1 June 2015

Luke 1:39-49

"When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." (v. 41)

Psalm: Psalm 113


Today's passage leads us into the beginning of the 'Magnificat' (from the first word of the Latin version of Mary's Song of Praise), probably the best known song in the Bible.

In verse 41, before Jesus is born, we read that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. What joy and excitement that brings for her as she sees Mary in a new way, as she gets a new understanding of what God is about.

Sadly sometimes the teaching and practice of the Church is in great contrast to what we see in this text, where the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth and inspires Mary as she offers her song of praise.

Too often the Church, through its teaching and practice, attempts to constrain and limit the Holy Spirit. For centuries it denied or ignored the Holy Spirit in women like Elizabeth, Mary and Hannah (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10). And even today we often limit the Holy Spirit to specific gifts such as speaking in tongues (a gift not given to these three women).

I love the way this verse fits with God's habit of turning things upside down which is at the heart of Mary's song of praise, the Magnificat, just as it was at the heart Hannah's prayer. It fits because just like the teaching of Jesus it overturns both humanity's attempts to control or limit the Holy Spirit (for example to only some people and some gifts) and humanity's subservience to the rich and powerful.

Elizabeth and Mary are filled with the Holy Spirit in different ways and both are powerfully used by God in turning the world upside down. When Mary praises God for turning the world upside down she and Elizabeth are part of that process. Similarly when we give priority to the rich and powerful we stand against the Holy Spirit that we see at work in Elizabeth, Mary and Hannah. When we stand with the poor and the powerless then, like them, we join with God at work in the world and the power of the Holy Spirit fills us.

To Ponder

  • How does your understanding and/or experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit fit with Elizabeth and Mary?
  • Reflect on the joy and insights the Holy Spirit brings Elizabeth. How does this fit with your expectations and experience?
  • What do you think of the idea of God turning the world upside down? How does that fit with your life, your calling and your discipleship?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.