“Getting Down To Earth“
Luke 1: 39-45
Chilmark Community Church
December 20, 2015
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
I love the story of Mary and Elizabeth. In my memory banks there is a painting of the two women, one slightly stooped, older, with somewhat wispy, scraggly graying hair, visibly pregnant, reaching out to embrace a much younger
woman – – a girl actually, who looks relieved to be in the company of what turns out to be her older cousin.
As we move through the wonderful texts from the prophets – – the beautiful language of Handel’s “Messiah”, the great stories of expectation and yearning for the Great One of God who will save the people, the story and the image of Mary and Elizabeth embracing each other is one that brings it all down to earth.
Elizabeth takes her place in a long lineage of women reaching back to Sarah and and Hannah – – an elderly woman, barren, becoming pregnant by God’s grace for the first time late in life. It turns out that Elizabeth’s child, already 6 months in the womb by the time of the encounter with Mary will be the disturbing John the Baptist who will come charging out of the desert calling the people to repentance. He is the child who will grow up to be a messenger who prepares the way – – to make a straight path for another who is to come.
But, we don’t know this just yet – – all the story tells us is that Elizabeth’s baby “leaps” in her womb when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting – – and Elizabeth has an incredible moment of recognition – – a transcendent moment – – the story says she was filled with the Holy Spirit. She blesses Mary and the baby Mary is carrying.
But there is an even more powerful and telling exclamation that comes with Elizabeth’s illuminating awareness – – (Lk.1:45) Elizabeth says “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
As the celebration of Jesus’ birth approaches, we are called upon to suspend rational thinking for awhile. The stories we love and cherish are ones that defy logic and reality. A pregnant virgin, a barren old woman expecting her first child, angels appearing out of nowhere, babies leaping in wombs, shepherds receiving revelation from heaven, stars guiding visitors from foreign lands – – the birth of a much longed for infant who will save the world.
We are invited and challenged to stop thinking rationally – to stop trying to figure it all out – – to stop saying “well maybe this could be a logical explanation”. Indeed the stories invite us into an alternate reality – – they have the ability to throw us off balance while at the same time giving us great joy and comfort.
At the end of the day, the stories are faith stories – – not historical documentaries. Mary’s willingness to carry and give birth to the Living Word of God – – Elizabeth’s openness to recognizing another human being as a bearer of The Word – – John’s eventual willingness to “clear the way” for the Word – to open peoples’ ears – – all powerful stories that push and pull and prod us to examine our own willingness to receive the in-flowing presence of God in our own lives.
When Elizabeth says “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” she encapsulates the challenge of faith for us in these times.
We are immersed, especially at this time of year, in sacred texts that span at least 2500 years – – texts that repeat over and over again the story of a God who continually seeks out humankind – a God who yearns for relationship with us.
It starts with the story of the creation of human beings at the very beginning as
God yearns for companionship that will partner with God in the ongoing work of creation. The story continues with God seeking out Abraham and Sarah to carry the notion of One God forward into the future. Then God seeks out Moses to bring God’s people liberation. Later, God seeks out prophets who call the people back into relationship with God when they have gotten seriously off track. And then, as our Christian tradition teaches, it seems as though God’s seeking for us comes down to earth – – two pregnant women greeting each other – – it doesn’t get more real than that. And Elizabeth blesses Mary’s firm belief in the promises of God – that God will fulfill all that God has promised.
Our tradition calls to us over the eons and over many generations to be bearers of God – – to bring the reality of God’s passionate love for us to each other and to the world. How we go about bringing this passionate love into the world is unique to each one of us and that is a sermon for another day – – but it is what we are called to do nonetheless. I think that what Elizabeth recognizes in Mary is what we are called to recognize in one another – that we each bear the presence of God, the very image and likeness of God, into the world wherever we go. In the metaphors of pregnancy and birth, Mary accepted that responsibility. The story tells us she absolutely trusted what the angel had told her would come to pass. Elizabeth saw Mary’s trust and responded to it – – and in a fraction of a moment, a little more of God came into being in their relationship.
As the story unfolds, Mary literally gives birth to God – With – Us – – – Emmanuel, the one for whom we yearn and wait. When we set aside all the rational inquiry – all the scientific discussion about virgin birth – all our resistance to mystery – – we are left with the most basic and fundamental truth – – we belong to a God who yearns and desires to be with us. We belong to a God who promises from the beginning that “I will be your God – if you will be my people.”
Elizabeth recognizes and blesses Mary as one who has said “yes” – – one who is willing to be wholeheartedly aligned with the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with God’s people. Elizabeth brings the challenge of a life of faith down to earth.
As the day of celebration draws near, may we be among those whom Elizabeth would recognize and bless as bearers of God’s Living Word of hope and light and peace in the world. May we be among the ones who bring it all down to earth.