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The Fruit of Our Womb

Sermon – 12/18/05
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon


Luke 1:39-45

The scripture for this 4th Sunday of advent is the story of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, the two cousins.  So we read in chapter 1 of the gospel of Luke:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’


It was just before the season of advent in 1988 that Judy and I announced to the congregation in Fresno where I was serving at the time that Judy was pregnant with our first child, Paulina.  And it just so happened that the worship materials that year, during the season of advent, that I was using had a call to worship that began with the same line every Sunday:  "This is a time of pregnant expectation".  Of course I couldn't help but refer to this wonderful event in our lives a time or two in the sermons, and 'wonder' as the question is put in our worship & wonder materials.  Wonder about things like -- did Mary have morning sickness too?  Did Mary also crave pickles and peanut-butter in the middle of the night?  J

By the time we came to the 4th Sunday of advent one of my elders said to me "If I hear about pregnant expectations one more time I'm going to throw up!".  So maybe I overdid it just a little.  

I ran across this quote from Weavings, a journal on spirituality, by Wendy Wright, that is a powerful image.  She writes:

"Pregnancy is at the core of the Christian message.  We are pregnant.  We are the place of waiting, of the advent.  We are the womb through who's pulsing life God is born".

And I love that image.  That we are pregnant, that we are the womb through whom God is born.  Maybe it sounds a little strange, I know, for a guy, to use that kind of imagery, and there are probably some women thinking 'yeah, right, like he knows what he's talking about'.  Maybe I don't, but that's never stopped me before from expounding on things J.

But here's my point:  according to church tradition, Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  Of course that divinity comes from God.  The humanity, then, of course has to come from Mary.  Mary, in the story, represents humanity.  There is a very real sense in which the seed of God has been implanted in all of us, not just Mary.  That her story is our story too.  Women and men.  That we are all pregnant with expectation.  That God is born in us in some way.

As Jesus said in the sermon on the mount:  "You are the light of the world".

Mary Ann Williamson draws on that image in her well-known quote, I think made famous by Nelsen Mandela (used it in his inaugural speech in 1994, if memory serves me right that would have been the second time he was elected president of South Africa).  I noted that Elaine used it Sunday night at the Interfaith service as she was asked to be the Christian representative and drew on this passage reflecting on the significance of advent and the birth of Christ.  Williamson writes:

"Let your light shine.  We ask ourselves 'who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?'  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn't serve the world.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.  It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone".

So, in other words, we are no different than Mary.  Our task, like hers, is to bring Christ into the world.  It's not so much about putting Christ back into Christmas -- to be honest, I think Jesus would just as soon that his name was left out of all of the marketing campaigns, who's purpose is only to sell more stuff and to make more money.  What does that have to do with the birth of Jesus anyway?  

I normally don't read the paper on Sunday mornings.  I might glance at the headlines, but when I saw the editorial headline about putting Christ back into Christmas I had to read it.  Excellent editorial by Scott Fellows -- go home and read it if you haven't read it yet, it says it very well.  Everything that I wanted to say and more.

Our task, you see, is no less than about putting Christ back into the world.  To make his message good news again.  To make his presence tangible and real and felt and visible.  The letter 1 Peter calls us "God's chosen people".  Just as God chose Mary, God chooses us to nurture that seed planted within us.  That spark of a divine light which is God's Christmas gift to everyone.  The fruit of our womb that we are called to bear into this world.

And as Williamson notes, our reaction often is to deny that gift.  I mean, who am I to be fabulous and beautiful and talented?  But who are you not to be --in biblical terms, to be a child of God, to be a light to the world?

So I remind you of these two remarkable women in Luke's story.  Elizabeth, old and barren.  In ancient society that was the mark of shame, not be able to bear a child into the world.  And then her young cousin, Mary, a teenager yet to be married.  A virgin, who, like Elizabeth, becomes pregnant through some miraculous means.  And in ancient society, that was such a strong taboo, outside of marriage, that it warranted death by stoning.  So in other words we are dealing here with a has-been and a never-to-be.  I would suggest to you that there is not a single person here who has lower credentials than these two women.  And yet they are the ones chosen by God to bring God's prophet (John the Baptist) and God's son (Jesus Christ) into the world.  And thus Elizabeth is filled with the holy spirit and Mary sings praise to God for the divine reversal that she, a lowly peasant hand-maiden, should be called blessed of all women.

It is not at all rational that God should put so much into the hands of these two.  But as Madeleine LEngel notes, "this is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild.  Had Mary been filled with reason, there would have been no room for the child".

Will you make room?  Will you nurture the seed of divine possibility within you?  Will you seek out that newborn Christ child where we least expect to find him or her?

Two years ago we had a visitor in worship, Leslie McGuire, who sent me this poem that she had written, that sums up my feelings very well, so I'll close with this.  She entitles this "The Growing Christ":

Across the tracks west of town
In an area with few trees and no sidewalks
There stands a row of houses fronted by dogs on chains and junk-cluttered   yards
Here lives are squeezed between factories, heavily trafficked streets, poisoned groundwater, and air fouled daily by idling trains, plumes of yellow smoke and stench often unbearable
A desperate neighborhood one zooms past on the way to somewhere else, huddled in a car never stopping or looking except ahead to something better
But for a late night errand that drove me impatiently along the shortest route through the worst this city has to offer
I would have missed the small plain box house set back from the road
Imagine a drab, defeated landscape, and in the center one tiny home set ablaze with hundreds of white lights, like a vision of a brilliant star shining through our darkest night
There to bring hope and the remembrance of beauty to all passing through that wretched place
And I realized -- before me a gift, hidden in the plain sight of the living Christ growing among us
For behold all around us, if we but look, glorious miracles of spirit burning through the toxic haze of this world's despair
So come, let us venture outside the borders of our comfortable lives
Let us join together to celebrate and hold aloft in the cold and dark seat of human suffering
Love's eternal light, born again unto us this and every day

Let your light shine.


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