Hearing about Mary and Elizabeth's pregnancies reminded me of my experiences with my 4 childrens’ births. I was present for the birth of each of them and I have to say it was probably more traumatic for me than it was for their Mom. I remembered every moment of discomfort for her and my own inability to do anything meaningful to alleviate it other than feed her ice chips and try and coach her in that breathing stuff. “pant dear, pant like this hee, hee, hee.” It was that feeling of powerlessness that was the worst for me.
As we sit here five days before Christmas I am still struggling to make sense of the events of the past year, and feeling powerless. Although we wait in Advent, for the coming of Christmas, awaiting the coming of God incarnate and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, the World as it Should Be, it’s hard to totally put aside the realities we’re experiencing in the world around us. As we wait, as we long for His coming and the fulfillment of His kingdom, we are assaulted by the brokenness, the mess of the world around us and unanswered questions that weigh heavily upon us. Where is the sense in all of this, where is the justice in the world, what next? What can we do? It feels like we are caught up in a world that cycles through loss, pain and frustration. A world that looks bleak. It’s the World as it Is.
Advent is a time when we focus our attention on God’s work in this broken world. It is a time of waiting in silence, a time of looking for the salvation that God has promised, and a time of singing in joy over God’s presence among us. Because in spite of the mess around us in the present, in spite of the perceived dubious quality of the the immediate future, in spite of our perceived impotence to change anything, we hear quite clearly in our scriptures that God has guaranteed the future. We are told of the coming of the Prince of Peace who will heal the divisions of this world, reunite the human family, and restore creation. Even though we might suffer loss in the present, in the end we will gain immeasurably more than what we can imagine. With the Incarnation, we have the birth into the world of the one who establishes the justice that allows there to be peace and in that peace the ability for all people to thrive, to experience joy to reach their fullest potential, for all creation to be as God wishes it to be. As we wait, we are given glimpses of that vision that has begun and will someday be fulfilled. In the midst of the long night we know that joy comes in the morning. It is a time when we desperately need restoration and healing. A future whose glimpse caused Mary to sing with joy.
Truth to tell I am often impatient. I lose hope. I despair. ‘When will it ever be set right?’ I ask. Why can’t it be better...Now? So often I cry Maranatha...Come Lord Jesus come...Now, make it right! In spite of my wishes, events unfold according to God’s schedule, not mine. Like pregnancy and labor they take time. It is a process that needs to run its course. I remember with my first child, when I thought labor was beginning for my wife I grabbed the bag I had packed for both of us, ran downstairs, grabbed the snacks from the fridge and threw them along with the clothes and stuff in the overnight bags into the car. Coming back in I helped my wife down the stairs, making sure I was counting the contractions and let her go to the bathroom. I ran out checked to see if the baby seat was still in the back of the car where I put it and then zoomed out the driveway and onto the street toward Yale New Haven Hospital. I then promptly pulled a screeching U -turn and zoomed back into the driveway and got my wife who was still in the house. We then got onto I-91 where I was doing 90 miles an hour with the flashers going yelling and beeping the horn as I swerved around cars and cut in and out of lanes of traffic. Less than 20 minutes later ( a record time for the trip) I pulled into the hospital and we ran in to the maternity ward. 18 hours later they gave us something to sleep because we were exhausted. Then they sent us home and 3 days later after we retuned to the hospital our first child was born. In spite of my anxiety and attempts to speed things up, the process of labor and birth take time and although they can seem to be excruciatingly agonizing and long it all changes when you hold the baby in your arms and you forget about what you just went through and instead looking forward to the present and the future.
So what do we do in this time of waiting in anticipation. A time of looking for the fulfillment of that promised salvation,? I look to Mary’s own response for the answer.
Mary sang. I often wondered why Mary would be singing a joyful hymn. She is in a difficult situation. Betrothed to a man much older than her, carrying a baby (not his) while a virgin, living in the backward dregs of the Middle East where her being present like this would result in her being stoned to death publicly, if her father or brothers did not kill her in a form of the ‘honor killings’ we still hear about today. Young and vulnerable in a society that gave no rights to women or children in a precarious position Mary’s world was anything but bright. Why did she sing?
She sang because She had an encounter with the power of God and what that promised and nothing was the same again. Her life was changed and would continue to be changed By her saying yes to the plan of God. She sang in anticipation of the promised joy of the birth while still in the midst of the labor.
She sings. She sings not out of fear, but in joy. For God is within her, working in a way that will give birth to a new world. Mary, would have known the old hymn of praise known as the Song of Hannah, found in 1 Samuel. And she sings it as her joy to God. The song ringing out in what I imagine as her smooth, melodious voice. I always imagine it as being melodious for what else would you expect from the ‘God-bearer’, the Theotokos.
Mary sings of her joy, a joy born out of a love for her God, the God who will bring forth the salvation of creation through this lowly girl, powerless, vulnerable, living in the backwaters of Judea on the fringe of the empire. It is through this unlikely candidate that God fulfills God’s promise. And she not only accepts this call given to her but she sings forth praises in joy at what is happening through her. The Song of Mary is about reversals. All of the wrongs of history are to be reversed. All that is wrong in the world is to be made right. Mary sings not just for herself but for all the downtrodden. For all who are captive in their own wretchedness living in poverty or darkness yet still believe that God will make a way where none appears, give hope where there is none, shine light into the darkness.
God works wonders in every place at anytime in every way. That is what the song of Mary tells us. Mary’s song calls to us to allow ourselves to be agents of change for a better world for all. Through this joyous hymn God’s call to live into God’s plan for the world comes to us.
Through Mary we learn that we are all called to serve God, regardless of our position, our age, our status, our location. All uniquely situated to be the instruments through which God enters into the world to make it whole, through which God works to make things right. The song of Mary is our song, it is the song of our faith. Of our hope and belief that God is acting in the world and that regardless of what we face when we walk out of this worship that we know that we are the most favored in God’s eyes and we have a role in God’s plan to make things right. Through Mary’s song we become with her the ‘bearers of God’ in our own time and place. Each of us called out of our backwaters, our own ‘regular lives’ to play a role in reversing the world…helping to recreate it in its wholeness.
Meister Eckhart (14th century mysic) tells us:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.
The good news is in the miracle that Christ will come in to all of the broken places within us and through us into the world. Within each of us lies the seeds of possibility of new life and healing for our world. Within each of us is the realization of the fulfillment of God’s promise to save God’s people and make things right in the world. With God’s help we can become more than we are, more than we can ask or imagine. So in spite of what we may be facing in the world, we together with Mary and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, lift up our voices in praise and we sing.
Thanks be to God.