Rev. Rebecca M. Heilman
Luke 1:39-55


I’m taking a different spin on our Scripture this week. We will be looking at the Magnificat, the song that Mary sings when she learns she will be a God bearer, she will be the mother to Jesus. For our sermon today, I will be the voice of Mary in conversation with Melanie Hood, a longtime Trinity member, as we discover a turning point with God in Mary’s story and Melanie’s story and how that turning point shifted towards joy. Melanie and I will be conversing back and forth, I as Mary, and Melanie with her experiences. I will read Scripture from here and then head down to be with Melanie. And because I won’t get an opportunity at the end, I just want to thank Melanie for sharing a story of her life. I guarantee you, her holy words are the sermon today. And so listen now to Mary’s song of praise after she’s learned she’s pregnant with the Son of God. She is sing to and probably with Elizabeth. I’m reading from Luke chapter 1, verses 46 through 55 from the Common English Bible Translation.

I, Mary, sang to Elizabeth
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
God has looked with favor on the low status of God’s servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is God’s name.
God shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors God as God.
God has shown strength with God’s arm.
God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
God has come to the aid of God’s servant Israel,
remembering God’s mercy,
just as God promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and to all our descendants forever.”

My Friends, this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

I never imagined my life to turn out like this. This. The son of God in my womb? King of kings? Lord of Lords? The prince of peace? I’m merely a young teenage peasant girl from the dry lands of Nazareth. Born of low status, engaged to me married to a carpenter, who I barely know. Locals consider me poor. I’m often hungry and work late into the night, hauling water and caring for the animals and my family. What is God thinking by choosing me? As you know in earlier readings of my story, I am troubled by this pregnancy. It doesn’t make sense, I’m not even married yet. How could this happen? I know I’m of age or whatever…to bear children, but that’s not what troubles me…it’s how could God choose me? I mean, I’ve always been faithful, practiced the Jewish laws. And I’ve always believed in God. But it’s been a distant God, a God who I’ve prayed to, l learned about, heard about. A God from stories who showed up to mostly men and to the most powerful, like Moses and Elijah.  A God way up there or over there, but not here. And now God is here (points to belly). Literally, here. In a belly the size of the fish who swallowed Jonah, the size of Noah’s ark filled to the max with animals. I’m pregnant with the Son of God. God is right within me, and God chooses me, little ole me. I know many of you hear the song, Mary did you know? Oh I knew! I knew! I knew the magnitude of this gift, of this responsibility. I’ll be honest, I didn’t believe it at first, but it wasn’t God or the son of God that didn’t believe in. It was that God chose me and when I finally came around to the idea, my life and faith changed. I had a turning point with God, one of those thin places. The Rev. Michael Curry, the current Archbishop of the Episcopal Church, describes a thin place as, “those moments when time is intersected by eternity, when the human is touched by the divine, when God gets real.”[1] It may be momentary or like for me, Mary, it was life changing, transformative, a turning point to bring me closer to the God that I so deeply believe in. It changed my understanding of who God is and who God chooses to be close to. Melanie, have you experienced something like this? Tell me about a time when you’ve had a turning point with God.


I’ve had many turning points with God over the course of my life, but I’d like to share one story that had a huge impact on my faith and my understanding of God.

Almost twenty years ago, when I was a young mom, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. Although my prognosis was very good, I was absolutely devastated. My husband David and I were in the prime of our lives: We had two precious little boys and were hoping to have another child soon; David’s young business was taking off; And we were getting ready to buy our dream home. Life had been nearly perfect, and now I began to see our dreams slipping away. I wondered if I would get to see my boys grow up and if we’d get to have that third child. There were so many occasions and milestones I wanted to share with my family – birthdays, holidays, graduations, and weddings, just to name a few.

Our Trinity family rushed in to care for our young family. Meals were delivered, playdates were arranged for our boys, and Chris Hill, Trinity’s visitation minister at the time, was at our home nearly every week. In the early days after my diagnosis, I tried to be really positive and upbeat during my visits with Chris, downplaying my diagnosis and shrugging off my “scrape, poison and burn” treatment protocol — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. As Chris left our home after a visit one day, she turned to me and said, “You seem to be doing really well right now, but don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and find yourself shaking your fist at God.”   I remember smiling and nodding politely, but I was really thinking, “I’m not that stupid.”  I’d been raised to fear God, and I certainly wasn’t going to jeopardize my shot at eternal life by getting angry with Him, especially given my health predicament.

It took just a few weeks for Chris’ prediction to come true. Chemo turned out to be a beast.  I woke up one morning, wracked by nausea and fatigue from the previous day’s chemo session, and watched helplessly as David fed and clothed our boys, packed lunches, cleaned up the kitchen, started the laundry, got ready for work and took our boys to preschool.   As soon as David and the boys left, I was filled with anger toward God. I screamed with rage over my diagnosis and our situation, how unfair it was to the boys, to David, and to me.  I expressed doubts about God’s faithfulness and even the very existence of God.  When my rampage was over, I was filled with deep remorse.  Yelling at God?  What was I thinking??  What a STUPID thing for a cancer patient to do.

My tantrum wiped me out, and as I laid on the sofa pondering and dreading the eternal consequences of my rampage, the phone rang.  It was Karen Newsome, a friend and Presbyterian minister.  Karen told me that she wanted to share a sermon with me and asked if she could drop it by my house in a few minutes (remember-this was in the very early days of email!).  I answered “yes,” thinking it would be in my best interest to read this sermon and try to make amends with God.

