Sermon for Advent 4 -The Rev. Faith Perrizo

Being pregnant is a mixed blessing.  If you have ever been pregnant, or your

spouse has been pregnant, or you’ve had close friends who were pregnant, you

know that truth. Several years ago, my son texted me a picture of my 2 ½ yr old

granddaughter in a T-shirt that read  “ I’m the Big Sister”.  I called them to

congratulate them on the birth of my grandson, Evan.  After my initial

“Congratulations!” the next words out of my mouth were these:

“How is Lindsay feeling?”  I knew what came next.  When my first son was born, I

had morning sickness for the obligatory 3 months.  For the second, I had heartburn

for nine months.  For the third, I was tired all the time !  Being pregnant is an

exciting time, full of hope and expectation, but it is also a time that includes some

anxiety, fear, and discomfort.  Will the baby be healthy?  Will it have ten fingers

and ten toes?  If the baby has a medical issue, will I be able to handle it well? My

younger sister was a blue baby and sustained some brain damage.  It has been a life

long adjustment for all of us in helping her have a good quality of life.

Recently I read a poem about pregnancy by a mother named Kathleen Frazer.

She began it with this:

“ we’re connecting,

foot under my rib.

I’m sore with life.”

When John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, she knew he was healthy and alive, and

responding to the life in Mary’s womb.  The presence of the Holy Spirit was

palpable…  But what Luke leaves out is that the pain from the kick in the ribs

probably made Elizabeth jump a little, too !

Luke’s story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is a story full of hope and expectation.

It is full of miracle and wonder.  Elizabeth’s pregnancy was extraordinary because

of her advanced age.   Although we are used to women becoming pregnant at older

ages, say 35 or 40, in Elizabeth’s day, many women did not even live beyond 40.

To be old was a miracle in itself.  To be pregnant and old was double-ly amazing.

Mary’s pregnancy was extraordinary because of the circumstances, a visitation

from an angel brought an invitation from God to carry a child—a child conceived,

not from man, but from the Holy Spirit, from the Holy One, from the Creator of the

world itself.

When Mary entered Zechariah’s house, she called to Elizabeth and was greeted

in return.  The room filled with expectant life as they came together.  And in their

greeting and praises to God, they reflected a search for meaning to it all.  Why did

God choose them?  Why did God choose the present moment?  What lay in store

for these babies yet to come?

We hear snippets of their praise for the wonderful miracle.  What else might

they have talked about, said to one another in the time they were together?  Mary

had been told her baby would be a son who would be given the throne of David.

What about Elizabeth’s son ?  Would her child follow in his father’s footsteps and

be a respected priest ?  Is that what his predicted “greatness” meant?  I wonder if

Elizabeth even dreamed about the possibility that her son would grow up to be an

itinerant prophet who lived in the wild and ate locusts and wild honey.  If she ever

imagined  that he would be so faithful in preaching repentence and laying the

groundwork for the One to Come that he would lose his life because of the

pettiness of a woman whose husband represented the oppressiveness of the

worldly.

And Mary?  Mary and Elizabeth knew the prophecies of the One to Come, the

Messiah, the Saviour.  Is that what the angel had truly meant in his announcement?

Was this to be the long-awaited Saviour?  Would he restore the fortunes of his

people as David had done, conquering armies and uniting his people ?  Would

Mary have wondered or worried about the dangers inherent in such an endeavor?

Would she even come close to imagining that her son’s work would first look like

failure and end up with him crucified by the Roman authorities?  Could she ever

have imagined resurrection?

We know that the hope and expectation expressed by Mary and Elizabeth were

fulfilled in so much more completeness than they ever imagined, but the

fulfillment was mixed with disappointment and grief.  In a short essay on hope,

Curtiss Ulmquist, the superior for the Society of St. John the Evangelist, states that

“hope is not optimism”…hope is fueled by the presence of God, who gives us

breath…”.  While we breathe, we hope.  “Hope is also fueled by the future of God

in our lives: a small seed which perhaps we cannot even see right now, planted by

God in the ground of our being.”  Mary is  a symbol for us of that hope, a small

seed of God planted not only in her belly as a child of promise, but in her soul

enabling her to persevere in supporting Jesus, even in the bleakest moments of his

life.  She is there not only to celebrate the miracle at Cana, the miracles of healing,

the miracles of loaves and fishes, but she is there on the way to the cross, and at the

foot of the cross. She bears his body there in her arms, as well as having borne him

in the womb.  She is there at the tomb.  And she is there in that Upper Room when

he returns.

Hope is fueled in us by the presence of God, who gives us breath.  Hope is

fueled by the future of God in our lives; a small seed which perhaps we cannot

even see right now, planted by God in the ground of our being.  Like Mary, this

presence of God planted in us at our baptism is the presence that is with us in times

of joy and expectation, and times of betrayal, grief, death, and resurrection. The

hope God gives us through God’s presence with us is not optimism, it is not seeing

clearly into the future.  It is the grace given to help us to put one foot in front of

another, to carry on in the darkness, in the expectation that someday, somehow, the

powers of this world will not have the last say and that the prophecies of God will

be fulfilled, that God will triumph.  Some days, that hope is hard to hold on to.

Some days that presence of God is hard to recognize.  Challenges to that hope

come in many different ways, sometimes large, sometimes small, sometimes

bombarding us.  Challenges to our hope come when we are struggling with

unemployment, or illness and death, especially at the holiday times.  Challenges

come when we continue to hear the news about Syrian refuges, when we hear that

the climate conference might not come through with all the world had hoped it

would, when we aren’t sure when and where the next terrorist will strike, or when

or where revenge will be taken on innocent Muslims among us.  And all this when

we approach Christmas, the season in which we hope and pray for peace.

Into all this comes Mary’s testimony, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my

spirit rejoices in God my savior”.  Her trip to Elizabeth’s has been long and tiring.

She probably went away for a while just to escape the everyday awkwardness of

people whispering and staring– because I’m sure not everyone believed her

incredible story.  Her freedom is limited, since the Roman authorities control

everyone’s comings and goings.  Taxes are high and will probably get higher after

the census.  And yet, Mary witnesses to her hope and faith in the power of God to

work in and through the times of darkness.

In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti several years ago, there was an

interview on NPR that has stuck with me ever since.  The reporter had seen a

woman sitting on a mat under a tree, her few possessions scattered around her.  He

also noted that she was singing hymns.  The reporter went over to her and asked

how it was she could sing in the midst of having lost everything, in the midst of the

rubble and chaos.  Her reply was simply, “Singing to God gives me hope.”  God

calls us to that same hope, that same focus on light in the darkness, that hope of

Mary and the woman in Haiti.  God calls us to that same testimony in the midst of

the difficult circumstances of our lives, whatever they may be.  Hope is not

optimism.  Hope is fueled by the presence of God, granting us the grace to believe

in the future of God’s kingdom, which we cannot yet see in its fullness.

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