We are all bearers of God to this world, and this season of Advent is a time to remember that we are all called to be expectant, to be waiting and making preparations for Emmanuel, God with us. Join us on this Fourth Sunday of Advent as we light the candle of love and prepare for the birth of the Christ-child.
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. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “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.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
The Gospel of Luke begins with the story of two very different pregnancies. We first meet Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, both righteous before God and who have long-waited to have a child. But according to the Bible, they are quote “getting on in years” (which means they’re getting older) and they haven’t been able to conceive. Now, later in life, comes the surprising and miraculous news that Elizabeth is indeed pregnant.
And then there’s Mary, a young, unwed teenager who receives the shocking news that she, too, is with child. Today’s scripture passage tells us what unfolds when these two women meet. Now, while no two pregnancies are the same, I think that each pregnancy is a time fraught with expectation and emotion. Joy and hope are certainly high on that list. But if we’re honest, it’s also filled with a good amount of fear and trembling as well.
When I talk with most expectant mothers, the first ten minutes are usually filled with all that they’re excited about- the delight, the anticipation, their hopes and dreams. But then, if you sit just a bit longer, the deeply held anxieties and uncertainties seem to slowly follow. Concerns about giving birth, the health of the baby, or the health of the mother, the health of relationships once the baby arrives, how siblings or pets might respond – any complications that might arise, all these fears also lie within those who are expectant.
I’m certainly familiar with the whole gamut of emotions and mild waves of panic that inevitably wash over expectant parents, making us wonder, “Can any of us ever really be ready to be stewards of another human life?” And so this Advent season, I think of young Mary, hearing the news of a pregnancy she did not plan for, a pregnancy that would not sit well with her parents or her community, a pregnancy that Joseph, her fiancé, does not yet know about, and I can only imagine the mixed emotions, the concern, and downright stress she must be undergoing.
What will her parents say? How will her neighbors react? What will Joseph think? Will she be alone?
In the verses immediately preceding this passage, Mary seems to take the news from the angel fairly well, considering how huge the news actually is. But then, I think, we get a sense of Mary’s true state of mind in the first verse of today’s story: “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country…” Mary set out and went with haste; in other words, she left town.
In fact, she ran as fast as her first-trimester body would allow, seeking out her cousin Elizabeth, who she’s heard is also pregnant.
Who knows all the thoughts that flooded her as she made that journey? How scared she must have been? Did she cry along the way? Or laugh at the absurdity of it all? Did she rehearse how she might break the news to her family? Was she afraid and lost? Confused and overwhelmed? We can only use our holy imagination and wonder.
But we do know that what she needed before confronting any of those people was a pregnant pause (pun intended). A pregnant pause is one that gives the impression that it will be followed by something significant; a pause that is rich with meaning and expectation. Comedians use this technique, and I wonder if Mary thought that God was playing some kind of joke on her.
So, she finally reaches her destination, stands on Elizabeth’s doorstep, and I wonder if she had second thoughts about making her presence known. After all, how would her righteous cousin Elizabeth and her priestly husband Zechariah respond to her pre-marital pregnancy? Would they believe her and take her in, or would they shame and shun her, turning her away? But with nowhere else to go, Mary takes a risk and greets her cousin. In the midst of Mary’s uncertainty and fear, Elizabeth’s response draws her in, envelopes her in blessing and joy, not in judgment or shame, accepting her and her situation, even blessing her, rejoicing with her.
We need more people like Elizabeth in this world, people who are willing to move past judgment and shame to offer God’s blessing. People who look at the world and see God’s redeeming work at hand, rather than seeing the worst in others and themselves.
We need people like Elizabeth who can move us from a place of fear to a place of hope and singing. We need people like Elizabeth. People who see us and can spot the expectant Christ-child that longs to be born in us and in our lives.
Meister Echkhart a German theologian and mystic says, “We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.”
This Season of Advent, our theme has been “Bearing the Light.” We remember that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was a bearer of light as she nurtured this life within her own body.
And when I think about it, Advent is really just one big pregnant pause, inviting us to slow down, inviting us to wait and watch and prepare, inviting us to find those people who are like Elizabeths in our lives and to spend some time in their company.
