Advent Post #15

“…the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44)

Babies around John’s age do move in the womb, although I think any mother-to-be would prefer the baby to kick or turn and not leap. Leaping would really be painful. And yet that is Luke’s way of telling Elizabeth’s story.

Play with that for a moment. Sit with the baby’s joyful response to coming close to Mary, to her prophecy, and to the cousin of baby John. He leaps.

Leaping is hardly a subtle response. It’s clear. Frankly, it could be that John was clearly saying, “Hey, get outta here, kid! This is my house.” A better reading would consider John’s future response to Jesus approaching him on that desert pulpit where he stood preaching like an itinerant revivalist. When that John, the older John, saw Jesus, he exclaimed in worship.

Carry that experience backward to this one. What’s up with the leaping six-month-old fetus? Can he be offering us a corrective to our staid ways of being with Jesus? Can this yet unborn baby know a fitting response to God-enfleshed even before he can see that God in Christ?

When I’m being imaginative, I think that little babies are closer to God than older people. They are fresh from heaven in my worldview, though I cannot support that view with anything you might find credible. I told my son those days after he was first born to remember the sounds of the angels, to keep the whispers of God in his ears.

I told him that the world would get different but that when he dreamed at night as a new baby, he could still grab glimpses of heaven. Because his little eyes were still fuzzy–sight takes time to develop for those little ones–he could still see images of before.

I think of that view when I come to John’s response. He leaps because he’s acquainted with appropriate form for the One in whose presence the angels rejoice. That little John–smaller and quieter than the older one who would stand in a special posture as a premier preacher on the Galilean shores–would remember how the other voices sounded when God approached. And because he couldn’t be heard under all that skin, he did the next best thing: he leaped.

Might this impact how we conduct ourselves in the “presence of God,” in the company of Christ, or as we worship in our own forms? I wonder if we’ll leap or if we’ll sit or ponder or consider and never move at his nearness.

Advent Post #14

“But why am I so favored…” (Luke 1:43)

I love Mary’s questions. Her ponderings bring me pause. She is the “God-bearer” and she is humble. She has every reason to lift herself as high as the peaks, and she asks a question like this: why am I so favored?

In a good way, she asks, why me? What did I do to get this?

I know that we tend to ask that question when things go off for us, when things go wrong. It’s a reflex it’s so common. God, why are you letting this happen to me? God why aren’t you letting this happen to me? Seldom do we pose Mary’s question: why am I so blessed? She humbly assumes that she is blessed.

But there is another way of framing her question, and it is by asking what the reason is that God favors. One frame has to do with why God picked her while the other has to do with the purpose God went around picking in the first place.

The beauty in Mary’s question is the sneaky reminder that we do not earn God’s goodness. She did nothing and yet God must have favored her because of the uniqueness of who she was. God always honors who we are and still doesn’t hold us to perfection. That’s an important element in thinking through Mary’s favored status. She was special. And though we can only guess, God chose her, from her town and at her age, and God didn’t choose others. She was unique.

The second element, though, is in our asking the pivotal question about purpose. God has a purpose for choosing Mary for the glorious opportunity of being the mother of Jesus. Whatever God’s good background reasons for choosing Mary, God chose her in order that she would bear the child called Jesus. Mary was intended to bear the infant, carry him, and bring him into the world. While it wasn’t the totality of God’s plan for her life, it became the focus for that portion of her life.

She would train her energies in the direction of being a mother to the child. And she would retain this steeped humility to ask questions, to pronounce how undeserving she felt, and to do for God in spite of those questions. Her questions would keep her touching the ground of humble humanity, even while she was the “holy Mary, mother of God.”

What questions might you raise in God’s hearing? Can you wonder into the world of God’s purpose for you, for today, and listen for an answer? If you asked Mary’s question in your own prayer, what might God say?

Advent Post #13

“In a loud voice she exclaimed…” (Luke 1:42)

Imagine that this was the first reaction Mary had to her news about being pregnant. We do not know if it was. But it is realistic that young Mary could travel on the basis of visiting her kin and not raise eyebrows. She didn’t have to reveal her news to anyone just yet. Plus, with Elizabeth’s own pregnancy, the two shared a kind of bond that was unrepeatable.

Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed the historical words which frame prayers and blessings of many Christians: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” You are blessed and your child is blessed.

What a remarkable thing to say to mothers and their children. You are favored and your child is favored. I wonder if this can be the pronouncement that we give when new parents and children come into our lives. Can we say, against our better judgments and against our cynicism, you are blessed?

It would force us to see beyond the current reality. It would push us by our junk and the junk piles of others until we saw something more. We’d have to see other visions to say these words, but they are words worth saying.

When I look at children, I often want to school them, tell them what they need to hear, what risks they ought to measure, how they ought to ready themselves for the cruelties of life. When I see my son, Black gold that he is, I want to protect him by telling him in advance that being a Black boy will bring hardship. I have to train myself to say what Elizabeth said. I have to try to see blessing as part of the picture. And yet it is so much of what Advent is.

