It’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent and I’m doing my best to hold onto that. My mind is on Friday’s peace rally at a local Muslim community center, the Saturday Black Lives Matter march, and the emerging plans for rallies and conversations over Martin Luther King weekend. It’s hard to focus on Mary and Elizabeth when the tensions and conflicts of the world keep making themselves known.
There’s something in this account of Mary’s visit to her cousin that I’ve always found unsettling. Yes, it’s beautiful. The words Mary spoke are eloquent and filled with the love and promise of God. But I am still uncomfortable. I want to say it’s because it feels like I’ve peeked in on a private moment. However, it’s more than that.
Here are two woman who are well-acquainted with shame. Elizabeth had been barren in her childbearing years. She would have been told and believed that this was God’s doing, that she was judged as unworthy, sinful even. Since Zechariah was a priest, then it was surely Elizabeth’s sin that made her barren.
Until all of a sudden she wasn’t. This is not a rare story in and of itself. I can’t help but wonder if anyone who had mistreated her apologized after she conceived. Probably not. Yet, in those moments of joy where she experienced all her prayers answered, she likely didn’t care. She would have a child, a son who would play a part in changing the world. I wonder if she lived long enough to see what her baby boy would become…
Then there is Mary. She was young, almost too young, and she was pregnant unexpectedly. She was also unmarried. The usual punishment for this was death. If Joseph hadn’t taken her in, she would have been killed. Instead she goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was likely a better woman than I am. I would be annoyed if I were her. I mean she waited a very long time and likely shed many tears and whispered many prayers as the years piled up and her womb remained empty. Along comes Mary who finds herself pregnant without even trying, literally. On top of this, Elizabeth’s child would play second fiddle to Mary’s. I don’t know, maybe just having a child was enough?
Anyway, here we are with the meeting between the two. That’s when it happens. That’s when the child within Elizabeth leaps in the presence of the child within Mary. This is where my discomfort comes in. It just feels so personal and private, not necessarily a moment for the whole world to look in on for centuries.
Then I came across a poem by Luci Shaw titled, “Salutations.” Sometimes it takes a poet to make the overly familiar into something strange and new. The last few lines snapped me out of my inward focus this year:
And my heart turns over
when I meet Jesus
That’s it, isn’t it? The Gospel in the proverbial nutshell. This is how it should be with us when we meet family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Our hearts should be leaping and turning over when we meet Christ in one another, a private moment that should be made public over and over again. This idea brings tears to my eyes. I’ve missed this simple message in this passage for years because I was too busy thinking about other things. I’ve missed meeting Christ in too many others because I’ve been too busy thinking about other things.
What better day of the year to recognize how much we’ve missed Christ in one another than on the Sunday that we acknowledge the great gift of Love given to us at Christmas?
RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 20, 1015
Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7
Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]