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with bellies swollen with the soon-to-be

December 23, 2012
by
Mary and Elizabeth,Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem.

Mary and Elizabeth,
Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem.

 

 

This is the last Sunday of Advent.  This afternoon, we are busy with last minute preparations for tomorrow’s Christmas pageant but this morning was spent with Mary and Elizabeth, waiting.  This is the sermon I preached.

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Luke 1:39-55

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”

Among so many other things, Jesus is evidence of the trustworthiness of God.

It wouldn’t have looked like it, on the outside.  It might not have felt like it – at least not to one who hadn’t been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, an overshadowing that I can’t imagine being finished at the moment of conception, considering what was still to come.  Instead, I imagine the Holy Spirit staying, hovering, waiting, loving – both Mary and the tiny spark of unimaginable life she was growing within her body.

On the outside, it would have looked like God was, at best, careless, and at worse cruel.  Putting a vulnerable young woman in a very compromising situation – playing fast and loose with her reputation and the security of her future – and of her scandalous son’s future, risking everything – the salvation of the world itself  not only on her strength but on her community’s ability to tolerate her.

But Mary knew that God was trustworthy.  In the moment of her “yes”, she proclaimed her faith – her trust – in the One who promised to turn the world upside down, bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly.

I wonder, though, if there were moments, even filled with the Holy Spirit, when doubts crept in.  When she wondered if she had been terribly naïve or irresponsible or just plain crazy.  Maybe that’s why she went to Elizabeth – not to hide from the scornful looks of her neighbours, the worried, disappointed eyes of her parents, the confused silence of Jo

seph – but to be reassured that her yes had been right and true.  That the goodness promised by God would indeed come to pass and she had been inspired, not deluded, in trusting him.

The angel had held Elizabeth’s pregnancy up as evidence for the power and generousity of God.  Maybe Mary needed to be near this other miraculous mother and son.

If that was the case, imagine how Mary’s heart must have leapt, her spirit soared, at Elizabeth’s greeting:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”.

Her confidence restored by Elizabeth, Mary’s faith and joy burst forth in a wild, daring song in which she proclaimed the promises already fulfilled in spite of the state of expectancy in which she found not only herself and her kinswoman but also the whole world.

And this is how the great truth is first revealed.  No choirs of angels yet, no travelling stars, just two women, bellies swollen with the soon-to-be.

Which is just as it had to be.   The miracle of the incarnation reveals that the personal is not just political – the personal is cosmic.  It is in the intimate joys and sufferings of women, men, and children that God is encountered and it is through those joys and sufferings that we are called to hold tight to God’s promises.

The image of these two pregnant women, expectant, confused, anxious, rejoicing, is so familiar.  Who among us has not waited for a child, whether our own or that of someone we love, filled with anticipation for the joy and love that the child’s arrival will bring but also with concern for the uncertainty of the whole human enterprise?  What will life hold for this person-to-come?  What new wonders or sorrows will they introduce into the lives of those who love them – or even those who don’t?  How will this person, created by God, participate in God’s plan for his creation?

This is a lot to put on an unborn baby but our greatest hopes -and our worst fears – all seem to land on children, miraculous expressions of the creative force, fully-formed at each present moment but still not-yet all they will become.  Children live in an Advent place – a dangerous, remarkable already but not yet that can help us to glimpse, however inaccurately, the future God is already shaping.

The image of these two pregnant women is so powerful, in part, because we know the future that awaits them and their remarkable babies.  We know that both their hopes and their fears are well-founded.  We know that this certainty in God’s promises will be profoundly tested.

I imagine Mary returned to the memory of this joyful moment, of shared confidence and faith many times over the next months and years.  I imagine Mary often found it hard to believe that God was working the salvation of the world – perhaps in mundane moments (what, after all, do sleepless nights with a fussy baby have to do with the salvation of the world) and certainly in tragic ones.  As she and her small family fled to Egypt, escaping the horror of Herod’s slaughtering of children, what must she have thought about God’s promises?

What do we think about God’s promises, as we watch the headlines in horror?

Children turned into soldiers in order to kill one another; children wasting away due to starvation and preventable disease; children re-named collateral damage; children murdered by sick people with dangerous weapons.

Surely, this is not why these children were created, not the way they were to become part of God’s world.

I do not believe that these tragedies are God’s will.  But I do believe, sometimes firmly and sometimes less so, that these tragedies will not stop God, do not make meaningless the promises Mary proclaims in her song… or carries in her body.

The promise that God is with us, deeply, intimately, at the level of our own ordinary , miraculous incarnation.

The promise that God is present in the lives of all those children, however brief they may have been, and of their grieving loved ones, no less at their deaths than at their births.

The promise that God will, ultimately, save us from the wickedness and injustice and inequality that plagues us – that’s God presence with us has, in fact, already saved us, making it possible for us to live out our incarnation by participating in God’s plan for creation.

We were all, after all, once children.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”.

This blessing is not only for Mary.  It’s for us, too.  Blessed are we, happy are we, when we believe that there will be a fulfillment of what is spoken by the Lord – that the world is destined not for sorrow but for joy, not for hate but for love, not for death but for life.

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