And Advent is a season for all of us to bear the light.
No matter where we are in life, the embodiment of light and love longs to be born in you and through you – whether you are mourning loss; facing end of life; expecting your first child or fifth grand-child; whether you are enjoying a break from school, or burdened by the busyness of this season, Advent calls to you to pause and remember that, “We are all called to be mothers of God, for God is always waiting to be born.”
We are all bearers of God to this world, and this season is a time to remember that we are all called to be expectant, to be waiting, and making preparations for Emmanuel, God with us. And we need this time to prepare and make way, for what awaits us on the other side is completely and utterly life-changing.
This biblical image of two modest, pregnant women, Elizabeth and Mary, carrying the Message and the Messenger, on the brink of changing the course of human history through what grows within them, shows us a glimpse of a world about to turn, the world that Mary sings of in her song, the song we’ve come to know as the Magnificat.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” she says. And not just because of the good things God has done for her or for your or for me personally, but because of how the world is about to change.
Mary’s song tells of a world where the proud are scattered, the powerful are brought down, and the lowly lifted up; of a world where the hungry are filled and the rich are sent away empty; a world where God hears and answers the plight of the lost, the last, the least and the lonely. And a new world order is established where indeed the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Mary’s song is a radical one. It is a song of hope birthed in a time of hopelessness and a song of joy birthed in a time of uncertainty; a song of love birthed in a time wrought with divisions.
A time not so unlike our own: where disparities between the rich and the poor seem ever-more insurmountable; where there are those who feast until they are grossly full while others go away hungry; where there are homes filled with beautifully-packaged gifts while others have no place to call home at all; where a “Go Fund Me” page for a border wall can raise over $15 million while children die in the custody of our border patrol.
It is into this time that Mary sings, sings and dreams of a different kind of world. And through her song, she not only names those promises of God, but is able to enter into them. To claim her place in how the world might change. Songs are like that sometimes. Helping us to believe the words we sing in ways we might not otherwise. So, Mary sings, and in this Advent season, we join her song, claiming our own place in how the world might change. And helping us to see how we are lodged in that promise. Recognizing that we, too, give birth to Christ in this world through our actions and our lives, that we, too, can allow God to enter in, embodied in flesh, to become a real presence that brings about change.
There is risk, however, in that time of expectation, and there is risk in birth. We cannot live lives of complacency and comfort and expect new life to come. We must take a dangerous journey, even as we are expectant, and we must boldly sing and live transformation. Because our Advent preparation and waiting is not just for the birth of a child, but for the birth of a whole new way of life.
A revolution, not fought with weapons of war, but with love, forgiveness, mercy and healing. A revolution, brought not by force or powerful men, but by two pregnant women, and the birth of a baby in a manger. Marguerite Annie Johnson was born in 1928. She was a survivor of sexual assault; and was completely silent from the age of eight to age thirteen, five years, because she was afraid of the power of her own voice. As a young adult she worked in various occupations, including a fry cook, sex worker, and nightclub dancer.
In 1959, at age 31, she focused on a career and began to write poetry under the name Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou is a real-world embodiment of the Magnificat, of the lowly being lifted up; of a revolution not fought with weapons, but, for Angelou, with words that would bring life to those who would read them; from silence to a courageous voice that would declare, “I know why the caged bird sings.”
She birthed empowerment, hope, and possibility through her poetry. And there was risk in the birth, there always is, but she chose to do so any way.
And we are called to do the same in our own lives, in our own unique ways. We are not all Marys or Mayas or Elizabeths, but we can all participate in giving birth to something greater and more wonderful than we can even imagine: to birth new friendships and understandings that cut across divides; to birth a hospitality, a welcome, and a love that knows no borders; to birth new ministries that are life-giving; to birth new ministers who will serve passionately.
In this season of Advent, may we prepare our hearts and homes to be ready for Love to be born among and within us.
Madeleine L’Engle captures it all perfectly in her Advent Poem: “The Risk of Birth”. Hear now her words:
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
Friends, love is born, through you and in you, and in spite of us, too. Thanks be to God. Amen.