We saw a beautiful big lake - Lake Macquarie. When the bushfires were under control, the water was blue. There were sailing boats there - two big regattas the first weekend -and a headland with houses on top - what a view those people must have!
What did we see? We weren't far from the open sea, either - Caves Beach with sandstone caves right at sand level, Redhead - an amazing headland, higher than Point Cartwright, sculpted by wind and weather over the centuries
What did we see? Yes, we saw many different things, but mostly we saw the wedding of our eldest daughter Ruth to Tony Crosby in the Redhead Anglican Church last Sunday afternoon. And there were relatives who didn't have a fortnight in which to see all the different things we saw, and yet they were present to see what we saw!
When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they saw many things. Lions, horses, dinosaurs, rabbits, mice all were living happily together.
Then one day Adam and Eve tried hiding. They stitched a few leaves together and hid among the trees trying to look like bushes.
Who were they trying to hide from? Were they playing peek-a-boo with the lions? No, that wasn't the reason. Were they afraid the hippopotamus might see them? No. Were they hunting rabbits? No, they weren't. Everything in the garden had been harmonious and happy.
They were trying to hide from God. That was a bit stupid because God knows everything anyway. They were afraid of God. They had disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. They were guilty and felt ashamed.
They were trying to enjoy God's garden without God. They were missing out on the most important relationship of all - on what they were mostly here for! That was even worse than if we had spent a fortnight at Belmont and not gone to Ruth's wedding!
And that has become the story of the human race - the failure to live the life we are really here for, the attempt to enjoy God's world without God. So the Psalmist wrote, "The Lord looks down from heaven at human beings to see if there are any who are wise, any who worship him. But they have all gone wrong; they are all equally bad. Not one of them does what is right, not a single one" (Ps. 14.2-3). The priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, not just the sins of the people. The prophet said of himself that "every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful" (Is. 6.5).
And in the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus weren't a very hopeful bunch. At the time of Jesus' greatest need they left him and ran away. And Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, called himself the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1.15).
So we come to today's reading - the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth. Mary, pregnant with the one to be called Jesus, Elizabeth with the one to be named John - no ultrascans, but the names were part of God's promise.
One writer comments on this meeting, "Two women, not only kin but now drawn by a common experience, meet in an unnamed village in the hills of Judea. The one woman is old and her son will end an old era; the other is young and virgin and her son will usher in the new" (Fred B. Craddock, HBC).
Elizabeth was six months pregnant - three to go. The baby has been active for a long time now, and as the quarters become more and more cramped, Elizabeth is conscious of every movement. And now, at the very time Mary has greeted her, the baby moves. It is a sign of recognition, of acknowledgment - a leap of joy!
What a privilege! My Lord's mother has come to visit me! "You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear! How happy you are to believe that the Lord's message to you will come true!" (vv. 42, 45). (My husband doubted the promise and is dumb - hasn't spoken for six months! The promise is obviously still coming true, but we have missed out on the blessings of faith).
Whenever this passage is read, I always sense a difference in the way Mary and Elizabeth have viewed the situation. Somehow, Mary doesn't regard herself "the most blessed of women" for what is happening to her. In some ways she still has to face the potential gossip of Nazareth for being pregnant out of marriage.
But even more than this is her praise of God, her deep awareness of what he is doing Yes, and "my soul is glad because of God my Saviour" (v. 47).
The promise to Mary was that the babe she was carrying "will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob for ever" (vv. 32-33). Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, "the holy child will be called the Son of God" (v. 35).
The angelic word of reassurance to Joseph was that "it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived. She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus-because he will save his people from their sins" (Mt. 1.20-21).
Mary knows her need of "God her Saviour". She has been a good person, but is not a sinless one - unlike the one she is carrying. He will save his people from their sins - he will save me from my sins.
Yes, I am glad God has "remembered me, his lowly servant". But people will call me happy "because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me" (v. 49). True, I am fulfilling a special unique role, yet God is acting in a way that is consistent with how he treats all who honour him. Throughout history we see God lifting up those who are humble before him, filling with good things those who come with open hands, faithful to his promises, showing mercy
There are those who read into this passage that God has a preference for the poor, an affinity with the marginalised. But that is not so. Abraham, a very rich man, believed God and was called God's friend (James 2.23). David was a powerful king who had to humble himself before God in repentance - described as "the kind of man I like, a man who will do all I want him to do" (Acts 13.22). Zacchaeus was Jericho's rich man - whom Jesus visited in order to bring salvation and change (Lk. 19).
In practice, it was the common people who heard him gladly (Mk 12.37). We recall what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Now remember what you were, my brothers and sisters, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises, and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important" (1 Cor. 1.26-28). But in all people, whoever they are, God is looking for "a humble and repentant heart" (Ps. 51.17).
So we come back to the vital question, Why are we here? It is all too possible to spend our lives doing many things - they may be good and commendable things, fascinating things, enjoyable things - but miss out on what we are mostly here for.
Sin includes - but is more than - slipping up on the moral law here and there. At its heart, sin is missing out on that on-going relationship with God for which we were made.
Jesus came to save us from our sins. At this season, may we, like Mary, learn to put our trust in him and to rejoice in God our Saviour.