Karen dropped off the sermon and as I began to read it, I was stunned by how appropriate both the topic and the timing were.  Karen’s sermon was about what to do with “feelings of despair, remorse, anger or fear,” and the “answer” was to honestly pour out our hearts to God, especially sharing “expressions of doubt and despair.”  I wept as I read the closing passage from Isaiah 49 in Karen’s sermon:  “Can a mother forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”   In that moment, I felt truly seen and embraced by God, and I knew that God had forgiven my tantrum.

This “holy ground” moment was a pivotal event in my faith journey as my understanding of God changed from God as an aloof and distant judge to a gracious God who knows and loves me unconditionally. My faith began to transform from fear-based and ritualistic to grace-based and relational. It was probably not the first time God had spoken to me, but it was certainly the first time I’d been paying attention.


Melanie, I feel similarly. I hadn’t really been paying attention to God because I felt God was far off, present, but not present with me. And so having a turning point, that thin place with God, when the Angel came to me telling me the news of my pregnancy, my life changed and the world is about to change, too. Naturally I felt closer to God, I finally felt a relationship with God. That even with my low status, poor environment, exhausted, swollen feet, God saw me, all of me, and I could see myself and love myself for the first time in a long time. I felt nothing but joy. I felt relief. I felt alive again, as if I have a purpose on this earth. And I could not help but ring my voice in rejoice and sing,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
God has looked with favor on the low status of God’s servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name.

I don’t mean to make you all uncomfortable by saying, “surely from now on all generations will call me blessed” because I know #blessed movement is controversial and selfish. What I mean to say is that I could not rejoice, I could not release my love for God, without first learning to love myself. And accept for myself that of course, of course God can favor me too. Just like each of you. And the man on the street corner and the loved one struggling with addiction, and the families using Trinity’s Little Free Pantry. When I learned that God sees me, knows me, loves me all of me There was some sort of liberation, self-liberation. And joy leapt from my heart and the world changed. How about you, Melanie? After your turning point with God, how did your perspective change on joy?


I found joy in knowing that the God who saw Hagar in the wilderness thousands of years ago saw me in my wilderness, too — that the God of Biblical times is living and active today. And so I began to pay attention and look and listen for God’s voice in the seemingly ordinary and mundane moments of life.

I found joy in knowing God as Emmanuel; that God is with me, no matter where I am, even to the end of the age. I’ve found tremendous joy in the peace that comes from an overwhelming sense of God’s presence despite my circumstances. That our God doesn’t just watch us from afar – he comes to us. The same God who got in the boat with Peter and the disciples during a storm gets in the boat with me. In Jeremiah, God says “you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” And, indeed I have found God over and over again in the years since my tantrum- at the bedside of a dying parent, in emergency rooms with sick and injured children, and in operating rooms and CT scanners after yet another cancer diagnosis.

And I’ve found Joy in God’s grace, in knowing God loves me unconditionally and that I don’t have to “do” anything to earn God’s favor. I’ve found joy in wanting to serve God in response to his grace and faithfulness instead of feeling obligated to serve God in order to secure my salvation.


Isn’t that the most beautiful gift of God? We don’t have to do anything and God loves us, God accepts, and God made us who we are.  I believe Anne Lamott, another modern holy woman, writes about grace. She writes, “I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Melanie, I come from a different world as you. I’m a teenager, pregnant, engaged, a God bearer…whatever that means, I’m often scared and there are risks, especially for women pregnant out of wedlock here in the dry lands of the middle east. But through all our differences, there’s one thing we and our stories share together, our joy in God. How do you live out your joy today?


A friend recently said to me that “joy is an act of rebellion,” and I think that’s true. It can be difficult to be joyful in a world that is constantly telling us we can never be smart enough or pretty enough or wealthy enough, a world where horrific tragedies occur every single day, a world where life-altering diagnoses and pandemics persist, a world filled with injustice, and a world that can just feel unspeakably cruel at times; But my confidence in a loving and gracious God who will never leave me or forsake me implores me to choose joy.  Psalm 119 says “this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” And so I really try to rejoice – no matter what – and most often I find joy through gratitude, acts of kindness and my faith.

I wake up every morning truly grateful for another day on this earth with my precious family, which now includes that third child. I’m grateful for so many things I used to take for granted – like my health, my family’s health, my home, my friends, and even ordinary moments that I was too busy to notice before – a beautiful fall day, a glorious sunset, and being healthy enough to cook dinner for my family.

I try to practice kindness each day. My family will be the first to tell you that I’m not always successful, but I try. Having been on the receiving end of the extravagant generosity of family, friends and even strangers, I can testify that a friendly smile, an encouraging word or a simple meal has the power to make the recipient feel seen and loved. And after reading Jill Duffield’s “Advent in Plain Sight,” I’m challenging myself to be courageously kind- not just kind when it’s convenient or fits into my budget or schedule, but kind even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient or downright scary. I want to be the hands and feet of God to others – just as others have been the hands and feet of God to me and my family.

And, finally, I live with the confidence that God has always been and will continue to be faithful to me, that there is no place God won’t go with me, that He is with me always – even to the end of the age.


Pray with us. Loving God, we believe. Help our unbelief. Amen.