The Visitation


The fourth week of Advent and, finally, we get Mary! It strikes me as a bit peculiar that the lectionary gives us one week of the apocalypse followed by two weeks of John the Baptist, and then finally we get to Mary. After all Mary is a key player in the Advent season, accepting God’s radical call to birth God into the world.

I suggest that Mary gets a bit of a bad rap all along the way, labeled as meek and mild, submissive and passive. Honestly. Would anyone who has ever said YES! to God ever consider that “yes” to be meek, mild, submissive, or passive? Indeed it takes someone with a fair amount of hutzpah to say “YES!” to God and then venture into the unknown. Mary is hardly meek and definitely not mild.

As for me, I plan to preach on Mary, and lift up her strength as a follower of God. True, not all of us will face the same level of challenge as Mary when following God, but no doubt each person who follows God is transformed, changed for ever. Admittedly this would have made for a better sermon last week when my parish celebrated the diaconal ordination of our seminarian and I preached on our many calls to ministry. Surely I can figure out how to make it work this week?

This week the Revised Common Lectionary gives us the Gospel of Luke with Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another, Mary pregnant with Jesus, and Elizabeth pregnant with John, who will be known as the Baptist. Following the greeting Mary sings what has become known as “The Magnificat” – her acknowledgment of how, following God, her life will then, magnify God.

Of course there is always the option of preaching on one of the other texts from the RCL for Advent 4, but I admit I haven’t thought about them. However you can find the RevGal discussion on those texts here.

Perhaps you are following the Narrative Lectionary and will preach on that text? For a lively discussion on the reading you can go here.

Regardless, this is the 11th Hour Preacher Party and we are here to figure this out together. What are you feeling called to say? What text speaks to you? What challenges you today? We’re here to help one another, share ideas, and pray for each other.

Pull up a chair, grab a mug, I have lots of hot coffee (or tea) and a freezer full of Christmas cookies to share.


60 thoughts on “11th Hour Preacher Party: Mary, Hardly Meek

    1. I certainly understand why you are tempted to re-use this sermon – it is lovely. Mary is such an interesting story to preach on because by the time it shows up in the advent season I am tired and emotional and her story speaks into those places for me. I am struggling to find a new way into her story tonight.


    2. Sustainable sermons are the best! Nice that you have one or two you can use. You prompted me to look back at my previous Advent 4 and Christmas Eve sermons and I have used the same two illustrations multiple times, and at this church, even. Sigh. So…really really need to go at the Mary text from a new angle this year as well as Christmas. You are in my prayers, may the emotional stuff of this week calm down and may you find some rest and peace.


  1. i have struggled this week for a variety of reasons,
    Mary’s story in Luke is one of my favourite passages, this year i have re-jigged an old sermon, giving a different direction. Do we want the world to change???
    and next week i am reusing a previous Christmas Day service.
    i am finished [9.45 pm] earlier than usual, rather than fiddling I am going to have a cup of tea and see if i can get to bed at a more realistic time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Geeze! I am seriously thinking about preaching the same sermon this year that I did last year for Advent 4. It says exactly what I still want to say. I wonder how many people would actually remember if I preached the same sermon two years in a row?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Terri, use it! If people remember it, they are likely to think the same themes and points are being made rather than think that you are reusing. Besides, I am not sure that people mind it as much as we think. Jokes and certain stories may need to be refreshed or introduced with an “i know/think I have mentioned this story in the past…” Your word will still preach and you will get a little bit of a respite during an incredibly busy time. Sounds like grace to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Terri, thanks for saying this, AND for the “sustainable sermon” comment. I do not think I have actually ever preached the EXACT SAME sermon in the same congregation, but I have come pretty darn close several times. I read an article about “do-overs” (which is what I call them) which I will try and fish out and post. I agree with Lynn below….I like to think that I am a pretty good preacher, but not so good that people will remember in three years what I say tomorrow!!! I have fresh pomegranate seeds for a pick-me-up!


