Our 4 Themes for Advent: 1-Believing in Hope (Zechariah); 2-Belonging in Peace (Mary and Elizabeth); 3-Building in Joy (Mary's Song); 4-Becoming in Love-the Christmas Pageant
I would not say I was one of those women who loved being pregnant. I have met them--maybe you, or your spouse or a relative was one of them. Don’t get me wrong—I was excited, delighted, and grateful for the chance to have children—not all women can. But I did not feel like I glowed with new life. I did not love feeling and looking like a duplex. I did not appreciate waddling like a duck and not being able to turn over in bed. It was such a challenging endeavor to change so much of my life—my exercise, eating habits, rest, vitamins, water intake, wardrobe, house, my car, even my future plans—all for someone I had not even met yet.
Both Elizbeth and Mary are rearranging their lives for the someone they have not met yet, growing inside their wombs. Elizabeth is way too old for this new child—a miraculous birth for a woman in her advanced years. She had accepted her life as a childless woman and found meaning and joy in other endeavors—helping other village women, assisting in the raising of nieces and nephews, serving the community with extra bread-baking, sewing, and other tasks of service. Did she really want a baby? Elizabeth’s back already hurts, her schedule is already slowing down—how is she going to keep up with a child? Why has God waited so long—what is God thinking? Part of her is overjoyed, and part of her feels like it is terrible timing. Elizabeth is not sure she has the energy to make all the changes a new baby requires.
Mary, on the other hand, is way too young for this new child. She is engaged, but not yet married—found to be in a scandalous pregnancy that could completely ostracize her, if not cause her death by stoning. Some speculate that this is the reason Mary hurries to visit Elizabeth in a different town in the Judean hill country--for her own safety. She had her future with Joseph all mapped out and now it is tumbling down around her. Mary needs time to hide and think. Was that angel visitation real? What if Joseph leaves her, how will she raise a baby alone? Why doesn’t God wait until she is married, this would all be so much easier; what is God thinking? Mary is not sure she can make all the changes a new baby before marriage requires.
We all have a hard time accepting new possibilities from God. It’s much easier to accept God’s new ideas and possibilities for our future if we get to remain exactly the same. I would personally love to tell God, “you and Jesus do a new thing over there, grow the church, and fix things up, I will cheer you on from my seat over here with my chocolate and a glass of wine, and I’ll enjoy the show.”
But I have yet to have God take me up on this offer—because God comes through birth, through physical presence, through participation, through relationship, through dwelling in your heart, and mind, and your life and mine—there’s no such thing as a spectator when it comes to a relationship with a God who comes to us in flesh and blood. Ask Elizabeth and her aching back. Ask Zechariah who cannot speak for nine months. Ask Mary as she hides in the Judean hills. Ask Joseph who is the laughingstock of his peers as he agrees to wed Mary anyway.
God’s new possibilities demand our whole being because every genuine relationship rooted in love demands our whole being—just like a new baby does, or an adopted child does, or a new spouse does, or any new relationship does. I bet you cannot think of one significant relationship in your life, be it partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, child, brother, sister, best friend—that has not demanded more of you and changed you in some way.
God wants us to be open to new possibilities in our life together as the church, but we can find this so difficult. Some of you may know the joke, “How many church members does it take to change a light bulb? …..Change? Who said anything about change?”
In the church that Dan served in St. Louis, they had some long-held traditions at Advent and Christmas. Dan tried to encourage the Worship team to incorporate ideas from new members who had recently joined the church and were full of energy and excitement. There was a lot of resistance to changing anything at all. Dan talked to one of the women who was resisting change and tried to explain that just as she had a chance to shape some of these traditions, new people would also like to try out their ideas. The woman’s response was, “don’t you think if they tried it the way we do it, they would love it, too?”
God was opening up new possibilities at her church—with new members, new growth, new ideas, and new opportunities in the community, and she was not willing to embrace God’s new possibilities, nor the people God sent to their congregation to add to the mission and the life of the congregation. She thought church was sitting in the spectator seats rather than engaging in a relationship with God and with new members to give birth to the new life God was unfolding.
God is opening up new possibilities for us at St. Luke’s—God is providing us with an exciting and expanding vision for our future and with Capital Campaign to repair and improve our building so we can fulfill our mission more faithfully. Already this year we have witnessed God at work! We have taken in 10 new members already this year, we have 6 more joining today, and we have several more ready to join in the new year. These are all people God has brought here with gifts and ideas, prayers and blessings, talents and skills.
I invite you to get to know them—not just names but really know their skills and passions and ideas—one of them has a great idea for Holy Week, another for the community garden. One has served a Council president, two have served in the military and one has a great testimony about seeing God at work in his former congregation. I also invite you to share your own ideas as we move into the future. We have trees in the sanctuary because someone shared an idea, and I said “yes! if there were ever a time for more beauty and light and joy in our lives, it is now!" We may not be able to do everything, but I can promise we cannot implement ideas that are not shared. As we hear new ways of doing things from new members and each other, as we listen and learn, we will change and grow because God is in all of us, and we belong together for God’s mission.
We are pregnant with possibilities, with new relationships, with new opportunities and new ways to grow. There are no spectators in God’s future. As we upgrade our building, like every pregnant woman, we prepare for people we have not even met yet—we get ready for the future God has in store which we cannot even ask for or imagine. But it is a future where we are changed by love and the new possibilities that God is giving birth to here.
Elizabeth and Mary’s circumstances were opposite, yet they were bound together and found belonging with each in their uncommon pregnancies that would have otherwise left them isolated and alone. When they came together, the Holy Spirit was alive and active in their lives and in their conversation—because they were both women who were willing to change and say, “yes” to the new possibilities God was unfolding for them.
Even though their lives were at different stages, but they belonged together in sharing the value of desiring God’s plan for their lives. The two babies that were coming changed their present and their future, but they were at peace. They were at peace, not because everything went according to their plan, but because they had accepted God’s plan and being changed by it together.
God calls each one of us in love through this community to join together in bringing forth new possibilities. With each new person who joins our mission, and as we live this mission out in our neighborhood, we see the face of Christ, we grow in faith, and we are changed by love. Not everything will go according to our plans, but we will be at peace as everything goes according to God’s plan because we belong together in unity for mission.
Image: Creator and Copyright: Fr Lawrence Lew, OP flickr.com