12/20/2015 Fourth Sunday of Advent The text is Luke 1:39-55.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Expectations and surprises – these are part of life. Even the most wary person who boldly states, “nothing surprises me anymore,” can run into the unexpected. Take, for example, what happened to me when I turned 40. I was wary as a number of people had threatened to get back at me for all the jokes I played on them when they turned 40. So, I was going to make sure that I was not going to be taken by surprise.
In order to “get out of harm’s way,” I made a bold move to get away on my birthday. I accepted an invitation to serve as chaplain for a single’s retreat at Camp Calumet. But much to my surprise, it wasn’t the safe haven I thought it to be. For as I left the dining hall on my “secret” birth date, a counselor I knew followed close behind and offered to play a game of pool with me. Sensing nothing unusual, he approached and when he did, he grabbed me. Just then, another counselor came running toward us and together, the two men lifted me like a sack of potatoes, one at me feet and one at my hands, and dumped me on the dining room floor. I had been caught! My secret was no secret at all! In spite of my expectations, I was not expecting this!
We can all be caught unexpectedly. We can all be surprised in spite of expectations. But no matter how old we are and what we expect in life, I dare say that all of us would be surprised to have an angel appear to us and tell us that we are going to have a baby who will be conceived not by human will, but by the will of God.
Unexpectedly expecting – it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that phrase used to describe a surprise pregnancy. Yet, it is a good phrase to describe the two kinswomen in today’s gospel – one all but too young to be pregnant, the other all but too old – yet both unexpectedly expecting. Pregnant with divine promise, the two women come together to ponder the wonder of God’s ways and the miracle which is taking place inside their bodies. God has touched their lives and they are bearing the fulfillment of his word.
The first to experience the surprise encounter with God’s promise is dear old Elizabeth – so true, so faithful, yet so barren, having lived all her years without a child during a time in which a woman’s value was measured by male off-spring. Popular piety proclaimed her barrenness to be God’s judgment on her, but now God is turning that upside down. Elizabeth is not only in her sixth month of pregnancy, but she is bearing a son on whom God has promised the spirit and power of Elijah, the great and awaited prophet. Anyway, that’s what the angel has told her husband Zechariah, whose own astonishment has left him with nine months of silence.
Then there is Mary – so much younger, barely out of childhood herself, betrothed but not yet married. Like Elizabeth she too is pregnant with divine promise, but of an even grander scale. It’s a boy that she’s carrying and his name will be Jesus, Son of the Most High, and he will occupy David’s throne.
Now I know I was shocked the day I was caught unexpectedly, but neither Mary nor Elizabeth seem shocked by what is happening to them in spite of the immenseness of it and the impact that it will have on their lives and on the world. Mary sets out to meet her soul mate in anticipated maternity. At their meeting Elizabeth’s child leaps for joy in the womb and she proclaims to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit og your womb.”
In the past, other women have been called “blessed”. Jael and Judith, champions who rescued Israel from oppression were blessed. Their means of salvation involved the violence of political assassination, the stuff of the politics of their day. But now God is doing a new thing through these two women. Mary is blessed among women because she is bearing a child who will save the people once and for all time. He will rescue Israel from oppression through the sacrifice of his own blood.
Elizabeth’s child will be great. As he will prepare the way for the long-awaited Lord and with him, the age of preparation will take on new urgency for soon the time of waiting will be over, as the young girl’s labor brings forth the child who is Christ, the Lord. With the birth of this child a new age will begin. The awaited kingship, full of the expectations and anticipation of the people, will take surprising form, as restoration and hope and peace and justice will prevail through the work of this child who is the Lord. He will be the fulfillment of God’s divine promise, as he comes to us as both the expected and the unexpected, the anticipated and the surprise. He is God’s gift to a wary world in need of something new, and the world and our lives are blessed through him. For God has chosen to come to us in an unexpected way. God has chosen to fulfill his promises to his people through two women – one, all too old, and one, all too young. There are two promises, two surprises, two women unexpectedly expecting, and yet a common divine origin and purpose as one child will bring an ending and the other herald a beginning.
May our hearts leap for joy, knowing that God has chosen to bless us and all people through the fulfillment of these promises. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.