Advent 4: A Blessing Called Sanctuary

By Jan Richardson

The Sanctuary Between UsImage: The Sanctuary Between Us © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year C: Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste
to a Judean town in the hill country,

where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.

—Luke 1.39-40

The archangel Gabriel has extended his astounding invitation. Mary has given her astonishing yes. Now she is alone—suddenly, entirely, dangerously alone—save for the unlikely child she now carries.

She flees: toward her kinswoman, toward refuge, toward sanctuary.

In the home of Elizabeth, in the company of her cousin who is herself pregnant in most unusual circumstances, Mary finds what she most needs. Elizabeth gathers and enfolds her. Welcomes her. Blesses her.

In response to Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary sings. And how she sings! She sings of a God who brings down the powerful, who lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things. Strangely, wonderfully, Mary sings of a God who not only will do these things, but who has done these things. She sings as if God has already accomplished the redemption and restoration of the world.

O my friends, this is what a blessing has the power to do. The blessing that Elizabeth speaks and enacts through her words, her welcome, her gift of sanctuary: such a blessing has the power to help us, like Mary, speak the word we most need to offer. Such a blessing gives us a glimpse of the redemption that God, in God’s strange sense of time, has somehow already accomplished. Such a blessing stirs up in us the strength to participate with God in bringing about this redemption in this time, in this world.

Where will we go, like Mary, to find and receive such a blessing?

How will we open our heart, like Elizabeth, to offer it?

A Blessing Called Sanctuary

You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
nothing of you
found foreign or strange,
nothing of your life
that you were asked
to leave behind
or to carry in silence
or in shame.

Tentative steps
became settling in,
leaning into the blessing
that enfolded you,
taking your place
in the circle
that stunned you
with its unimagined grace.

You began to breathe again,
to move without fear,
to speak with abandon
the words you carried
in your bones,
that echoed in your being.

You learned to sing.

But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger
in safety,
in stasis.

The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found—
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart:

that you are beloved,
precious child of God,
beautiful to behold,*
and you are welcome
and more than welcome

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

*Thanks to the Rev. Janet Wolf and the congregation of Hobson United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for the story in which these words—“beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold”—were offered to help transform the life of a member of their community. You can read the story here.

CIRCLE OF GRACE: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Circle of GraceWithin the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us. from the Introduction

Beginning in Advent and moving through the sacred seasons of the Christian year, Circle of Grace offers Jan’s distinctive and poetic blessings that illuminate the treasures each season offers to us. A beautiful gift this Advent and Christmas. Available in print and ebook.


Advent Bonus! One of Gary’s wondrous songs for Advent was inspired by the story of Mary and Elizabeth. It’s called “Celebrate the Coming of the Lord,” and I would love to share it with you. To listen, simply click the Play button on the audio player below. (For my email subscribers: if the audio player doesn’t appear in your email, click to visit the blog and see the audio player.) The song is from Gary’s CD Songmaker’s Christmas.

For previous reflections on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, click the image or title below.

For Joy
Advent 4: For Joy

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “The Sanctuary Between Us,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Advent special! During this season, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

4 Responses to “Advent 4: A Blessing Called Sanctuary”

  1. Sue Mannshardt Says:

    Jan – the images of both Mary and Joseph standing alone with their “Yes’s!” continues to amaze and astound me…how terrified they would have been to go against everything their faith had taught them…and how comforting it must have been for Mary to be so welcomed and not judged by her older cousin…What a gift of grace…Would that we all had an “Elizabeth” in our lives to offer such love and support during those shadowed times when fear keeps us from stepping out with courage and trust “that God has not forgotten the recipe for manna!” (one of my favorite quotes from Night Visions!)….Blessings to you!

  2. Rebecca Migliore Says:

    How beautiful and timely. I’m so glad you are sharing these thoughts and art work with us. I have missed being blessed by you.

  3. Jan Richardson Says:

    Sue and Rebecca, thank you so much! I just now found your comments waiting in the queue to be approved. Typically my blog host automatically sends an email notification when a new comment arrives, but for some reason that feature has apparently stopped working recently. It was wonderful to find your words just now. I am so sorry for the glitch and for the resulting delay in your comments appearing here.

    Thank you for the gift of your words and your thoughtfulness! Many blessings to you.

  4. Jo Ann Aymar Says:

    I met you several years ago in Orlando at a Presbyterian Women World Conference and was deeply moved by your sermon, Just wanted you to know how much I appreciate the many ways you share your God given gifts,
    You art and poetry continue to inspire me, I will use this poem at the end of worship service for. The fourth week of Advent and will encourage people to follow you on your blogs.

    I just ordered one of you books and look forward to reading it.
    Peace and Blessing

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