  3. I am in NL and have the Zechariah/Elizabeth text. The choir is singing a magnificat. We are pretty much now going to tell the entire Luke 1 story, broken up a bit so it is all easier to hear. I do plan to preach on the Zechariah story. I have been doing more preaching without a manuscript, or very little reliance on it, and that has worked pretty well. During Advent, I have been hitting the themes of Hope, Peace and Joy more than an exposition of the text. That also seems to have been going well. For example, I am not sure that Peace even referred back to the Isaiah text but once (and it would have gone better with Hope). I have been doing more speaking from my heart. Because I have gotten really good feedback and because someone told me last night at a Christmas concert that they could hardly wait to see what tomorrow brings, I feel the fear of letting people down. It’s nice to know that our issues continue to dog us throughout the decades…

    I will tell a story of my being annoyed (hidden, I think) that a homeless man just came into my office and plunked down, wanting some attention. Every winter he reappears and I let him wash in our restroom and sleep in our parlor and make him PBJs. I will drive him to appointments. About once a winter, we pay for a bus ticket for him to go to another place. We have already done that this year and he is already back, not welcome where he thought he might be. I had to remind myself of Jesus and my saying that Jesus was homeless. I felt like a bop on the head and so dropped getting ready for Christmas by actually needing to live receiving the Christ-child. That story will tie in to the Z being religious leader surprised by how God appears.

    We have a new guy worshiping with us, who is there almost every Sunday. He brings his kids when he has them and his girlfriend sometimes. He is from a Pentecostal background, has a more literal interpretation of the Bible and yet came to us because we are Open and Affirming and have a Sat/Sun lunch program for the hungry. At a Thanksgiving dinner, He told me how much he loves Joel Osteen and listens to him all day. I think the promise and the waiting will speak to the message of blessing nd your blessing is coming that Osteen preaches. With our UCC spin, of course.

    The rest will be about love and how God’s love is different than ours and lives out through peace and justice, etc.


    1. Goodness, Lynn – lots bubbling around you, the returning homeless man, the Joel Olsteen fan/newcomer, preaching without a text….I do understand the interior process of preaching without a text, preaching from one’s heart, and really engaging people because one is looking at them. It sounds like you have a terrific outline for your sermon.


  4. Working with two toddlers today– nothing but play will get done before sitter arrives at 3 pm. We are going to bundle up and go to the park. I made blueberry muffins from a mix this morning, but they are good. I am preaching on the Magnificat– “Receiving Mary”– not sure where I will end up. It’s been another tough week… still, still holding on for the ride. Below is a poem that I have paired with the Magnificat. It speaks to so much. I hope that it might help others…Will check back later. If anyone has a children’s story, I could use an imaginative one 🙂

    Quando é que passará esta noite interna, o universo,
    E eu, a minha alma, terei o meu dia?
    Quando é que despertarei de estar acordado?
    Não sei. O sol brilha alto,
    Impossível de fitar.
    As estrelas pestanejam frio,
    Impossíveis de contar.
    O coração pulsa alheio,
    Impossível de escutar.
    Quando é que passará este drama sem teatro,
    Ou este teatro sem drama,
    E recolherei a casa?
    Onde? Como? Quando?
    Gato que me fitas com olhos de vida, Quem tens lá no fundo?
    É Esse! É esse!
    Esse mandará como Josué parar o sol e eu acordarei;
    E então será dia.
    Sorri, dormindo, minha alma!
    Sorri, minha alma: será dia!

    When will this inner night – the universe – end
    And I – my soul – have my day?
    When will I wake up from being awake?
    I don’t know. The sun shines on high
    And cannot be looked at.
    The stars coldly blink
    And cannot be counted.
    The heart beats aloofly
    And cannot be heard.
    When will this drama without theater
    – Or this theater without drama – end
    So that I can go home?
    Where? How? When?
    O cat staring at me with eyes of life, Who lurks in your depths?
    It’s Him! It’s him!
    Like Joshua he’ll order the sun to stop, and I’ll wake up,
    And it will be day.
    Smile, my soul, in your slumber!
    Smile, my soul: it will be day!

