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
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:
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".
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:
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".
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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".
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?
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":
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
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
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.