Luke 1:39-56 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
46 And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
The Coming of Christ: Pain and Birth
Luke 1:46-55 (call to worship)
Micah 5:2-5 (prophet/children)
Luke 1:39-45 (message)
I had the privilege of being present for the birth of both of our boys. It was one of the most powerful, beautiful, and important moments of my life. I knew that becoming a father was going to change my life – sleepless nights, diaper changes (something I hadn’t done before). But I had no idea how it was going to change me – empathy, interruptions, hopes and dreams, disappointment, the transition from being superman to being powerless. So many things happen to you as a parent ... and, while I was barely "ready", I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What about Virgin Mary and Chaste Joseph? Ready? Ready to get married, yes ... but starting a family first wasn’t in the plans. And, what wonders are in store for those who bear and raise the Son of God?
After witnessing the birth of our boys, I am even more amazed that God would choose to enter our world in this manner. I’m glad that I was able to witness and remember the birth of our children, but I’m also glad that I don’t remember my own birth. Birth, in the best of circumstances, must be traumatic for a child. In the case of our firstborn, Jesse, at 5 pounds, 14 ounces (smaller by today’s standards) was still too large for Robin. She was struggling, his heartbeat disappeared on the monitor, suction didn’t work, the doctor became serious.
No wonder some folks have objected to the idea of "God become flesh". It is messy, it is vulnerable, it is weak, it is painful. Yes, birth is glorious, life is a gift. But, for God to become human is for God to embrace pain and for God to glorify human being-ness.
A couple interesting Scriptures relative to childbirth and salvation. The first is in the story of the original couple and the original sin. When God confronts Adam and Eve, they are cursed or punished for their choice. For Eve, the curse comes with a promise, a promise which came in the form of a curse upon the Adversary Serpent:
Genesis 3:15-16 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." 16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children."
The second is a typological use of this story,
1 Timothy 2:14-15 ... the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing ...
This latter passage has, too often, been interpreted to say "a woman’s place is in the home". Not a good way to read the text. The text is telling us that our salvation comes through the bearing of a child, just as Eve was promised. That child’s birth is God’s painful entrance to the human race and to a sinful world; that child’s birth is the beginning of our Salvation.
Mary, in her pain as a stigmatized single mom in a traditional culture, spends three months with aunt Elizabeth in another province, away from the prying eyes and wagging tongues of folks back home. She finds herself blessed by Elizabeth, and unleashes her own song of joy, known as the "Magnificat" for "magnify": "My soul magnifies the Lord". And she sings of how God is going to make things right: God scatters the proud, brings down the powerful, sends the rich away empty. And, God favors the humble, lifts up the lowly, fills the poor.
The standard expectations of the world are reversed. North is South. East is West. Up is Down. God comes to save, not with a display of force but a display of weakness. God becomes flesh, not in a pain free, sterile environment, but through birth and pain.
But it is precisely because Jesus makes his entrance through pain that he can save and deliver us in pain, our lowliness, our humility, our poverty, our hunger.
What pain do you bring? "I have got this hunger and I can’t seem to get full ... love is just an excuse to hurt and to be hurt" (Bright Eyes, Lifted, or, The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, "Lover I Don’t Have to Love").
[Silent prayer, bringing our pain to Jesus]
From Augustine’s Confessions, 10.39.64:
In all such things and in like perils and hardships, you behold my trembling heart. Over and over, I feel my wounds, not so much as inflicted upon me, but rather as healed by you.
Not just about pain, but about deliverance, about the birth of a new world. We get a glimpse of the values, a sense that God favors the "underdog", the oppressed, those who start out not just last but not even at the starting line. God loves the lowly, the poor, the hungry.
[Sharing and prayer in groups, for Jesus to deliver]
Advent Prayer by Janet Morley
God our Deliverer, whose approaching birth still shakes the foundations of this world, may we so wait for your coming with eagerness and hope that we embrace without terror the labor pangs of the new age, through Jesus Christ. Amen.