    1933, Álvaro de Campos (Fernando Pessoa) Poesia (Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 2002)
    Translation, Richard Zenith, A Little Larger than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems (New York: Penguin, 2006)


  5. This is printed at the top of the bulletin for this week– I plan to try to answer this question– or wander around the edges of it…

    Haiku to Mary

    Through my Protestant
    Lens you appear so dimly
    Occupy my heart
    — George Delany

    My Question to congregation: What role, if any, does Mary, the mother of Jesus, have in your spirituality? What blessing might she add to your life of faith? How might you relate to her in ways that proclaim God’s love of humankind?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A church I knew in Chicago (Roman Catholic) had a statue of Mary, life size, as an old woman – it was elegant and gracious, with wrinkles and all, her hand reaching out to the world – not the usual young innocent woman.


    2. All, I am scattered and not helpful with any ideas, but sitting with this Advent poem, by John of the Cross, which I love!

      If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road
      pregnant with the holy, and say,
      “I need shelter for the night,
      please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.”
      Then, under the roof of your soul,
      you will witness the sublime intimacy,
      the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever,
      as she grasps your hand for help,
      for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.
      Yes there, under the dome of your being
      does creation come into existence eternally,
      through your womb, dear pilgrim – the sacred womb of your soul,
      as God grasps our arms for help:
      for each of us is his beloved servant, never far.
      If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the street
      pregnant with Light and sing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, I am getting a late start because I planned to be finished by now! Oh well. Of course I am going to explore Mary, Elizabeth…and my title is “Bringing Forth”. It’s also Bell Sunday at our church, so on all of the hymns, people play bells. Whatever bells they bring. Cowbells, jingle bells, school bells, church bells, any bells….so it’s very festive and exciting and the one thing I know is that I need to be succinct and clear in the midst of all the bells!! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Anyone have any special ideas for Dec. 27/ChrISTMAS 1? i’m doing Lessons and Carols Christmas Eve, so that doesn’t work. Am so late in planning this….


    1. I’ve actually written two services for the 27th, one for my interim congregation (for a lay-led service) and one for my spouse’s church (where I will be the visiting preacher). One focuses on the Magi, and the other on the shepherds, with a little extra singing and a short story at the former and a short homily at the latter (both written by me). Of course, I’m not ready for tomorrow! So what good is it to be ahead on the other stuff? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Tomorrow is my last day at the church I have been serving for 15 months. I am using Moses’ commandment to his people in Deuteronomy 30 (he knows he is not going forward with them) as my framework for the sermon as I remind us all what we have done together. I will tie that into being pregnant with possibilities (like Elizabeth and Mary) as we all wait to see how God will be born anew in that place. My spiritual director helped me to work-out what I wanted to say as I leave and then pointed me to the text. Thanks be to God for wonderful companions.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Just passing through to say an early Merry Christmas to all of you ~ I’ve been reading each week, but not preaching, so . . .

    Our church’s final services were November 22; our assistant and I finished the last of our clean-out yesterday and handed over our keys to the commercial real estate manager who will be handling building leases; the building is a shambles but the real estate manager will get a crew in there and have it ship-shape in no time; and various call possibilities have been presenting themselves to me in a twisty-turny kind of way, making the month all the more stress-filled.

    I have steered clear of church this Advent, although we plan to go to a production of Amahl at my home church tomorrow night (very brave of me, for personal reasons). No Advent, no Blue Christmas, no Magnificat. It is, frankly, a relief not to be the person leading joy-filled worship. Christmas is the hardest of seasons for me, and I am grateful that this one offers me a lot of space.

    Yesterday at the college where I teach I ran into a colleague who lost a high-school aged son seven years ago, and we shared a few reflections on the season and its difficulties, including how hard it can be to see and hear our students making their plans for the future. His son would be a college senior this year, and mine would be 31. That may be about as much ministry as I can do this year: asking someone else how his family is doing.

