Recently, as I was going through some old photographs, I came across a picture of myself taken on the morning of April 13, 1977. I know it was that day because I was 9 months pregnant. I looked big and uncomfortable. I was big and uncomfortable, and I was also one week overdue. John took the photo of me standing in front of our sliding glass door that went out on to our very small balcony in our apt. We were getting ready to head to the hospital so that my labor could be induced for the birth of our second child. Upon arrival at St. Mary’s Hospital the nurses prepped me for the delivery, and gave me the necessary drugs to start my labor. The doctor checked in on me, told me what to expect, then he went out jogging, taking his pager with him. Things moved slowly at first, but after I took a stroll back and forth in the hallway, the drugs began to work more effectively and I was soon in full labor. The doctor was paged and barely made it back in time for the delivery. I was doing my best to use what I learned in my Lamaze childbirth classes about breathing, while the doctor scrubbed up. The young intern doctor who was there to observe and maybe assist my doctor, looked frightened and probably thought I was dying, because I wasn’t doing any of this quietly. I was having this child naturally and with little, if any, pain meds. I wanted to say to him, “this is the real deal! This is labor.” Benjamin John was born that day.
The miracle of it all is that when that little baby is placed in your arms, red, wrinkled, warm and beautiful, you soon forget how miserable you were a few hours ago, how much you wanted to get this over with, how hard the labor was, and yes, even how painful it was. You know without a doubt that this baby you carried within your womb, nourished through your own body for 9 months, and now lying within your arms, is a gift from God! “O that you would reveal your love.” God’s love is revealed to us in so many ways, especially in the birth of children. Love came down at Christmas. God’s love was revealed most completely in the birth of Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and carried within Mary’s womb.
The gospel text for this, the 4th Sunday in Advent, from Luke 1 is so delightful. I love to read this story of Mary and Elizabeth. Two women whose bodies became the dwelling place for rich treasure, the gift of new life. One woman, old and wise, but past her child bearing years. The other, young , innocent, an ordinary peasant girl, engaged, but not yet married. What a conversation and visit they must have had!
Ken Medema, the gifted musician, whom many of us have seen and heard in concert in past years, wrote a lovely song about this story called, “Go Tell Elizabeth”. It is from the viewpoint of Mary.
So many things are happening that I don’t understand. Visions and angels and a baby named Jesus were not in my plans. My thoughts are all scattered, what should I do, how will I ever find saneness again…
I’ll go tell Elizabeth…she’ll understand…I’ll go tell Elizabeth…she’ll hold my hand.
“Go talk to Joseph”….I’ve talked to Joseph, he’s a man. There are so many things as a woman that a man can’t understand. Joseph is practical, worried with things of his own and sometimes talking to Joseph is no better than being alone.
So I’ll go tell Elizabeth….she’ll understand…I’ll go tell Elizabeth…she’ll hold my hand.
Sometimes I wish I would wake up and it would all be a dream. I ought to be shouting with joy, but things are coming apart at the seams. I am quiet, I keep things inside, but sometimes there is too much to hide and I just need a good cry.
So I’ll go tell Elizabeth…she’ll understand…..I’ll go tell Elizabeth…she’ll hold my hand.
*Elizabeth’s life is not going like she planned. So many things happening, where do we find saneness again….
So I’m coming Elizabeth…I’ll understand….I’m coming Elizabeth…I’ll hold your hand. I’ll hold your hand.”
Two expectant mothers, both trying to understand, comprehend and absorb what was happening to them….and Mary, still hearing those words from the angel, ringing in her ears…..”Nothing will be impossible with God.” (no word from God will ever fail.)
As Mary made that long journey from Nazareth to some obscure town in the Judean hill country, she probably had much time to think and ponder. And Elizabeth, remember she had been in seclusion for 5 months and her husband Zechariah was silenced by the angel, Gabriel, for having questioned the possibility of his wife becoming pregnant in her old age. I can imagine that both Elizabeth and Mary needed someone to talk to. When Elizabeth greets Mary at the door of their home, the baby within her leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice! Elizabeth exclaims in a LOUD voice to Mary, “God has blessed you more than any other woman…The Lord has blessed you because you believed that he will keep his promise.”
And Mary, full of great joy, sings her song of praise. Mary preaches as the prophet of the poor, representing their hope.
God chose Mary, a young servant girl, to be the willing body, the receptive space for the son of God to be nurtured. God noticed her humble position and chose her. And Mary made room.
Caryll Houselander in her book, Reed of God, refers to Mary as the ‘warm nest’, who received Jesus into her life and nurtured him. She writes that “we are receivers of that word made flesh, as nests are receivers of new life.”
Joyce Rupp, another writer, suggests that maybe we should call Advent the season of nesting. We prepare ourselves for the indwelling, for Emmanuel, for God with us. We sing, “let every heart prepare him room,” and “be born in us today,” and “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.”
During this time of year, high in the barren trees, stripped of leaves, we see nests. Empty now, swaying in the wind, we can see them clearly in winter, sometimes with thin twigs, feathers, strings, grasses hanging down, even icicles clinging. Come spring, we notice the robins, gathering everyday fragments, bits and pieces of ordinary stuff to refurbish the old nest, creating a hospitable place for eggs and new life. It becomes a warm, welcoming space, always with a ‘hollowed out center’, ready for the new life that will come.
Attention is given to what is important. Readiness is required. Preparation is needed. The mother robin knows what is needed, and makes room.
Several years ago, Issac Villegas, pastor at Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship wrote an article in The Mennonite. He wrote, ‘Mary shows us how to extend hospitality to God…she made room for God’s life within her own. She opened her life, her very body, to bring Jesus into the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son received life in Mary’s womb.”
God wants us to be people who offer our lives and spaces and time in our lives where good news is born. A place out of which God’s liberating love can be proclaimed, and space where Jesus can live and dwell. Every Advent and Christmas season, we are reminded that God is no longer just ‘out there’. God is here, within us, going wherever we go, into every situation, relationship and experience. Jesus needs a home. We need Jesus! Jesus wants to abide with us, to make a nest in us, but we need to be willing to make a space, to prepare the place, to open up and hollow out a welcoming center.
What will it take for that to happen in our lives? As a faith community, as individuals, what needs to change? If our schedule is too full and our calendar controls our lives, it won’t happen. If our minds are too distracted with maintaining our homes and taking care of all of the stuff we have accumulated, it won’t happen. If our energy is depleted at the end of every day or week because we are spreading ourselves too thin, taking on more responsibilities that we can handle, neglecting self care, working overtime to earn more money to buy things we don’t need, then it just won’t happen!
When love comes down, enters in and we become the containers, holding the Divine Presence, how will it make a difference in our lives? How can you and I yield our lives, making a welcoming center within, as Mary did, for the purposes of God?
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