So ’tis the season for another Advent reflection being written in the front end of Lent. I swear reading the lectionary texts of Advent alongside those of Lent really bring together the story of God’s work being wrought in, with, and through people. Plain, simple, ordinary, people becoming extraordinary agents used in divine ways through God’s grace-filled economy of mercy and fulfillment.
It’s worthwhile for us to ponder two pregnant prophets. Their story uses the word “blessed” again and again; as I read all the “blessed” phrases in the Advent 4C gospel, I was reminded of a “blessed” phrase in this Sunday’s Lukan text, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” And the Blessed One whose coming started out like this:
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. NRSV
Let’s just go ahead and say it——THESE WOMEN SHOULD NOT BE PREGNANT. If you read the back story on these gals, one was a virgin and the other older than the hills. Every circumstance around them says that they should not be able to bear children.
When it comes to Mary, biology and physiology are not in favor of this virgin being pregnant. Virginity and pregnancy are exclusive from one another.
When it comes to Elizabeth, geriatrics, biology, and physiology are not in favor of her capacity to conceive. Few, probably none, regularly see octogenarians in some lamaze class being coached for natural childbirth by their spouse.
Yet pregnant these women are. That is their circumstance. And I’m not sold on any notion, given the life stages of these women, that their journey was all sunshine, rainbows, unicorns, and peach pie with ice cream on top—and that served under some canopy of positivity preaching!
Consider the circumstances in which these women have found themselves. And consider what it is like for them to be pregnant under such incredible conditions—-conditions brought about by a word—–a spoken word.
But let’s shy away from that “spoken word” for a bit and consider “circumstances,” specifically our circumstances.
- Isn’t it true that we allow our circumstances to inform and control our reality?
- Isn’t it true that our circumstances inform what we believe and therefore shape our life?
- And isn’t it true that we really—REALLY—REALLY—like “the cold hard facts” to tell us what to believe about literally everything?
- And don’t we truly buy into the idea that we have to see it to believe it?
- And upon seeing/perceiving our circumstances, and believing in them, don’t we think that we know fully who we are and what we’re about?
- And isn’t this all about the perceived reality which we’ve totally based upon and built upon by believing in our circumstances?
- And finally, at the end of the day, aren’t we a people more about believing in our circumstances rather than through our circumstances?
Isn’t this the way of us? And into that seeing-is-believing way, right in the face of our circumstance-as-reality pattern, this text offer us from Elizabeth’s mouth,”And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (v. 45)
Two things we should catch her words—-1)”there would be a fulfillment,” and 2) a change of conversation direction.
Is Elizabeth still directly talking to Mary?
I think it is important to note Elizabeth has shifted the conversation. When the conversation started Elizabeth had spoken directly to her cousin, Mary.
Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (v.42) She spoke directly using the pronoun YOU. And only a few verses later has started using another pronoun. Now Elizabeth says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (v.45)
Elizabeth has shifted from speaking to Mary when she moves from using YOU to using SHE. What’s up with that subtle shift? Who is this SHE? And why is Elizabeth shifting the conversation in this way? I mean, since Mary is standing right there with her she’d have gone right ahead using YOU, right?
We can know for sure that this conversation has moved into being far, far, far and away more than being just to and about Mary. And, it is far more than being about both Mary and cousin Elizabeth, too. Elizabeth is now talking about all of us; specifically all of us (SHEs) who have received a spoken word and now face the option of believing in our circumstances or believing through our circumstances. We are now dealing with a truth—-blessed believing (v.45) is looking/believing through circumstances into the fulfillment of what what was spoken by the Lord.
And in this text fulfillment is about profound action through divine fecundity in the unlikely wombs of two of the most unremarkable women in 1st century Judaea. Pregnancy occurred in the live center, right through unlikely circumstances. An old womb filled with new life. Another womb untouched by semen/sperm filled with new life. And yet, in all the of this new life Elizabeth perceives that what her Lord is up to is bigger than the both of them, even bigger than their circumstances, too.
And this means that Elizabeth saw the spoken word as creating new life in all sorts of unlikely wombs everywhere, even the old wombs and untouched wombs that are us. We are the SHE of Elizabeth’s proclamation and blessed believing truly is all one can call the process of receiving the fulfillment of the Lord’s spoken word.
Blessed believing is looking/living/moving/believing through circumstances to receive fulfillment in new and surprising places. Blessed believing is unbounded, untamed, unstoppable. Blessed believing is about the transforming, creative, spontaneous “new birthings” coming from “new conceptions” and all of this as complete function of the spoken word. And all of it coming into fulfillment. And with this fulfillment is blessing; blessing beyond two 1st century women who would not be known across the ages as products of curious circumstances or the focus of sex scandal—blessing that spills beyond they themselves and splashes over 20 centuries, creating conversation with humanity—-and by such conversation spoken word conceives again and again new children born through blessed believing.
And such discourse reminds us that we are so much more than the summation of our circumstances and that as we blessedly believe through rather than in these circumstances we live into the reality of the worn-out cliche: blessed to be a blessing. But worn-out or not, it is truth. Blessed believing is a powerful testimony to the activity of the spoken word bringing fulfillment over and over and over again.
And no way around it—that’ll preach.