    Even though I am hiding out, I am looking forward to all your Magnificat sermons, and their promises of hope for the future!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. In our So Cal Christmas we have done poinsettias, posadas, and this week a pastorela (Shepherd’s Play). While I have been behind the scenes collaborating on all the services, this one is more mine (though not the sermon itself, just all the moving parts), and it’s shaky. We just haven’t had time. The two bright and innovative young men who are playing the main characters (a shepherd and the devil) had a conversation with two of our Latino men last week about what a pastorela should contain (contemporary references, pointed political references, broad humor) and the young men have leave to add in to the script, either scripted or ad-libbed. This is something of a test of trust for me. We will run through it before worship tomorrow. It’s also counting as our pageant, so the children are invited to come and be sheep and shepherds and angels. There may be chaos, but it should be a good chaos.

    We are also reading the Visitation Passage and the magnificat and three of our youth and our youth coordinator will sing “The Canticle of the Turning” with guitar and recorder accompaniment.

    Meanwhile, I am working on shortening and otherwise revising Christmas Eve readings, so we can get those into people’s hands and I need to write a meditation for our Advent meditation site. We are re-using pieces the congregation wrote 4 years ago for Monday through Saturday, but I promised to write something new for Sunday based on this year’s theme. So I should probably do that.


    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m calling my sermon “Reassurance”, and it’s about Micah and his message, and (slightly cheating) seguing from Assyrians to Syrians and the current refugee crisis and Daesh… and Mary going to visit Elisabeth for reassurance…. and in one sentence “God won’t necessarily protect us from dark times to come, but He will be with us in them.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello friends! I’m going down some sort of Mary road, exploring how when we imagine her too perfect, too humble, too ideal, we remove ourselves from the truth that God chooses ordinary persons through whom to act for the sake of transforming the world. I love (and have used) Denise Levertov’s poem Annunciation, which speaks of Mary’s courage and the idea that she could have said no. Here’s a snippet, but it’s worth looking up the whole stunning poem:
    But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
    The engendering Spirit
    did not enter her without consent.
    God waited.

    She was free
    to accept or to refuse, choice
    integral to humanness.

    Aren’t there annunciations
    of one sort or another
    in most lives?
    Some unwillingly
    undertake great destinies,
    enact them in sullen pride,
    More often
    those moments
    when roads of light and storm
    open from darkness in a man or woman,
    are turned away from
    in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
    and with relief.
    Ordinary lives continue.
    God does not smite them.
    But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
    And I’ll offer the gingerbread cookies I made, even though I was short on butter, flour, molasses, and ginger. Sheesh. I won’t repeat this improvis
    ation, but I will happily eat (and share) them!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks to all for the weekly inspiration! Focusing on the visitation of Mary with Elizabeth and the Magnificat, Will talk about how things of love require making room for the other – a fetus developing in the womb, a new spouse in need of closet and bookshelf space, a refugee seeking shelter in a new land, even new ways of thinking trying to find a home in our minds and hearts. And just as a child in the womb eventually crowds out her mother’s other organs, making room for the other isn’t always easy!! But that is what we’re called to do, to somehow make room for one another – because that’s how we welcome and give birth to Christ in our own lives.

    Today was the monthly Soup Sale at our local Episcopal Church; we have red lentil with carrot and lemon, clam bisque, three bean beef barley, split pea with ham…feel free to heat up a bowl!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Checking in late here. We have our first guest (my mother-in-law) arriving tomorrow, and won’t be back to the usual population until the 30th. It seemed smart to get all the shopping finished (yesterday) and the presents wrapped (today), so between that and the ordinary day for a dog and a child, it was almost dinner time before either of us started writing. I have about half a sermon, but there’s disturbingly little Zechariah or God in it thus far. Time to make a big turn…


      1. The trouble is the rest of the service is pretty thin. We have trouble making it to an hour most weeks. Last week I preached a long one (for me), and we were still around 50 minutes. Somehow I feel that reflects on me, although I can’t exactly say why.


