151220 – Do You Realize?

Yr C ~ Advent 4 ~ Luke 1:39-45

Today is the last Sunday in Advent. Our Advent calendars are almost empty, but not yet. Yes, the light of the world is already here, but symbolically we’re reminding ourselves of the journey.
So we’re still waiting. We’re still preparing. We’re still discerning what hope, and peace, and joy really mean for us this year as we wrestle with familiar and often challenging texts.do you realize

I’ve laid it on fairly thick for the last couple of weeks trying to underline how big a deal this receiving the light of the world thing is. Maybe one of the reasons we’ve slowly fallen into a more commercialized version of Christmas is because the scriptural teaching of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth are so weighty and demand a lot from us. It’s way easier to latch onto the ‘hearth and home’ stuff and talk glowingly about ‘peace on earth and joy to all people’ than it is to hear John the Baptizer rail away about what it takes to really prepare the way.

We so casually talk about the coming of the light, but we tend to forget that it isn’t just a nice, warm comforting candle that dances gently in the breeze – it’s the light of God, the uncompromising holy light that penetrates through our darkness, leads us to new life, and shines through us to renew the world.
It’s powerful. It’s weighty. It’s a big deal. It’s not to be treated lightly.
Fa-la-la’s are fun and all but they don’t quite capture the spirit of what’s really at stake here.

If you want to know what Advent really means, and what preparing for Christmas is really like you need to look hard at Mary’s story. Surely you know how the story goes, right? I wonder?
What a remarkable young woman this Mary-betrothed-to-Joseph was.
Think about Mary compared to what we’ve been talking about here for the last few weeks.

Do you think she took time to pause and breathe and reflect on God’s Presence as she learned of her untimely pregnancy?

Do you think it felt like the apocalypse to her to be pregnant before she was properly married and risk losing everything and being ostracized?

Do you think that as she paused she was able to see God in her circumstance, and know she was not alone?

Do you think she was able to open her hand and let go of her fear and her uncertainty and accept God’s gift of new life even if she didn’t know how things would turn out?

Do you think pregnancy counts as bulldozers making your path straight?

Do you think she could hear God or sense God’s Presence when she had to share her news with Joseph and her family?

Do you think she understood what a total commitment receiving the light and love of God was and that by journeying deeper she would be blessed in ways that at that moment she couldn’t possibly comprehend?

Do you think she understood that in the societal shame of her premature pregnancy that by remaining faithful and open those judgements would fall away and she’d be seen for the beautiful, trusting, Spirit-filled person that she was?

I think for Mary the answer to all those questions was an emphatic Yes!

So today we turn to her, filled with what we might recognize as Advent hope, peace, and deep joy, as she embraces Advent love as she visits with her relative Elizabeth.

Just after receiving the angel’s news that she would be overshadowed by or “enveloped” by the Spirit and that the baby she would bear would be called son of God, and that Mary’s relative Elizabeth who was “advanced in days” (probably meaning beyond usual child-bearing years) and barren (never having children) was now 6 months pregnant…we get Luke 1:39-45

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/trusted that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Two things grabbed me as I read this text this year. The first was the word leaped.

The child leaped in her womb! (I loved the way they did it in that video.) Leaped – not moved, not kicked, but leaped. The word means to leap for joy, to skip, to bound with enthusiasm. Obviously it’s poetic and not literal – Elizabeth isn’t being flung around the place by the leaping – but it’s a great description. In verse 44 she tells Mary and emphasizes the joy in the leap. Joy here means wild joy, ecstatic, delight, exaltation. It’s such a delightful scene. Two women filled with the Holy Spirit rejoicing in one another’s news.

The second thing that grabbed me was that the story is drenched in blessing.

Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The angel to Mary. Elizabeth to Mary.
We know that in their culture Mary would have been shamed and judged but curiously there is none of that in this gospel.
The only thing here is blessing.
The only thing here is love.

