This Advent season I’m writing reflections on the lectionary Gospel readings forLight Reflections and reposting them here. Please feel free to borrow and steal anything from these that might be helpful in your own Advent sermon,teaching, etc., work.
39 In 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 fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
46 And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Last week I wrote that the terrifying image of Jesus with a winnowing fork is a far cry from the babe in the manger who we anticipate this time of year. This week we are reminded that these two images are not so far apart at all! Whether it’s Jesus at the end of time or Jesus entering into time, the Good News is consistent – his arrival will raise those whom our world sees as lowly and it will humble those we imagine to be mighty.
In the first few weeks of Advent, we’ve mostly pictured Christ’s arrival coming from somewhere distant – from the outskirts of the cosmos riding on the clouds, from the distant wilderness across the mountains and the valleys, or from the recesses of time carrying baptismal fire. But this week things get personal.
This week we picture Christ’s arrival rising from within the depths of our own bodies.
This week we’re reminded that God didn’t just appear in the world, but that God was birthed through the mess, sweat and struggle of a woman’s labour, ushered forth from her body. Vulnerable, naked, crying, Jesus Christ – God-With-Us – entered this world just like us.
I adore this image of Mary and Elizabeth spending an afternoon reciting poetry to each other. I imagine there was other chatter in there too – friendly complaints about Zechariah and Joseph, advice for how to cure morning sickness, gossip about that woman who comes to the well late in the day. Perhaps they marveled at the synchronicity of their bodies, allowing recognition to register between those housed within. What a shame that Luke didn’t include all that other chatter too. I’d love to know the context out of which these women’s theological and political pontificating arose!
In the midst of their rich and textured friendship, though, Mary takes a moment to get serious. What trust and love the two must have shared for Mary to be able to admit her deepest hopes for her son, her wildest expectations. Mary realizes and recites that the work Jesus will do in the world has already begun in her. Simply in God’s choice for her to bear Christ into this world, the tables have already been turned – the lowly raised and the mighty humbled.
In a strange and wonderful way, Mary’s gestation is our own. As with Mary, God longs to birth Christ in and through us into this broken world. As with Mary, God tries to do something startlingly new in us, and our faithful response must be creative, life-giving participation. As with Mary, God chooses to be bound to our bodies in order to work in this world, and it takes time, dedication, and willingness to find new ways to love in order to participate in that work.
As we expectantly anticipate these final days towards encountering Christ in that lowly stable, I wonder how we will birth God into the world this year. I wonder with anticipation what new thing God will do in us. I wonder how we will labour with Mary, how we will make her gestation ours, and how, with God’s work in us, we will help each other praise the name, Emmanuel: how we will know and make known God-With-Us.