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Thursday, December 21, 2006
Luke 1:39-45. Luke 1:47-55 Micah 5:2-5 Hebrews 10:5-10. Most of the time, preachers of this text understandably focus on Mary's exuberant prayer, the Magnificat, an outburst echoing Hannah's praise for God's marvelous deeds in her life and in the lives of all who feel marginalized or downtrodden (see First Samuel in the Hebrew Scriptures). And the Magnificat is indeed a beautiful expression of rejoicing at God's promises kept, a celebration of the tables being turned, or overturned, in a sense: the lowly are lifted up, the proud are brought down, and the hungry are fed. God remembers the people of Israel, and the promises God has made to them. What a powerful text for every hungry heart in need of good news! There is another strand of good news in today's text, however, that is often overlooked, and Henri Nouwen wrote a thoughtful reflection on it in his book, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey (Doubleday). Nouwen's meditation on the encounter between the two women, Elizabeth and Mary, is worthy of the best feminist theology, which draws our attention to the easily missed things that are happening to and with the "little ones" in our Scripture texts. It may be true that the mighty are brought down, and the great promises of old are kept, but in the meantime, on a dusty road outside a relative's home, two women meet to share the ancient, womanly experience of being with child. Advent is indeed a time of waiting, a time pregnant with hope. On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, Mary and Elizabeth could be seen as two ordinary, pregnant women in the most extraordinary time and circumstances, on the brink of greatness but first tending to their relationship with each other and with God. Motherhood is daunting to every woman, especially the first time around, and these two women have found themselves pregnant under most unusual and unexpected terms, one past the age to conceive, and the other a virgin. So they spend time together – three months, the text says – like women in every place and time. The new life promised in Mary's pregnancy brings profound added meaning in this story, and fulfills promises to all humankind, but one wonders how these two humble women must have felt about what was happening in their own lives. Nouwen says, "Who could ever understand? Who could ever believe it? Who could ever let it happen? But Mary says, ‘Let it happen to me', and she immediately realizes that only Elizabeth will be able to affirm her ‘yes'. For three months Mary and Elizabeth live together and encourage each other to truly accept the motherhood given to them." As Nouwen reads this story, neither woman had to wait alone for the extraordinary events to unfold, slowly, as pregnancies do: "They could wait together and thus deepen in each other their faith in God, for whom nothing is impossible. Thus, God's most radical intervention into history was listened to and received in community." In this Advent season, we in the church are keenly aware that we wait in community for the promises of God to unfold in our lives. In fact, it is here in community that we "hold each other up" when one of us needs encouragement or support. We help one another search for meaning, rejoice with one another, walk alongside one another. Sometimes, we just sit in the dark quiet and wait, together, trusting in the promises of God, listening for a word from the Stillspeaking God. And in the midst of our waiting, as Paul, writing from prison, encouraged the Philippians; as Hannah and Mary sang God's praise; and as Elizabeth welcomed her beloved cousin and companion, we rejoice, our hearts dancing within us. How is God at work in the life of our congregation? In what ways does it make a difference that you listen for God's word in community rather than alone? How have you, together, deepened your faith in ways you might not have experienced in isolation?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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