Sunday, December 20, 2009

Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-55: “Alive and Kicking, inspired by the Holy Spirit”

by Chester Topple, December 20, 2009.  4th Sunday of Advent
 Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe

I’ve heard the story of Jesus’ birth since I was born.  In my family, we did advent candle lighting at home accompanied by bible verses of the story.  With the extended family, we had our own Christmas pageant!  But the infancy narrative as it’s called- Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus and John’s birth-has taken on new meaning since little Ruby Gene came into my life.   So if you’ll be so kind as to allow me (once again) to share some of how that experience has shaped my understanding of what’s going on, I’d appreciate it….(pause) 
You know she’s going to be one in January.  People advised me when she was born not to blink. … Ruby Gene took 6 steps earlier this week…I hear the fun is really just beginning.

When pregnant, Trasie says it was about the 17th week when she first felt a little flutter from within.  She really wasn’t sure…couldn’t believe it.  But eventually, those kicks became more powerful... the movement more dramatic.  The activity in the womb was most noticeable in the evening. When the day was settling down, the fetus was revving up. And our most memorable times that the fetus moved was when we sang to it in bed.  We didn’t know the gender until Ruby Was born. So we called the baby Lieden, named after one of the blood clotting conditions trasie has.  Some of you have heard the song we sang:
This little Lieden of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…This little lieden of mine..I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine let it shine let it shine.

And the fetus would just squirm and flip and punch and kick!  It was remarkable.
It’s remarkable to think of the whole process of growth, of life inside.

In a few short days we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  But before that we celebrate the period of gestation. Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth’s place reminds us that it’s not just at the birth of our children that we have a sense of experiencing a gift from God.   But also at conception and growth in the womb. What a miracle!  
The conception of Christ as told earlier in Luke is announced by angels—the presence of the holy.  Something great is happening.  At conception life comes from an invisible realm to a visible world of creation, the creation story of water and darkness…all over again.  And then like the seed sprouting and shooting forth from the ground, the growth in the womb…the swelling abdomen.

If we can hold on to that miracle of conception and growth as a gift from God, Philip Newell suggests that in a similar way when “goodness and truth, or when beauty of spirit and love are conceived within us or among us, in our minds and hearts,” in our relationships, we know that God is sowing something that is sacred and to be cherished in our lives.[1]

The story of the meeting between Elizabeth and Maria capture not only the celebration of the miracle of growth taking place inside them, but also of the goodness, truth, beauty of spirit and love deepened through their relationship.  Their meeting is miraculous.

It is not long after the annunciation that the virgin who would bear the Messiah leaves her home. But, who would believe her story?  
Most often, when young girls become pregnant out of wedlock, this is not something celebrated….even in a television program I saw this week, a teenage girl was kicked out of her house by her father, when he found out she was pregnant. 

We don’t know the circumstances of what led Mary to skip town for the hill country of Judea.  The story is romanticized—pure and innocent—as we tell it today; it is difficult for us modern day readers to read much between the lines:
She “went with haste” …”she remained with her for three months”…  and “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” when she greeted Mary.

Have the neighbors in town been gossiping?  Does she leave to escape the rumors and scorn? What was her father’s reaction?  Maria esta embarasada y no esta casada.  For him to believe her…would have taken great faith…and great love….

Young, poor, unwed…she skips town.  An 8 mile journey…alone? on foot?  We don’t know. Was she praying the whole way that Elizabeth would believe her story?   The visit could have been a disaster, had Elizabeth met Mary with scorn and shamed her…But just as the gift of God was taking shape inside her womb;
the gift of God was experienced when they met.  Elizabeth was in the home, perhaps contemplating her own gift from God that was causing her belly to swell, and Mary as she approaches the house, builds up her courage before knocking: “Anybody home?  Anybody Home!  It’s me, Mary.”
And the babe inside Elizabeth leaps! As if to signal rejoice! 
Prompting Elizabeth to graciously welcome this young pregnant woman into her home with goodness and love and celebrate:  “You are blessed Mary, and so is that child. Thank you so much for coming to see me..can you believe it, the child inside me heard it was you, without even knowing who you were, and leaped for joy inside me!  Something special is about to happen.  Our babies are going to grow up to be somebody. Our babies are the sign, God keeps God’s promises.
You believed, Dear Mary!”

The passage says she was filled by the Holy Spirit, when she said these words, which intrigues me.  Was it because she welcomed her without judgment but with grace and love that indicated the presence of the Holy Spirit? 

Wouldn’t that be the work of the Holy Spirit when she, or when anyone is able to reach out to another in love and without judgment, especially, someone whom other have only met with ridicule and scorn.

A story is told of a woman who for most of her younger life was a prostitute.  She had a child, and when she was no longer able to make much money selling herself, she sold her child into prostitution.   A church person met her one day, when she was older, her child already grown. She told her story, and when the person said, “Why didn’t you turn to the church?” She said, “The church?  Why would I go to the church?  Don’t you think I already felt bad enough?”

It is during this time of year that many are feasting, and others, the lowly, are left in the shadows, left out in the cold.  And in the mean time, most of us are running around like…well, with haste. 
All the activity is supposedly inspired by the birth of the Messiah.  But our reaction is a far cry from the singing and celebration that take place between Elizabeth and Maria.  How do we find the sacred in the midst of the secular?
How can we reclaim the reason for the season? It is so easy to lose the hope of the coming of the Messiah.  It is so easy just run around and get caught up in the motions of traditions and miss the joy that Christ’s birth brings.  It’s especially on those days, I find that I’m wearing my Grinch Pajamas!               

But if we look closely at this story of this wonderful sacred encounter between these two pregnant women, we discover that sacred moments can be found, in spite of everything else that seems to be going on.

When we receive as Elizabeth received Mary, someone whom society may consider lowly…with grace and hospitality…might we be inspired by the holy spirit? 

Who is coming to church, that we haven’t seen in a long time or that we’ve never met, that needs to be greeted with love and goodness? Can you feel the baby john leap inside you when you meet them with a smile and a handshake and a “how you doing?”  

Who at work is that bah humbug?  What is behind that? Could you take a moment, if you’re on break or if you run into each other at the water fountain, and say, hello and listen to what they say.  Let that baby John Leap inside.  Be filled with the holy spirit.

It’s interesting that the Bible says that Elizabeth and Mary are relatives.  We may think it’s easier for relatives to greet one another with goodness and love, but is that really the case?
Who’s coming to your house for Christmas? Who’s not going to be there and why? Or maybe you’re going to someone’s house, and looking forward to it.  Or maybe you’re dreading the trip. Or maybe you’re not going because…well, you didn’t want to take the chance of being in that uncomfortable place again.  Not now. 

There are plenty of chances during this period of running around, of going with haste, to experience hospitality: we may receive it or we may give it.

I pray that when we meet someone, we can slow down, if only for a few moments, and feel inside. What is the holy spirit leading you to do?
Let that little lieden..I mean little light shine…because of the promise of a child. Five more days til he arrives.  

[1] One Foot in Eden, p.18
I also had help with ideas for this sermon from: /

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