At last Jesus is on the scene, waiting to be born! We have been waiting for this moment when all the tumult pauses, the prophets draw breath, and the cosmic intentions of the divine enter into these humble lives and therefore our lowly lives. Love is waiting to be born. (RCL Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10; and Luke 1:39-45)
If I could paint I would somehow depict the intimacy of this encounter between two women of God who come together for support, for sharing the wonderment of what is happening to them and through them. I would want to find a way of painting the internal truth that within these two wombs leap the proclaimer and the one who is proclaimed, and the truth of the mothers who although one was barren and the other a maiden they are now the bearers of God’s great plan. I would want somehow to convey the ripples of the long before prophets who played their parts in preparing for this moment. And I would want to enable us to see what this Holy One will mean for the world, to hint at the love and peace and disturbance that this as yet unborn infant will stir up.
Many great artists have captured aspects of this encounter but there are so many layers and ripples that we need words as well. And then having stumbled among the images and words we will need silence, and dancing, and stillness, and work for a lifetime to let this story bear fruit in us.
Our readings remind us that the prophets foretold that God would rescue and comfort God’s people and that God would come through the humble and “little clan”, the unusual place, and be brought forth in the usual human way of labour and birth. (Micah). We remember also the prophets we heard from earlier in Advent who used royal imagery of cutting through the wilderness with urgently good news. There is this groundswell through human history in the lives of individuals and the people of God (and indeed all humanity) that deliverance will come into our midst in humble and great ways and will reverberate throughout our being and our society, our way of being human.
In the Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55) we hear the momentum of the hope that will be both realised in the Holy One at the centre of this encounter and also set loose into the world in a way that will shake everything up and will cause great upheaval. So great an upheaval that the rich will fall and the poor will be raised up, that every aspect of how we do human will be challenged and changed.
And then the still point of the encounter between these two faithful women, each playing their part in apparent isolation only to find that they are part of a symphony of hope, obedience, availability, surrender and action. We pause and remember the journey that each has been on to come to this moment: Elizabeth’s story of barrenness and age (Luke 1:5-25) was the path she trod to arrive here; and Mary’s story of encounter and surrender (Luke 1:26-38) before she set out to her relatives home. We might also hear the echoes of barren women on the outside of society down through the ages who have been chosen to bear special children of God and therefore play their part in the unfolding of God’s merciful coming to us – Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15), Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and so many more.
All of this swirling around us even before the birth of the Holy One: all of this possibility and hope; all of this disturbance and thrill; and all this enormity and ordinary human vulnerability. No wonder the women needed to draw near to one another to support and muse, to draw breath in preparation for all that would come. But it is difficult for us to pause completely because we think we know how the story ends – and at some level we do. But if we can pause at this point in the story then maybe we can enter even more fully into our part of the ongoing story of God’s presence in our world. If we can rest with the pregnant obedient ones and allow that we too are pregnant with what is needed, with what God desires to give, then we too can play our part. We too, even in this dark and hardened world, can feel the leap of promise within us. For Mesiter Eckhart the 14th-century German mystic said: “What is the good if Mary gave birth to the Son of God all those years ago, if I do not give birth to God today? We are all Mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”
So what does this story teach us, male and female, about what it is to be fully human? Like Mary we are to say Yes to the strange urgings of the Spirit and are called to bear fruit that is a blessing. Like Elizabeth we are to honour what leaps within us in recognition of the holy one of God. Like John the Baptiser we are to recognise the Lord when he walks by and help prepare the way. Let us stay a little while at the cusp of the story we know so well and allow ourselves to be recreated and restored by it.
Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, come and dwell in us like a Holy child waiting to be born.