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 #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 #9

“The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” (Luke 1:35)

When I was a child, I heard my pastor say that there was only one immaculate conception. He was talking to a room of teenagers, at least, he is in my memory. He was probably answering a question about sex from some snarky kid who wanted to raise theologically precise questions. It could’ve been me he was answering. Of course, my brain could be making up the whole story since I do make things up from time to time.

I do remember him saying this though: There was only one immaculate conception. I think the reason for God’s fine selection to have “only one” Mary was not so much to preserve the wonderful sacredness of the first coming of Jesus. I do know that that had to be important. Jesus would only come once.

But I think God chose only one Mary for that one occasion to esteem the extremely high value that God has for sex. Well, I should say God’s extremely high value for human touch in general and sex in particular.

I don’t think God really wanted people making and carrying babies because of some invisible action on the Holy Spirit’s part. I think God wanted people to have sex and not just once. I should say that I don’t know what it meant for the Holy Spirit to overshadow Mary. I probably should restrict my imagination for fear of offending some of you.

That aside, I think God wanted to lift this sacred coming, this incarnation, as a way in which God comes but not as the only way. To be clear, this coming was the initial and free-standing and singular event where God would be en-fleshed. But I’m also a follower of Jesus who really really believes that Jesus finds a way to live in us. I really believe that God resides in us, though if you asked me for my best explanation, you’d probably find it mild.

I think that God comes in many grace-filled moments and in many grace-filled ways. And I think that Mary’s moment was exceptional and necessarily so. But I also believe that God arrives in our lives through the regular and common and sometimes uninteresting activity of human intercourse. Not only sexual but certainly not excluding it. I think that God’s normal way to arrive in our lives is through our lives.

A wise woman told me that “we’re all God has” when it comes to how God works. God has us and God chooses to use what God has in us. Our touches, our gazes, our meals, our poetry and art, our conversations, our fights, our friendships, and our hugs: We’re all God has.

I wonder if that raises the level of import of what we’d call normal. I wonder if touching and kissing and changing diapers can be charged with divinity after Mary’s “more pristine” conception. I wonder if every act is potentially bursting forth, potentially a place or a gesture where the Holy Spirit might overshadow the world with another bit of Christ.

It seems that any touch, any gesture could be filled with this Spirit. Again, not to replace the singular event of Jesus’s birth but to co-create with God, to offer another opportunity for God to meet us in terrestrial ways. Handshakes and hugs fill our lives. Words offered may become words from God. Words not offered may rob us of the same.

May God give us the ability to pay attention, to turn to one another in creative love, and to reach out and in doing so, spread goodness and grace.