When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”Luke 1:41-42
“Do not make of Mary a stone,” Martin Luther once said of the mother of our Lord. A young lady, very human, and probably very confused after the angel Gabriel’s visit, which took place just before today’s gospel reading, Luke 1:39-45.
What could it mean that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High? We know what it means now, but imagine being Mary then. How overwhelming it all must have been! Mary was told by the angel that her relative Elizabeth would also give birth to a miracle-baby. And so young Mary decided, wisely, to go on a trip to visit Elizabeth. A trip that is at the heart of today’s gospel reading.
This trip to see Elizabeth would not be an easy one. Mary lived in Nazareth; Elizabeth lived in the hill country of Judea, which was several long days of travel away. It was, ironically, a trip that she would make again right before her birth, when she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, also in the hill country of Judea. It would be a difficult journey, but Mary needed to go, to process what was happening to her.
You can imagine how overwhelmed Mary must have been as she made this trip. Just a teenage girl in this little town of Nazareth, living a very ordinary life, whose whole world has been turned upside-down by this angel’s announcement to her. Mary had a lot to process, a lot to think through. So she wisely travels to see the one person in the world who might understand what she is dealing with: Elizabeth, who also is miraculously pregnant. But Mary must still be wondering what kind of reception she would get there. Would Elizabeth believe her wild tale? How will she react when Mary shares this tremendous secret with her?
And then we get to this wonderful scene, of the moment when Mary arrives, enters the house of Zechariah, and greets Elizabeth. Elizabeth saw young Mary; her son, John, immediately leaped in her womb; and she was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
And, suddenly, I imagine, everything was okay again in Mary’s world. Because she found someone who not only accepted her, and opened her home to her, but more importantly, who blessed her. Elizabeth blessed Mary. And that is all that Mary really needed, all that she was seeking, whether she knew it at the time or not. She just needed to be blessed. To be accepted, loved, and blessed by another.
And that is what I want to focus on this morning: Blessings. The gift of being blessed, the ways in which we are blessed, and our call to be a blessing to this world. But what does it mean to be blessed? How are we blessed? And how can we be a blessing?
Born to Be Blessed
Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. Because the Bible actually begins with a blessing. In Genesis 1, the very first thing that God did, after creating Adam and Eve, was to bless them. God created them, and then immediately blessed them. You might even say that God created them in order to bless them. And you might say the same for us.
We were created by God in order to be blessed by God. God didn’t create us to put us through some kind of test. Or to judge us when we make mistakes. Or to sit back and watch when we struggle through life. God created us to bless us. To love us. To be in a relationship with us; one that is built on love, and filled with grace and mercy. There is nothing that God wants more than simply to bless us. We were born to be blessed. All of us, here. And all of us, out there.
Forgetting We Are Blessed
But, something happened along the way. Somewhere along the way, the brokenness of this world caused us to forget this, to forget that we are blessed by God. You might even say that this is at the root of all the problems in this world: forgetting that we are blessed by God.
We see that with Adam and Eve, don’t we? They forget how blessed they truly were. They focus, instead, on the one thing they don’t have. They forget how blessed they truly are, and they sin. And, ever since then, we, too, have shared in their sin. We, too, have focused on what we don’t have. We, too, have forgotten how blessed we truly are. And we, too, sin. It has become human nature.
The Blessing of Jesus
But God had a plan, a way to bless the world all over again. And that plan has a name, and his name is Jesus. And Jesus was born into this broken world to remind us of God’s desire to bless us. And Jesus spent his life in ministry doing just that. He blessed those who had forgotten: the poor, the hungry, those who were weeping, the hated, the cursed, the broken. He blessed them all. He was born to bless us. And he died to bless us. And even his very last act, before ascending into heaven, was to offer a blessing.
“Lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-51)
It is what he came to do. To bless the world. To bless us. Jesus’ whole mission was to bless the world. And the church’s whole mission is to continue this work. But that is getting a little ahead of the story.
Jesus, the Beloved
The story of Jesus blessing the world begins, you might say, with he himself being blessed. Before Jesus even began his public ministry, he needed to receive this blessing. So the Holy Spirit sent him to the Jordan River, where he found his relative John, who had leaped in the womb all those years ago. And he was baptized by John. And as he was coming up out of the water, he heard his heavenly Father say to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And this blessing became the foundation of his life and his ministry. And became something that Jesus could return to whenever he needed that reminder.
Jesus was truly human, and as one of us, he needed this blessing. So, before he did any of the things recorded in this book, he was told by God how pleased God was with him. And how much his Heavenly Father loved him. It was a blessing like no other. You are my son, the beloved.
We, Too, Are God’s Beloved
There is a beautiful book by the author, Henri Nouwen, about this blessing, and what it means for us. In this book, Life of the Beloved, Nouwen shares his belief that this blessing – first given by our Heavenly Father to Jesus – is the very same blessing given to us, through Jesus. We, too, are God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
“You are my Beloved,” Nouwen writes, “reveals the most intimate truth about all human beings.” God created us to bless us, and to love us; and all human beings created by God are God’s beloved. And what a blessed world this would be if all human beings believed this: That we all have been placed in this world to be blessed and loved by God. There is no more important truth than that.
One of the reasons we baptize babies in the Lutheran tradition is for this reason. So that the child can grow up hearing about his or her baptism, so that they never forget that they are God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased. And we all need to be reminded of this, don’t we? Nouwen goes on to write about that:
“It is certainly not easy to hear that voice (calling us God’s beloved) in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless, you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.’”
“These negative voices,” Nouwen goes on to write, “are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That’s the great trap. It is the trap of self-rejection.”
How important it is, given this, to be reminded that we are God’s beloved, not because of what we do, but because of who we are. We were created to be blessed by God, and to be loved by God. All of us.
If this week has caused you to forget that, then hear again that you – you! – are God’s beloved. God created you to bless you, and to love you. And God is well pleased with you. Not with the you that you want to become, but with the you that you are right now. You are God’s beloved. And nothing you do will ever change that. You are God’s beloved. Believe this blessing, and hold on to it when this world tries to make you forget it.
Blessed to Be a Blessing
But it doesn’t end there, of course. It can’t end there. Because there are too many people in this world who still don’t believe this; who struggle to love themselves, much less to believe that they are loved by God. And the only way this will happen – the only way it can happen – is for us to do something about it.
We are blessed to be a blessing. We are loved to love. We are forgiven to forgive. That is our purpose, the purpose of all who know and believe that they are God’s beloved: To return that love – to God, to ourselves, and to our world. This is Henri Nouwen one more time, on what it means to be a blessing:
“To bless means to say good things. We have to bless one another constantly … In our society, so full of curses, we must fill each place we enter with our blessings. We forget so quickly that we are God’s beloved children and allow the many curses of our world to darken our hearts. Therefore we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs.”
Yes. This broken world – so loved by God – needs desperately to be reminded of its belovedness. This world needs to be blessed.
This world, in a way, is just like young Mary. This world shows up on our doorstep. Alone, scared, confused, desperate for nothing more than for someone to simply open the door and offer a blessing. Just as Elizabeth did for Mary all those years ago.
Elizabeth didn’t change the world that day. She didn’t need to. All that she had to do was to open her door, and offer a blessing. God would do the rest.
And as Elizabeth said to Mary, in that tender scene from this beautiful gospel reading, so I now say to you: Blessed are you who believe this. And may God bless you as you live out your blessing, until all the world knows and believes that they, too, are God’s beloved. Thanks be to God. Amen.