Even in Matthew’s gospel where the focus is on Joseph’s reaction to the news it’s possible to read the story as being entirely private. Joseph was apparently planning to divorce her quietly – suggesting Mary’s pregnancy was still secret. If it was public and the village tongues were wagging there’d be nothing quiet about the divorce – it would be a scandal.

What I’m saying is that it occurred to me when reading the story this time that I may have been reading my own stuff into it. Mary as the poor little victim – Mary as the shunned and shamed woman – Mary as keeping faith despite being besieged by negativity.
But read it carefully. All of that stuff is true about how an out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy would have been treated in their culture – but none of that is actually in the texts.

We tend to treat this visit to Elizabeth as Mary shamefully slinking off in disgrace to have her baby away from the judging eyes of her village. Some of us may even have memories of young girls being “sent away” when pregnant to avoid supposedly shaming their family. But these pregnancies aren’t written that way.

Luke’s gospel begins with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and her unlikely, curious pregnancy that actually removed her disgrace of being barren. And Mary goes to Elizabeth with enthusiasm. The usual translation says she went with haste which sounds like she’s escaping but the fuller meaning of the word is enthusiasm. It’s a joyful trip, not a shameful one.

At first glance these are supposed to be unhappy, inconvenient, unplanned and unwelcome pregnancies – but if you read it plainly these are depicted as wondrous, joyous events filled with love.

The angel who announced Mary’s pregnancy blessed her.
Joseph should have divorced her according to custom but he didn’t. Instead he blessed her.
Elizabeth greeted her with open arms and gushed blessings upon her.
Mary wasn’t surrounded by scorn during her pregnancy – she was surrounded by blessing, surrounded by love.

This doesn’t all just happen by accident. These are women of deep faith. These are women who embody the Advent themes we’ve been exploring – hope, peace, deep joy, and love.
Elizabeth says in verse 45 “And blessed is she who believed/trusted that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Did you catch that? She was blessed because she trusted in what she heard.
She experienced God’s Presence, discerned God’s love through prayer, and allowed her life to be transformed by the Spirit.
That’s what we’ve been talking about all Advent!

In the Greek Church Mary is called theotokos – God-bearer. I know that pushes some of our theological buttons.
May I suggest that it more fully means “God-ness bearer”?
In literal ways her inner landscape was being reshaped so that she could birth into the world the God-ness that had transformed her. That’s the literal pregnancy idea.

mary-pregnant-artsyBut can we also see it metaphorically? If so, do you realize that that’s what’s going on inside of you right now?
In the 14th century Meister Eckhart brilliantly said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God.”
We are all meant to be God-ness bearers.
Our inner spiritual landscape is being reshaped so we can birth into the world the God-ness that has transformed us.

Do you realize you are a bearer of God?

Do you realize that you are the one bringing forth the light of the world this Christmas? You!

All that hard stuff we’ve been swimming in the last few weeks are the pregnancy part. Now we’re getting ready to deliver. And the same blessing and the same love that enfolded Mary enfolds you right now.

Don’t just tell the story of the poor couple from a backwater little town that had their baby in a stable 2000 years ago. It’s not just a history lesson.

Also tell the story of how you, here and now, this year, in your own places and your own circles, bring forth the light of God into the world and help people catch a glimpse of what hope looks like, what peace looks like, what deep joy looks like, and what love looks like.
It looks like the light of God coming to a darkened world.
It looks like a tiny baby in Bethlehem.
It looks like you.

The light that Mary birthed, Jesus, is already here, and the light the world is waiting for will be birthed by each and every one of us! Do you see?

The voice crying out in the wilderness calls us to notice God’s Presence and invites us to allow transformation to happen within us and through us. Do you hear?

Birthing the light of God is serious business that demands a great deal of trust and faith as your inner-being is shaped and grown in Christlikeness and your way is made straight. Do you understand?

And the life and love and light that you carry are truly blessed – by angels, and partners, and friends, and loved ones, and by God. Just like Mary, the light of the world is yours to give birth to.

Do you realize how blessed you are?
Do you realize what a blessing you can be?

Amen.