(A sermon based on Micah 5:2-5a & Luke 1:39-55 for the 4th Sunday of Advent)
Here on this fourth and last Sunday of Advent, on the eve of Christmas Eve, I want to talk with you about being pregnant.
While I suspect that most of the children (and I reckon all of the adults) present know the meaning of the word, allow me to tell you that our English word “pregnant” comes from a Latin word meaning “before child”; it thus came to have the meaning of being “with child.” A pregnant woman is a woman who is going to have a baby, then.
Our Gospel text tells us about two pregnant women, Elizabeth and Mary, who were kin. Did you ever see the movie Father of the Bride, Part 2? The story involved a middle-aged mother and her young daughter who were pregnant at the same time; it being a movie, they delivered their babies at virtually the same time on the same day in the same hospital attended by the same doctor. The story of Elizabeth and Mary is not quite like that—they were likely cousins and their due dates were six months apart—but it is an even more amazing story because it tells of how their pregnancies related to each other in the carrying out of God’s plan to bring the promise of new life into the world.
They became pregnant under interesting circumstances that, because of the role of God, became miraculous circumstances.
I guess we could say the same thing about most pregnancies, though, couldn’t we? I mean, how many of you don’t believe that the birth of your children was a gift from God?
When I was a little boy and asked my father where I came from, he said, “Your Mama and I prayed for you.” I suspect that Elizabeth had earlier in her life prayed that she would have a child; I also suspect that, given her advanced age, she had quit such praying. Mary, on the other hand, was in no position to want or to have a child so her pregnancy came as a very unexpected and troubling gift.
We can scarcely imagine the awkward position in which Elizabeth’s pregnancy placed her or the even more awkward position in which Mary’s placed her. Elizabeth and Zechariah had been unable to have children and they “were getting on in years” (Luke 1:7); while we can’t know how old they were they were clearly “too old” to be having a baby. It is the kind of situation that generates snickers and raised eyebrows.
Mary, on the other hand, was young and poor and unmarried; that’s the kind of situation that generates cruelty and maliciousness—much more so then than now. Mary may well have been grateful that Gabriel’s words to her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy gave her an opening to get out of town.
We are very good at putting ourselves in an awkward situation; sometimes, though, God puts us in one for the sake of God’s purpose. Odd as it may sound, being the recipient of God’s grace can make you uncomfortable. It is God’s way for us that the experience of such awkwardness and uncomfortableness is really a blessing, although it may not always seem like it.
The difficult situations in which Elizabeth and Mary found themselves were worth it because of the life that was stirring within them, waiting to emerge into the world and to make a difference in that world.
I remember when Debra was pregnant with each of our children and she would say to me, “Put your hand here” so I could feel a little of what she felt as the baby kicked. And every fiber of my being would cry out, “Wow! This is amazing!” while they at the same time whispered, “Wow! This is scary.” Life was stirring in her, life that was going to come crashing into this world and make a lasting impression.
So it was that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice the prenatal John “leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). Elizabeth then said, “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?” (Luke 1:42-43). John’s calling in life was going to be to proclaim the coming of the Messiah and he obviously could hardly wait to get started. What a life was stirring in Elizabeth!
Then Mary started talking about the life within her and what God was going to do through him. She celebrated the great mercy and strength of God. She said that through the life in her—a life that had not yet been born—God had scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly, and filled the hungry. In short, God had kept God’s promises! Mary was so sure that it would happen that she could talk about it as if it already had happened.
It has happened. It will happen. It is happening. God is in the process of keeping God’s promises.
One of the ways God does that is by causing life to stir in us, in God’s people. Mary gave birth to Jesus, but our Micah text says that the people of Israel as a whole were in labor with the coming Messiah. These days, we are the body of Christ. As Teresa of Avila said,
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
Each of us individually, all of us as a church, and all of God’s people everywhere have the life of Christ stirring within us. What does that mean for you? What does it mean for us?
One of our beloved Christmas carols offers this prayer: “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.” He is born in us. He is born in us to bring about mercy, peace, grace, and justice. He is born in us to turn things upside down, to turn us outward, to turn us—and everything—Godward...