A reflection on Luke 1:39-45 by the Rev. Alisdair Smith
I became a grandparent for the first time last month. Technically, I’m a step-grandparent, and this is the most time I’ve spent with an infant, well, ever. I’m loving it. As I was researching tonight’s Gospel reading, I came up on an interesting observation from Lutheran theologian, Paul Nuechterlein that got me thinking about birth and children.
The word womb (Gr koilia) appears three times in this passage. Why might that word to appear so often? Neuchterlein wonders if we might see it as a metaphor for human culture — the container in which we are all shaped and formed.
Let’s look at the Gospel reading. These two women, Elizabeth and Mary in the long period of pregnancy, a kind of advent, meet, and are the first to experience a dawning of God’s culture in their bodies.
There is joy in their wombs. There is humility in their presence with each other. There is friendship in their conversation and in their very beings. There is a “oneness” in their experience.
They are on a common trajectory, and a certain unity with God’s desire for peace and good will for all people. Oh, and they are both outsiders, one, Elizabeth an old woman, no longer “attractive.” I hear from middle aged women of the cloak of invisibility that appears to cover them as they walk down the street. The other, Mary, a pregnant teen. Seriously, if you yourself have not been pregnant, alone and a teenager, what words come to your mind when you think of pregnant teen girls?
These two women are the revolutionary foundations for a new culture, a new global womb to nurture all of us. The existing culture, the existing womb (and still dominant two thousand years later as we try and make Jesus into what we want, and not what God wants) is a culture/womb of fear, of separateness, of pride and enmity. We are seen and see ourselves to be distinct beings who must protect what we have, even at all costs.
In response to the tragic pictures of 4 year old Alyn Kurdi in September lying face down on a beach, we are bringing in some 25,000 Syrian refugees (including a family here into our communities at CCC and St. B’s) into Canada, while other countries in Europe and in the US set up bureaucratic and literal fences to protect, “at all costs” their perceived way of life. Apparently some children are more important than others based on nationality or religion.
This month is the third anniversary of the shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. 20 children and 6 adults were shot to death by a white, middleclass American man with a gun. It appears that in the womb/culture of the US, it is more important (at all costs) for people like me to own guns than to protect the lives of children.
Closer to home, we are seeing signs of hope; a tearful apology from the Prime Minister to the gathered First Nations on the release of the TRC report, in response to the fact that thousands of children were ripped from their families by our government and churches. Apparently in the womb/culture of Canada some children are more important than others. And there is hope being born here.
What the Gospel tells us is that everyone, each and every one of us is a child of God. Alyn Kurdi, and the 6.5 million Syrians displaced by the civil war, children of God. The children, teachers and the murderer in Connecticut, all children of God. The First Nations children, the government bureaucrats, the clergy and teachers at the residential schools, all children of God.
We are all on a common trajectory. We are all one. We can be one with God’s desire for peace and goodwill for all people.
In the words of Paul Nuechterlein, “John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb in anticipation that the child in Mary’s womb will begin God’s redemption of the womb of human culture, so that it will one day be a place where all are safe. It will never again be a matter of our children vs. someone else’s children, because all are recognized as God’s children.”
I wonder then, what are you called to birth in God’s culture this Advent? What difference are you called to make so that all children, all people are known as God’s children?