There used to be a time when waiting was fun because it caused something in us to grow with excitement with each given day. But somewhere along the way that sense of anticipation was replaced with the thrill of instant gratification.
We don’t like to wait anymore. Businesses like Amazon and Netflix and DoorDash make a lot of money to give us what we want when we want it. If anything good has come from the pandemic, it’s forced us to slow down and wait. We wait for our test results. Wait for vaccines or boosters. Wait for orders that are waiting for the supply chain to get back up and running. In a lot of ways, COVID has helped me take the time to appreciate what I have, and what I’m waiting for.
As we enter our fourth and final week of Advent, our time of waiting for the Christ child is coming to a close. We’ve marked our time by lighting a different candle each week to remind us of what we are waiting for – the light of hope, love, and joy. Today, we light the candle of peace to remind us of God’s peace that comes to us in the Christ child.
Bathed in the glowing light of Advent, may we always remember the words of Eugene Peterson who wrote, “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. The longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”
A perfect segue to our reading for today from Luke 1:39-55.
I remember the day I learned that I was going to be a father. To be honest, that’s all I really remember. It was in the day. You'll have to ask Kathleen to fill in the rest of the details. However, I can remember the pregnancy. Ten long, painful months of nausea, aches and pains, emotional instability, and constant irritability! And that was just me! Again, you have to ask Kathleen what she went through.
While I have plenty of experience in sympathetic pregnancy, I still don’t have a clue about what women go through to bring a life into the world. Having witnessed it three times now, I can say, with great confidence, that peace doesn’t aptly describe the process.
There’s no peace when you’re nauseous every morning. Or when your body is constantly shifting and reshaping. There’s no peace when you can’t sleep because your body temperature is running amuck, and your hormones are out of whack. And there’s nothing peaceful about having a little human inside you kicking with the power of a professional MMA fighter.
Pregnancy brings hope, and love and joy into your life. But peace? Well, that’s debatable.
So why then do we get a very pregnant Mary on the Sunday we light the peace candle? It’s hard for me to imagine she’s feeling free from worry or enjoying a relaxed and tranquil state of mind. Her pregnancy was controversial to say the least.
To this day, people struggle to make sense of this mystery. A virgin birth seems just as likely as the Stork in “Dumbo” who struggles to deliver a baby elephant to his mother …on a moving train, …in the rain, …while drunk.
Advent gives us time to wait. A time for us to look beyond the science and mystery of the Incarnation…and to tune our ear to a song that sings of God’s perfect shalom that grows and swells inside this insignificant and favored child.
Before we speak of Mary, let’s take a quick look at the Hebrew word Shalom, which is often translated as peace. This is no ordinary, run of the mill feeling, or a wish for happiness. It’s the kind of peace that the Apostle Paul perfectly penned as one that "surpasses all understanding."
The simplest way to describe shalom is as “possessing complete wholeness in every part of your being.” It’s like a state of fullness and perfection that causes you to overflow with joy from the inside out. Biblically speaking this joy that shalom brings comes from reconciling with God - from making peace with God’s unconditional love. And that’s where Jesus comes in. He is our hope for this kind of salvation.
When we wait for the Christ child, we are waiting for the one who brings us back to God to be made well and complete – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and of course spiritually. Through Christ we have complete shalom. When we place our heart in his, we can enter Anamesa, that the space between,
with the wholeness of God’s perfect peace overflowing upon the world.
We all need God’s perfect peace, including a very pregnant Mary. She is a poor underage girl, who is unintentionally pregnant. On top of that she lives in a time of great poverty, in a land that has been occupied by foreign invaders. As as child, and especially as a female, she had no rights. No say so over her body. Or even who she would wed.
It’s safe to say, all was not right in her world. Now she is going to have a baby. How blessed is she?
Yet, despite all her circumstances, God found favor in her; choosing her to become Theotokos, or “God bearer.”
But she was not the only whom God favored in this Advent story. Luke gives us two women. Two cousins in fact. One is too young to have babies, and the other too old. And in both...no man was necessary for this to happen. Here are two people who by all accounts were counted worthless by society and yet have their wombs honored and blessed by God’s presence. It shouldn't surprise us the scripture breaks into song.
Their sons will usher in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that the prophets all predicted would be one of peace not war. And not just the kind of peace that favors one person or one country over another. But God’s perfect shalom. Protruding from her belly is the good news, the glad tidings of joy. God is coming. Peace will be restored and reign forever more. And Mary can’t help but rejoice!
Mary sings not just because there’s new life in her. She sings because God is giving new life to the world. She sings because she has been redeemed and made right with God. Her song is the song of Christ, the royal savior the prophets promised; the one who hears our cries, bears our infirmities and brings everlasting life.
In singing of God’s mercy and strength, Mary’s song becomes the anthem of hope for the poor and downtrodden. It is a ballad of God’s love made manifest for those whose hearts are broken or scared by abuse and anger.
Mary’s song is the song of Christ. A song of victory. A song of revolution. A song of radical inclusion and grace-filled forgiveness. It is a song of praise and worship that exalts the reign of God for every ear to hear and every mouth to sing.
Her song is our song too. Just as God did with Mary, God does through us. We all possess the seed of the Holy Spirit in us, because we are all called to carry God’s love into the world.
You see, the incarnation wasn’t a one time event. While Christmas comes once a year, Christ comes every day.
Through us, God’s ultimate and perfected love burst into the world in the many the ways we love and care for one another. Especially those who are unable to love and care for themselves. In us, God triumphantly breaks through the birth canal, takes his first breath and begins to turn the world upside down until there is no more war, poverty, or sin.
Like the prayer of St. Francis who sang, “Lord, make a channel of your peace, where there is hatred let me sow love.” God is calling us to give birth to Christ here in Anamesa, in that space between life and death. Discovering the greater mystery of Christ in himself and others, Francis realized that what began in Mary, continued to grow through him just as it continues through you and me.
Mary’s blessing from God is our blessing too. Her call is our call. Her baby is our baby. Her song, is our song. But who among us will join in this holy choir?
Who among us will answer the call to be God’s mother?
Who will carry the peace of Christ, God’s perfect shalom, in their womb?
Will it be you?
As we enter the space between today and tomorrow, God is moving and growing and wiggling and kicking within us. No more can a belly contain a baby forever, neither can we hold back Christ’s redemptive joy that is growing in us. God’s shalom is meant to be shared. How blessed are we to have been favored by God to be bearers of this good news?
As you leave here today, may you do so carrying the light of hope, love, joy and peace with you into Anamesa. In every space you go, may Christ spring from your belly, like a song sung from your hearts. Meister Eckhart taught us, “We are all called to be God's mother, because God needs to be born every day.”
Just as God did the impossible in the wombs of these two unlikely women, so too is God able to make complete and total peace possible through us.
With the light of Christ shining through us, fear and darkness leave us; our hope and love collide with joy; and peace fills the Earth.
As we move closer and closer towards the Christmas birth, let us gather together - singing and dancing - like a teenager whom God has honored and blessed.
or the King is here! “O Come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!" Amen, Amen
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”