It takes the Spirit to utter these words, and it takes the Spirit to yell them. You are more than your condition. You are more than surroundings. You have come from the grandest memory of God, and what you bring into the world is kissed with beauty and divinity and holiness. You are favored, spoken well of by angels and their Creator. Why would you think less of yourself? Why would you put yourself low or think yourself shunned? You are loved, have been loved, and always will be loved. It is an honor to know you!

I wonder if words like Elizabeth’s can become a portion of our statements to the children on our blocks, in our communities, and around our places of business. I wonder if when we see them, we can train ourselves in the mind of Elizabeth, be filled enough with Spirit, to utter or proclaim, “You are amazing. You will be amazing.” And then, all the other similar words will come and keep coming.

I can hope.

Advent Post #12

 “…Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)

Mary must not have known of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. I could imagine Elizabeth and her husband keeping it to themselves. It was high-risk.

Why share such news if the pregnancy could fail? Why bring all those people, who’d definitely be awestruck, into the business? Perhaps Elizabeth’s body wouldn’t cooperate and be a hospitable container for the developing baby. Perhaps God wouldn’t allow Elizabeth’s pregnancy to succeed. Perhaps it wasn’t true in the first place, her expectation.

These are real wonderings. There are false hopes. Our bodies don’t always cooperate with our dreams. Miscarriages happen, especially for those who hope at higher risks. And when they happen, they bruise parts of parents which most never see. Linger over that and make your connections prayers.

You see Mary rushed to her relative after hearing Gabriel’s words. They would share. Apprehensively or not, they would develop a bond around the amazing things God was doing. I can hear Mary rehearsing her terror, her wonder, and her praise. I can imagine she’d nearly trip over her feet to run to her loved one.

Imagine the gift of Elizabeth, who at six months is already filled with a growing baby, now being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is language I’m fairly used to because I’m Pentecostal, even if it’s an experience that makes me shudder with gratitude and light and humility. She was filled.

The Spirit fills us. The Spirit (a feminine word which we never allow ourselves to utter enough), she enters us and resides with us. She is present during moments of greatness. For Elizabeth who has likely been uncertain, I imagine there being a new calmness, a resoluteness with Mary’s entrance and with the Spirit’s coming that some things are definite. Her baby’s eventual arrival, John’s eventual life, was certain. Is that the evidence of the filling? More certainty than before. Perhaps not total but more.

I believe that Advent is a season where we rehearse to ourselves the steep, enduring promises of God. We tell ourselves–and each other by entering our homes and hanging out–and we embody for ourselves the real truth that the world as we know it is undone. We embody the message and the messengers who will tell the world the truth it needs to hear. We live that truth each day, and in our living we change the world.

Might this be the spilling which we need this season? I pray that you are as Pentecostal as the next believer, as filled with the Spirit as Elizabeth and, later, those first kind followers in the upper room. May this season bring us a new quality of faith, a trusted assurance that God is working in us to bring the world grace.

Advent Post #11

“Even Elizabeth…” (Luke 1:36)

The angel told Mary that her prophecy included her kinswoman, her relative. Isn’t that wonderful? God’s grand messages to us are never, solely, for us. They are for others. As much as they are about us, they are about others. They spread the miracle-working strength of God.

In this case, Elizabeth was advanced in years. Elizabeth wasn’t expecting to get pregnant. Like Sarah in Genesis, Elizabeth was old. I have teachers who wouldn’t let me call them that. One of my teachers said quite loudly to our peer group, “I am a senior!” There are people who have trouble with “old.” Bad connotations come with that word.

We discard old things. We replace them. We forget them. We prefer younger, newer, bolder, anything other than old. There are good reasons to be bothered by the word.

And then I have friends who I met through Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly who would gladly be called old. When I consider some of those friends, they would be thankful to be called anything by a person who cared for them, someone who was showing up regularly to listen to and talk with them like plain people. I am stretching it a bit, of course, to make the point. But when a person is alone and isolated, calling them old may be complimentary if you’re sticking around to hear their comeback.

In a way, my friends are like Elizabeth. They are the people who no longer expect God to act in them. They are so untreated and mistreated by society, that they believe God does them the way we do. They are resigned, withdrawn, and, many of them, hopeless because the world around them has “forced them out,” made no place for them, moved by them, and cared less for them.

We mistreat people who are old. We think little of them, and I hear Elizabeth’s blessing of bearing fruit as a reminder to remember that “people are people.” …Whether they bear another child, work another job, do something you and I think are contributions to current society or not.

Can you see Gabriel’s words not so much as a comfort to Elizabeth because she could do what everyone younger than her could but as a challenge to fix our thinking around the inestimable quality residing in people who have lived long lives?

They are senior leaders, senior members of the human community. Even if they “bear no more” or “produce nothing else,” can we not speak to them graciously, listen to them tenderly, serve them generously, and love them as we love ourselves? May these better acts be true of us.

We might be changed. We may learn to treat everybody that they matter, essentially, no matter what they do, what they produce, what they accomplish. And what a gracious world that would be. If only we could treat each other, no matter our ages, that we are loved and that we are important just because we’re here.