        1. Do you know, or think, that people want or need a longer service? My folks are pretty happy when the service is an hour or less. (Although some seasons we run 75 minutes but that’s because of singing and choir anthems….)


            1. I hear you, though, worrying about doing one’s job….happens to me sometimes too, although for me it plays out over how many hours I am in the office, as if office hours are any indication of how many hours I actually work…sigh.

              Liked by 3 people

  15. 7:30pm and time to get to work. I am valiantly fighting off some kind of bug that is making me need to blow my nose every 4 minutes, and the cats are snuggly all over my lap, but I will try anyway. It’s Zechariah here, with the theme of Trust as a way to give voice to God’s promise. I have been pondering silence…to the extent that I think the prayers of the people will be several minutes of silence, rather than me writing a prayer….and how perhaps Zechariah learned trust through the silence–because when he could no longer speak, he was forced to learn to listen. Or something. I’ve also been pondering the question that got him silenced, and how it is different from Mary’s. Z asks “how will I know this is true?” and M asks “how will it happen?” Those feel different to me…though I’m not entirely sure I can articulate that difference, but I think it has something to do with trust.

    Since I’m trying desperately not to be sick, I have Thai food. There’s red curry still…I ate all the Tom Yum already. Help yourselves, or find the peppermint candy ice cream in the freezer! 🙂


  16. It’s 6:15 p.m. I’ve patched a couple of walls and repaired a towel rack, had a delightful brunch with old friends, been to the grocery and hardware stores, visited a new mom in the hospital and her newborn preemie in NICU (doing beautifully, just tiny)…and not one thought for the kid friendly sermon I need to preach tomorrow morning. Any great ideas out there? I’m somewhere between denial and despair, with zero ideas.

    Bunch of teen boys at my house binge watching previous Star Wars movies, so I have lots of pizza and soda to share 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Well, the semester’s papers and my ember letter are done. I took my daughter out for lunch (she’s just home from college), went to the library for fun books and the grocery store for breakfast goodies, and I’m finally sitting down to write now.

    This is not a sermon to be preached from the lectern. Truly “Good News” comes from the margins, after all. Mary and Elizabeth were two Nobodies, yet the writer of Luke makes them prophets and priests. The Gospel is for outsiders.

    So I go back to a question that’s been sitting with me all week: How do we recognize the emergence of God, the hidden miracles, taking place in and around us? How do we wake up to the presence of God, and what are we invited into when we do?

    I am moving through Advent with a lot of post-divorce grief. I know pregnancy and child-rearing aren’t automatic joy-producers for everyone in my congregation, and we are all “the rich” who, if we hear it, will be uncomfortable with Mary’s song. This feels like a tender Sunday. the longest night is looming.

    Jan Richardson’s post “This Luminous Darkness” has been important for me today. I don’t know if it seeds the sermon, but it definitely lights my journey in.

    I have always preached from a manuscript in this church. I am going to step away from that and use note cards tomorrow so I can move.

    (random beginning thoughts. It might be a late night here!)


    1. Yes, Jan Richardson’s post is poignant in so many ways. I am so sorry for your grief and the challenges of your life and the convergence of this season….I think you will appreciate using note cards and not being glued to a text. I use a text but on my iPad and I only scoop up phrases, I don’t read it….anyway, I will hold you in prayer for tomorrow, for the tenderness of the time.


          1. Thank you. It was really good. I felt so free and the congregation responded with comments that showed many engaged both their hearts and their minds. It was definitely time to get out from behind that lectern.

            Liked by 1 person

  18. Well Preacher friends. It is 10:30pm (Eastern USA time) and I need to go to bed, a long day tomorrow. Thank you for partying with me today. I will hold each of you in my prayers tomorrow, may the Holy Spirit fill your words, feed your people, and bless you with peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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