Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 21, 2014

2014.12.21 “When Obstetrics Became Theology” – Luke 1: 46 – 55

Central United Methodist Church
When Obstetrics Became Theology
Pastor David L. Haley
December 21st, 2014
The 4th Sunday of Advent
Luke 1: 46 – 55

Advent-4

“And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-new;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

– Luke 1: 46 – 55, The Message

We have reached the 4th Sunday of Advent, and our waiting is almost over.

Preparations for our family celebrations of Christmas are likely underway, or not. For those with families for whom life is already complicated, what with layers of job and school schedules to coordinate, Christmas can be especially difficult, adding another layer on top of what was already nearly impossible. Add to that this year the spread of illness and flu throughout the community, and a lot of things we might liked to have happened at Christmas this year just aren’t going to happen.

For example, I was talking to a young mom this week, who in addition to being a single mom of two also works two jobs and goes to school, a life style not unusual for many single moms these days. In the last week one of her children came down with appendicitis, not something you plan on when you open those daily advent calendars. It took some adjustments – you know how that goes, Moms and Dads, but mother and child are doing well.

Speaking of single moms, we have an example of one in today’s Gospel; may I introduce you to her? Her name is Mary; she will be the mother of Jesus.

AfghanGirlSteveMcCurryNationalGeographicAs for what Mary looked like, we can only speculate, since the Gospels don’t describe her, but we can for sure discount most of those pictures that look like they came out of American Girl magazine. Do you remember Steve McCurry’s iconic photograph of a young Afghan girl in a Pakistan refugee camp that appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine’s June 1985 issue, which became the most famous cover image in the magazine’s history? This one? In my mind, I imagine Mary looking something like this; after all, she might not have been much older.

At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Mary is not pregnant; at the end she is, although it’s still SFW (safe for work) throughout; we learn in the story that it is by extraordinary means. Since we’re only three days away from Christmas, Mary’s going to have to expedite matters to stay on schedule. Due to our short schedule, this is going to have to be a three-day pregnancy, something most mothers (and fathers) would delight in. Imagine – relatively speaking – only about an hour of morning sickness for the whole pregnancy!

Pregnancy of any kind, of course, is not to be taken lightly, even for those who begin it that way. As all women who have been pregnant know, Mother Nature takes over your body, and begins running the show. Powerful hormones – I once heard the equivalent of a teaspoon full in a swimming pool – do their job and begin reshaping your body inside and out, in ways that are necessary though not what you might choose. We men look on in fascination and horror and most of all thanksgiving, that we do not have to undergo pregnancy, in the way you do.

I’ll never forget the first childbirth class I went to, which was on the campus at the University of Chicago, which tells you something right there about what kind of people who would be attending. It was a few classes in, when one of the moms presented a slide show of her first pregnancy. The first slide was a floor-to-ceiling picture of her stark naked, in the early stages of delivery. Needless to say, after that, further small talk felt unnecessary. Us Dads looked at each other and at the door, also out of question. I don’t know if Joseph knew it yet, but this was the kind of thing he would be facing soon, ready or not.

Squeamish though these things may be, they are a part of life, and are exactly what’s under consideration here. Up to now in Advent our longings have been more aspirational; now things get real. Through a Jewish baby boy whose name will be called Jesus, now “in utero” of a young Jewish girl named Mary. She is engaged – though not married yet – to a man named Joseph, a good man.  And so the scene is set for the child to be born. In about three days.

Before that time, there are two notable details which make not only Mary pregnant but us as well, if not with child, with spiritual opportunity.

First, Mary’s example of saying “Yes” to God. Don’t you love how it is set up? “And the Angel Gabriel came to her and said, “Ave gratia plena, Dominus tecum benedicta tu.” (Well, how do you expect an angel to talk, especially a Catholic angel?)  Understandably, Mary was shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. Another weirdo on the street? But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. (Yeah, I’ve heard that one before!) God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.”

Surprised? I’ll say! But no matter how surprised or fearful Mary was, here is what she said, which all hearers of the story have marveled at every since: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; may it be with me according to your word.”

It’s such a pivotal moment that there is no surprise that this moment – known as the Annunciation – has been portrayed by some of our best art, such as this by Fra Angelico, or this one by Botticelli, where it seems all heaven and earth wait upon Mary’s word. Mary’s assent has also been honored in some of our best music, such as the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria,” for example. Mary has served as one of the most inspirational examples in the whole Bible of saying “Yes” to God; is it any wonder she has been so honored and revered throughout the church? Even though – since Mary – nothing has been on the same scale, what is it that God awaits us to say yes to, upon which the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the world await?

The second notable detail which makes not only Mary pregnant but all of us, is that she serves as an instance of what happens when obstetrics becomes theology. When the stirrings of the child inside her speaks volumes about not only what God is doing in her, but in the world.

Moms, I’m not sure how much theology your pregnancies inspired in you; when that baby began to kick I’m sure you invoked the name of God, though probably not in the way Mary did. In Mary’s case it was revolutionary, and not even spoken calmly, but sung.

In Luke’s Gospel, especially in the birth narratives at the beginning, you’d think it was written by Rogers and Hammerstein, people are always breaking out in song: Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, singing such songs such as the Magnificat and the Benedictus, sung in the liturgy of the church and the daily devotions of Christians ever since.

And what a song she sang! Though there are many translations and settings of Mary’s song, after hearing Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message, I’ve not been able to get past it:

“And Mary said, “I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what
Happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!’”

Mary’s song sounds the first clear trumpet call that the Baby she bears would be world-transforming and universe-shaking. Mary’s song is a song sung to all people like her, making clear that God is not on the side of the high and the mighty, the Caesar’s and the Herods and the Hitler’s of the world, as it so often seems and as the Caesar’s and Herods and Hitler’s will tell you. Rather, what Mary sings is that God is on the side of the humble and the poor and the oppressed, the people like her and her fiancé Joseph and her baby, a baby so poor he would be born in a manger, attended only by shepherds. Mary’s song sings that Christ comes to do what God has always done: lift up the lowly, free the enslaved, feed the hungry, give justice to the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.

So for these reasons, not only is Mary pregnant with Jesus, her example and affirmation make us pregnant as well, if not with child, with spiritual opportunity:

  • What song in us needs to be sung?
  • What poetry in our heart needs to be written?
  • What love in us needs to expressed?
  • What generosity in us needs to overflow?
  • What decisions made — what new ventures begun — what changes initiated?

Given the example and inspiration of Mary, how are we pregnant with possibility and hope?

We may not understand it fully yet, but Mary’s story is meant to be our story.  For God is also awaiting us to say “yes”, to fulfill God’s purposes in the world in whatever ways God asks of us, as God asked of Mary so long ago.

When I visit Paris, as I walk the streets, I sometimes think about another who walked the streets of Paris some 700 years earlier, around the year 1303. His name was Meister Eckhart and he was a Dominican Professor of Theology. Once in a sermon about Mary, on such a day as this, to people such as us, Meister Eckhart said:

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, ‘then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” (Meister Eckhart, 1260-1328)

May our “Yes” be Mary’s “Yes”:
“Here I am, the Servant of the Lord.
May it be to me, according to your Word.” Amen.

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