When the Scriptures are used maturely, and they become a precursor to meeting the Christ, they proceed in this order:
- They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to, “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false world views.
- They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace and the sheer attraction of the good, the true and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt or fear which are low-level motivations). “Attraction not promotion,” said Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart.
Preparing for Christmas (Richard Rohr)
Are we nearly there yet?
There can’t be a parent who hasn’t been asked that question. Usually as you’re backing out of your suburban Brisbane garage to drive to Sydney.
Are we nearly there yet?
Well yes, we’re nearly there. We’re almost at the stable, the baby Jesus will soon be born.
And as we’re nearly there, Luke gives us a story of Mary early in her pregnancy. Her very unexpected pregnancy. This was not on her radar!
So in dealing with this unexpected pregnancy, Mary does something you might expect. She hurries to see Elizabeth, also unexpectedly pregnant. But Elizabeth is older and has more experience of things. And she is a whole six months pregnant.
They talk. They talk about babies, but it’s not the usual conversation because these are not the usual babies. Elizabeth is carrying John, who was to be the forerunner of Mary’s son, Jesus.
Every baby is special, but these are two very special babies.
Mary and Elizabeth were not important women. Herod didn’t know them, Pilate had never heard of them. But God knew them, and chose them for a wonderful task. God chose a barren woman, and a young woman little more than a child herself.
If Elizabeth and Mary had been asked who would God choose to bring the Messiah and the Messiah’s herald into the world, they would have scratched their heads. I don’t believe they would say “Pick me, pick me!” More likely, they’d wonder which great lady in a royal palace would get do this. If they were lucky, they might be allowed to become a servant in that great lady’s household.
But no. They were the chosen ones. A barren woman and a girl.
It’s God’s decision who God chooses. He may choose you. This Advent, this Christmas, watch; wait; listen. It may be you.
Women weren’t important in those days, just as women are unimportant in many parts of the world today. We hear of honour killings and of places where women are treated very badly. We know that in our own society, women are not only paid less than men but they undergo domestic violence and sexual assault. This isn’t God’s way.
Two thousand years ago, women were among ‘the poor’. They had few if any rights, and without a man to take them into his own household they were often reduced to prostitution. God lifted women up, and God lifts up the poor.
Mary knew that. After she and Elizabeth spoke, she sang (1.51–53):
[God] has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Mary wasn’t a trade unionist; but she had a keen grasp of the just ways of God.
Neither was Mary a rabble rouser. She knew how God works. God works by lifting up the poor and powerless. God works by giving them dignity. God works by becoming part of the picture. And finally, God works by helping the rich and the righteous to get with the program.
How many characters are there in this little scene?
If you said, ‘two’, you’d be right. Their names are Mary and Elizabeth. (Did you know this is one of the few places in the Bible where there are only women in the story?)
But if you said ‘four’ characters in this story, I’d give you that too. John ‘leaps’ in his mother’s womb. And it’s hard to leave Jesus out, even though he was only an embryo.
But I’d also suggest there is a fifth ‘character’ in this story: the Holy Spirit.
What did we read?
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
The Spirit of God is right in the middle of things in the first two chapters of Luke. John’s father Zechariah is told that John will be filled with the Spirit. The Spirit overshadows Mary as she conceives. When the baby Jesus is presented in the Temple, Simeon is filled with the Spirit and praises God.
The Spirit reveals the true nature of what is happening to the faithful ones, and opens their mouths to praise God.
Women. The poor. The Holy Spirit. These are in fact the central characters of Luke’s Christmas story, and they are the central characters of the Gospel According to St Luke. These early chapters are like an ‘overture’ (see Crossan & Borg, The First Christmas), showing us what to expect as we read Luke though the coming year. We can expect women to be prominent in the cast of Luke, we can expect a concern for the poor and we can expect to see the Spirit actively working among God’s people.
We should also expect these things in the life of the church today.
I think women have achieved a certain prominence in the work of God’s church! Or have they—there are still many churches which refuse to ordain women, or deny their ministry in other ways.
And who else do we deny ministry to? I’m not just talking about ordained ministry here, by the way. Which kinds of people find it hard to be accepted as people with a ministry in the church?
I’m glad to see a concern for the poor in the life of this church. David and Jeni are serving the homeless at lunch on Christmas Day, and we raised well over $500 to help find the resources for that meal. Well done!
It’s not just giving money to the needy though. We also support the arms of our Church who ask uncomfortable questions of our government about the way asylum seekers are tread, about the plight of the long-term unemployed, about the state of the environment.
Like Mary, we don’t do this because we’re rabble rousers. We can see the coming kingdom, and it looks like Jesus Christ in the midst of his people. Can we welcome Jesus without welcoming the kingdom he brings?
So we need the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit to hear and see what God is doing. We need to catch the breeze of the Spirit and allow ourselves to be swept along by it.
We’re nearly there! As we come to Christmas, let’s remember what it’s about. It’s about ordinary people being caught up in the work of God. It about what life is meant to be. Amen.