In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt 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. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
It is easy to assume that Mary’s commitment was signed and sealed with her ‘Yes’ to the angel back home in Nazareth, but that is not how Luke presents it. It involved quite a journey (literally) and another powerful encounter before Mary’s faith was confirmed and, at last, we hear her singing ‘My soul magnifies the Lord!’
For most people, their coming to faith doesn’t happen in a moment; it involves a journey, with several encounters and conversations along the way. I don’t expect Elizabeth ever dreamed she’d be partnering with Gabriel in helping Mary along, nor that her small input could be as important as an angelic message; but clearly it was.
Elizabeth’s contribution was a mixture of the mundane and supernatural – each just as important as the other. To start with, it was the offer of simple hospitality – giving a welcome and a home to someone who may well have been feeling very vulnerable and alone. Then she shared some very simple words which never-the-less were inspired by the Spirit and spoke to Mary in a way Elizabeth may never have imagined. Thank God she had the courage to say them! But most of all, what Elizabeth had to do was to be herself. One look at her cousin’s large, protruding belly was all Mary needed to confirm that what the angel had promised was true. Elizabeth was definitely, though impossibly, pregnant. Mary would, also impossibly, be ‘the mother of the Lord’. Sharing each other’s common experience, including their vulnerability, provided fertile ground for the seed of faith to grow.
Inspired by Biblical metaphors, we have assumed that evangelism is about the moment when the harvest is gathered. Here we are reminded that it is more than that. Other biblical metaphors reinforce that evangelism is a process that begins with sowing the seed, and includes a whole team in nurturing, watering, and not just harvesting. If we can be ourselves, play our part, speak our faltering words, offer our love to encourage others along the way, then God will bring growth.
Lord, today I can sow a seed, open my heart and home in generous welcome, be vulnerable with the vulnerable, say something (if not everything I’d like, as clearly as I’d like), and help someone take one more step nearer Christ. Help me to be faithful as a link in the chain. And God, give the growth, so that what is sown may yield a rich harvest in your time.
The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod