Make Room for the Unexpected

by susan on December 21, 2015

FullSizeRender (26)On the final Sunday of Advent, we lit a candle for fulfillment and continued reflecting on God’s hopes, dreams & intentions for the world.

Make Room for the Unexpected ~ Luke 1:39-55

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped 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. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He 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. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

How are we welcoming the unexpected ways that God comes to us?

Are we so preoccupied with our own pursuit of “fulfillment” that we miss God’s unexpected invitation to be part of something much larger than ourselves?

The unexpected way God became human was more than many could accept.
That Jesus would come through the womb of a poor unwed teenager and be completely dependant on those who raised him was unthinkable.

Why would the God who created heaven and earth do that?
Why enter our flawed & fear-filled existence in this humble & deeply connected way?

One response to these questions is found in the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth. These two women are cousins who had both experienced the untimely, unexpected news that they are pregnant.

Elizabeth’s news is untimely because she is so old. Mary’s news is untimely because she is so young, is not yet married to her fiance Joseph and according to Luke, she has not even yet had sex.

After being visited by an angel and learning of her pregnancy, Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. By now, she has heard of Elizabeth’s miraculous late-life-baby-on-the-way and knows they have something in common.

This is a huge moment in Mary’s life.shameonher

Hearing she will have a child in her situation was not exactly exciting news. Today, we’d be reading about Mary’s situation on social media and the scandal of her pregnancy would likely be photographed & captioned with an embarrassing hashtag. Maybe something like #ShameOnHer.

People were no less suspicious & quick to shame back then than they are today.
So, where can Mary turn?

Notice this.
She does not go to her parents (nothing is said about her mother).
She can’t go to the priest (she’s a woman after all & one who has clearly sinned).
She may not be ready to face her fiance (who will definitely have lots of questions).
So, she chances going to see her cousin – maybe, just maybe she will understand.

Fearful & wondering how Elizabeth will receive her, Mary enters Elizabeth’s home.

eliz welcomes maryFrom the second she walks in, celebration breaks out. Knowing what it is like to have her shameful situation reversed, Elizabeth can’t withhold blessing from Mary. Instead of the shameful rejection Mary feared, Elizabeth welcomes, blesses, and even celebrates her.

Elizabeth sees beyond the surface of Mary’s situation and recognizes God’s arrival in a most unlikely way.

Pause here and reflect on this question:
What could have kept Elizabeth from having this kind of response to Mary?

***

Notice what happens to Mary after she receives this kind of welcome. She not only sings about how blessed she is by God, but she sings about a much larger dream that she now connects with in a personal way:

The Message translates it this way:

I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now

Because of what she experienced in relationship to Elizabeth, Mary sees herself as part of God’s larger dream for the world. It’s a dream of people being restored, of justice unfolding, of joy bursting forth. It’s a dream in which we all have a place at the table,
we are all included and we all belong.

Elizabeth, because of her attentiveness & her extravagant embrace of Mary helped fulfill God’s dream. Let’s not downplay what a risk this was for Elizabeth. To not shun Mary was to go against cultural norms and could have engendered some real hostility from her neighbors. For those who say the idea of fulfilling God’s dreams is flimsy, half-hearted wishful thinking, think again.

This is an all-in commitment. This is a putting-your-life-on-the-line kind of calling.
This is what we’ve sees through prophets, through these two courageous women and this is what we see completely fulfilled though Jesus, son of God & son of Mary & Joseph.

How prepared are we who are longing for God & God’s dreams to be fulfilled to do as Elizabeth & Mary did? How ready & willing are we to be part of God’s dream for the world?

This story gives cause for us to think about fulfillment in a whole new way. If this is what fulfillment looks like, then what do we need to do? What kind of habits will we need to nurture? What kinds of connections will we need to pay attention to?

God still enters our flawed & fear-filled world &
our lives with a dream to fulfill.

Let’s stop the desperate search for what fulfills us &
make room for God’s dream to be born in us.

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