Sermon Fourth Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:39-45 Preached at Selwyn Village Church by Megan
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight Christ my hope and my redeemer.
Some years ago when I was teaching, one of my teenage pupils got pregnant. What was remarkable wasn’t another teen pregnancy, but that none of us suspected a thing. She was a big girl and each day’d begun wearing looser clothing until she couldn’t hide it any more and had to tell her parents.
After practising how best to break the news, she went into the lounge and said “Mum, Dad I’m a little bit pregnant”. [pause]
I’ve not heard of being a little bit pregnant, but I suspect she thought it would ease the blow.
After much bluster her father asked “How much is a little bit?” to which she replied “My waters broke this morning and my contractions are six minutes apart”! Needless to say, there wasn’t much time for her parents to get used their daughters pregnancy, to be angry, sad, excited even. Within four hours they’d become grandparents to George, a healthy and much loved – if unexpected, baby boy.
I’ve often thought about what it must’ve been like for that young woman to go through her pregnancy alone. For Mary, the risks of being a teenager, pregnant and unmarried were far greater than for my student. Mary didn’t just risk her parents disapproval she risked the condemnation of her community, and potentially death.
So controversial was Marys’ situation that even her husband to be Joseph, was, until the intervention of an angel, trying to find the best way out of what was becoming an increasingly dodgy situation.
A few miles away Mary’s Cousin Elizabeth, and her husband Zachariah, were, after years of being shunned by their community due to Elizabeth’s barrenness, dealing with their own miraculous call to parenthood. Mary and Elizabeth two devout women both pregnant under unusual circumstances – one too old, one too young, no wonder the neighbours were talking.
On the surface today’s Gospel reflects a normal meeting, two women delighting in each others pregnancy, yet at a deeper level we become witnesses to an act of profound and abiding love, and to a great commissioning where prophecy is made manifest.
Elizabeth – the local vicar’s wife, contrary to tradition and common sense, welcomes without question, or judgement the frightened Mary.
In her cousin’s arms Mary finds sanctuary, here her pregnancy isn’t some dirty family secret, but a gift to be celebrated.
Elizabeth’s unconditional love, recognises Mary’s goodness, seeing great gain, from what looks like great loss to everyone else. This ability of Elizabeth to willingly accept Mary with an open heart means that she too is transformed.
“And the baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit”.
In this encounter we witness God active in both the world and the womb, as Elizabeth and her yet to be born baby John, respond with delight recognising the Christ child.
Both women bless each other as the transformed Elizabeth, prophecies’ loudly and with hearty voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed be the fruit of your womb”.
This act of unconditional love and blessing echoes through time, reminding us that there is no retirement from the wonder and work, of God.
Today God calls us to be his love in the world, to embrace a spirit of humbleness and hospitality, checking our judgements at the door.
Such thinking can lead to us discovering, as Elizabeth did, amazing things in ordinary places.
Several years ago when I’d just been made redundant at Christmas, I was at the supermarket feeling particularly sorry for myself when the Holy spirit gave me a wake up call. In the cue in front of me was a woman even more anxious than I.
With a little girl sitting in the trolley, she was furiously counting her groceries whilst trying to read a piece of paper gripped in her hand.
Her trolley contained the bare minimum.
As I leant forward I saw the piece of paper she was holding was a social welfare emergency food cheque. She had never had one before, and was trying desperately with one of those over bright smiles to hide her shame from her daughter and those around her.
She nervously handed the cashier the emergency cheque only to hear in a piercingly loud voice, “oh one of those, well you can’t afford all this” as the cashier proceeded to take out items from the woman’s trolley as she felt fit. [pause]
As the women eyes filled with tears, smile still bright for her baby went to pack her bags, I looked at what I had, and understood that God was offering, a chance to see the good in a person and bless them without judgement.
As I paid for my groceries I also got those the cashier had pulled from the woman’s trolley. The cashier in a patronising tone said”you must be such a good friend” to which I replied “No, I don’t know her”. [pause]
At this point though, I was faced with a dilemma, you see I’m sacred, scared that if I give the groceries to this woman that I may further shame her in the eyes of her daughter and in front of those around her.
But I know I need to act.
I think I circled her twice before I was able to approach her without anyone seeing. So I go up, and just begin putting groceries in her trolley, hers and mine, and I see not shame in her but a look of such wonderment, such love, that in that moment I am both broken, and remade at the same time. [pause]
I say, “Please take these because I know what it is to be in your place, and one day you can do the same for some one else” although I’m sure its not as coherent as that. And somehow we find ourselves laughing, and she reaches over and through tears touches my face blessing me.
Not realising that in allowing me to follow Gods call in that moment it is she, who is the blessing.
Today on this last Sunday in Advent, in the midst of the hype and excitement may we too be caught up in the blessing of Elizabeth and Mary, entering all that we do with spirit a love, acceptance, seeing the good and blessing of God in all the ordinary places.
Spoken in the name of the one that is to come.