmas hymns, the anthem of the incarnation.
Here’s the thing: women were not in the business of blessing anything. Blessings were the sole business of priests, who were exclusively male. Women could receive blessings, but they certainly didn’t give them to one another, let alone in the house of a priest. In a time when women rarely got a footnote in the text, here Luke gives us a glimpse into this beautiful moment when these two women see God in each other.
The sound of Mary’s voice was enough to fill Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit. Mary didn’t have to say a word. Elizabeth already knew. Have you ever had that kind of encounter with someone? You don’t have to say anything. The Spirit speaks between you. Elizabeth saw the divine within Mary and suddenly blessings are all over the place Elizabeth blesses Mary three times: blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb, and then later blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her.” Then Mary breaks out in song of praise declaring that “surely all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”
Blessings are all over the place, but what is a blessing? One of my husband’s favorite scenes in the film Christmas Vacation is when Aunt Bethany is asked to say the blessing and breaks out in the Pledge of Allegiance......But surely a blessing is more than a pledge to someone.
In her book My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel talks about her grandfather who was an orthodox Jew who was always saying blessings. He had a blessing for everything. Other religions have blessings as well. In India, namaste is used as a means of saying “I see the divine spark in you.” When I would go on Emmaus retreat weekends, we would greet each other with the term DeColores as a way of saying “the Christ in me greets the Christ in you.” It is a way to affirm that we see God in each other.
Rachel says “when we recognize the spark of God in others, we blow on it with our attention and strengthen it, no matter how deeply it has been buried or for how long.” She says “a blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another.”
Elizabeth was an elderly woman who had endured years of ridicule for not being able to provide a child. She had given up on her story ever including a baby. Mary was a teenager who was having a baby before she expected it, before she was married, and by the Holy Spirit. She was a nobody from nowhere. Both women had hoped their stories would be different. Perhaps they thought that God didn’t see much in them.
But then they saw God in one another. The Christ in Elizabeth greeted the Christ in Mary, and it became a space of blessing. The latter two blessings in this passage come from the word Mekarizo which is the same blessing Jesus uses in the beatitudes. And who does Jesus bless in the Beatitudes but the meek and the lowly, the poor in Spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
I could tell you plenty of stories of bullies in my life, of those who tried to cut my story down, to tell me that it wasn’t enough, or to say that it would never amount to anything. I’m sure you have some of those stories too.
But I can tell you even more stories of those who have seen the spark of God in me and who have blown on it. Numerous messages, letters, phone calls, and visits. I am the product of numerous blessings. Praise God for people who blessed me when I wasn’t even aware. For people who blessed me when I was at the end of my rope. For those people in life who look at you and call you blessed, who cut off the narrative of nothingness and say “you are a beloved child of God.” Because of their blessings, it is my joy as pastor is to sit with each of you, to listen to you, and to bless you. To fan the flame of the image of God within you and watch it burn.
I know you have those stories too. In your video devotions, you have shared beautiful witnesses of those in your life that have seen God in you and in whom you have seen God. You have shared spaces of blessing. So where have you seen God recently? Rev. Sarah Speed reflected on this in her poem “Where I Saw God Last.” It goes something like this:
“The dimple in your right cheek, the child playing peek-a-boo from his stroller, the abuelita who spends her afternoons in the park by 86th; the teenagers on the subway who cannot control their laughter; Neil, my neighbor who always asks about you, the mother who whispers a dozen times a day, “thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus”; the saxophone player at 42nd street, the poets, the artists, the garden volunteers; the metro driver who sticks his head out the window to make sure we’re all aboard; the man who gave up his seat on the subway, the kid in dinosaur pajamas who cannot be convinced they’re not school attire; the teachers, the nurses, the taxi cab drivers; the woman at the end of the block with her yappy dogs and her books in the window, the lovers that lay sprawled out on park blankets, the runners, the daydreamers, the sidewalk chalk artists; John from upstairs whose favorite flowers are yellow tulips, the Persian man at the grocery who tells me to be safe, my grandmother in Georgia, my neighbor, the stranger; thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus. “
What would happen if we began to bless all of our life, to see God in one another and to offer a blessing?
So let’s listen to these women again today. The song of women who believed in the impossible, who dared to see God in one another. Long after you leave here, I hope you hear their song. I hope you hear their blessing. I hope you keep your eyes open for God in another and then reach into their life and fan the flame. “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”