Hurry Up and Wait: Expecting
The children have already done a good job of proclaiming the good news for us today, haven’t they? I especially appreciated that refrain, “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.” That’s what we’ve been talking about – that’s what you do with good news. You share it! You tell it! You invite others to hear it and be a part of it. You live it!
But, I am a pastor, so I can’t entirely give up an opportunity to preach at least a little bit, especially in this season of Advent, especially when we’ve finally gotten to something that sounds a bit like a Christmas story. Today we got to hear all about Mary, in three segments. First, Gabriel tells her she’ll bear a son who will be Son of the Most High God. The angel calls her “favored one,” blessed one. Mary asks just one question, “how can this be?” And then she responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Her faith always astounds me, the way she just absorbs the angel’s frankly outrageous message.
And then we see Mary go to visit her cousin Elizabeth, an older woman who is also expecting a child, John, who will be known as John the Baptist. We’ve been hearing a bit about him these past couple weeks. And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit – the first person in the gospels we hear about receiving the Holy Spirit – as Elizabeth notes that she and Mary both believe that God fulfills promises made – even these miraculous promises to them.
And then finally, we get to the part we actually heard first, from Leona in our Call to Worship today: a song of praise, of hope, of Mary realizing that her child represents God turning the world upside down. This section of Luke is known as the Magnificat, “My soul glorifies/magnifies the Lord,” and it is one of my favorite passages of scripture. This passage is the longest single chunk of speech from a woman in the New Testament. Mary’s words echo those of Hannah, mother of Samuel in the Old Testament, who praises God when she is able to give birth after a long time of believing she could not have children. This song, Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is Mary’s vision of what Jesus’ birth will mean: the lowly are raised up and blessed by God. The proud are scattered. The powerful are brought down from their thrones. The hungry are filled, while the rich leave empty-handed. These words were considered so revolutionary that at different times in history – in Guatemala, in Argentina, and in India, the public reading of the Magnificat was banned. After all, if Mary’s words were taken serious, why, this Christ-child might upset the whole order of the world! And so we get a little insight into Mary – what she’s expecting in Jesus – through her response to Elizabeth.
This Advent, I’ve been taking part in a Clergy Bible Study with some pastors in my area studying the Adam Hamilton book Not a Silent Night. The book focuses on Mary, and urges us to think about what happened to Mary after the crucifixion and resurrection, about what Mary went through when Jesus was a young child, and a young teen, and a young man. And of course, the book reflects on what Mary must have been wondering about after hearing the news from Gabriel that she would give birth to God’s son, the Savior. We talked briefly last week about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah John the Baptist was expecting. John expected the winnowing fork and the ax at the roots, ready to judge, but Jesus came preaching grace and forgiveness, and John had to wonder if Jesus was the person he was preparing for or not.
Today, as we read these texts, I’m wondering about Mary’s expectations. I think of all of those I know who’ve gone through their first pregnancy. There is so much to hope for, to expect, to wonder about, to prepare for. But there’s only so much you can really learn from What To Expect When You’re Expecting. And no matter how you imagine your child, they will be different and more than you could have imagined. No matter how you imagined your life with a brand new life in it, you can never completely anticipate all that the child will bring to your life. You are full of expectation, without knowing exactly what to expect. And you have to prepare – you’d be crazy not to – all the while knowing that you couldn’t prepare for everything.
As I think about Mary, I think about how long and short a pregnancy is all at once. The time goes by quickly, in some ways, but in other ways – how hard it must have been for Mary to wait to see what this child would really be. We read nothing of any additional visits from Gabriel from the time he told her she would have a child until the time the child is born and angels have sent shepherds to meet the newborn. Did she wonder if she had hallucinated? Was she crazy? Was she just going to have an ordinary child after all? Did she wish she’d asked more questions? She must have wondered not only what her child would look like, but also what he’d be like, a child who was a Savior. Was she supposed to parent him in the normal way? I just can’t imagine what was in her heart. On Christmas Eve this week, we’ll hear that when Jesus is at last born, what Mary does is treasure and ponder in her heart everything that happens.
The angel told Mary she was favored, blessed, and Mary believed it. The angel told Mary nothing was impossible with God, and Mary believed it. The angel told Mary she would give birth to God’s child, and Mary said, “Here I am,” and “Now, God is going to turn everything upside down.” She couldn’t possibly be prepared for it, be expecting everything that would happen in the next decades of her life. And yet she was prepared for and expecting God to be faithful as always.
I hope that is what this Advent has been, is, for you. It is hard to imagine what God has in store for us. But yet, friends, we can rely so completely on God’s promises being fulfilled that we can most certainly expect that the unexpected that God has in store will be all that we hoped – and more. Here we are, servants of God. Let it be with us according to God’s word. For blessed are we who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what is spoken to us by God. Amen.