As I was taking out the books we have for the season, I came across a favorite of mine: Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1&2 by John Calvin and decided that I wanted to re-read this Advent (I had not read it since 2010).
The first sermon corresponds to the passage of Luke 1:39-44 in which Mary rises after receiving the amazing news the angel brought to her, and goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. As I read the passage and Calvin’s comments I could not help but see how much we can learn here about godly friendships (I am aware that Mary and Elizabeth were not friends but cousins, however the principle is the same). When Elizabeth comes and hears what the Lord is doing in Mary’s life she -filled with the Spirit of God- praises God and calls Mary blessed. She knows that God has chosen to give her cousin a greater gift, and she rejoices with her and praises God for that miracle.
If we have been born again, we have already been filled with the Holy Spirit, and that is what can make us be good friends to our sisters and brothers in Christ. It is because Jesus is in us that we can rejoice when we see the gifts our Father has bestowed upon our friends, and can honestly rise up and call them blessed.
Mary receives the not-ordinary-at-all news from the angel: she will be the one to bear the Son of God in her womb! And her first response once the angel departs is to run and seek her friend -and cousin- Elizabeth. Oh, how wonderful it is when the Lord gives us a blessing, an unexpected grace that we cannot keep silent about, and we just want to run to our closest friend and share the joy of that blessing with her. And what a comfort it is to know that our friend will certainly rejoice with us and will call us blessed.
I love that Calvin points that “whenever we speak about what God has done, we should strive to show how much we depend on him alone, and how all we have comes freely from his bountiful hand.” We must never forget that, for if we do we might fall in the temptation of boasting and wanting our friends to see us and not our Father, the Giver of all the good things and gifts He has chosen to freely give us.
How much we still need to learn about how to be good friends to others. Sometimes, I think, it is easier to mourn with our friends in their losses and trials than to rejoice with them in their prosperity and victories. How much we need to learn from Elizabeth; she has her own miracle growing in her womb, and yet, she does not try to compare her gift with Mary’s. Because she a woman filled with the Spirit of God, she rejoices with her and assures her one more time of the Word of God. She speaks God’s promises to her friend and humbles herself as she rejoices to see how the Lord has dealt with both of them.
This season as we start to re-read the story of the Incarnation, it would do us well to remember that, as Calvin writes, the Spirit not also gives us different gifts but “works in each of us, sometimes more fully, sometimes less, in order to teach us that all things come from Him, and that on Him alone we depend.”
Many times we respond in arrogance when we see how the Lord blesses our friends and secretly murmur and point to their many faults, but Calvin reminds us, “The fact that others might have faults should make us still more humble…To see the gifts which God has given to our fellow men ought to stir us up to greater zeal.”
When we grow and really practice this “Elizabeth principle,” when we learn to value God’s gifts in our friends and we bless them and bless the One from whom all blessings flow, then this attitude “will help maintain unity and harmony among us, as we better learn to bear with one another… So a bond of peace and brotherhood exists whenever we make the most of the gifts God apportions those around us.”
May this Advent be a season of seeing Him again in His Word, and seeing Him in the gifts He has freely given our friends,