If you think things were tough for Mary. in the weeks leading up to Christmas, spare a thought for Joseph, talking to his mother-in-law.
Preparation for Christmas can be difficult: difficult for Mary, for Joseph, for Elizabeth, and for us.
Are you ready for Christmas to come? Food cooked, house cleaned for guests, travel arrangements in place? Gifts purchased and wrapped, tree decorated? I confess I'm not ready yet. During Advent we talk a lot about remembering to prepare for Christ to be born in our lives. And I'm way behind on that one too. My "spiritual house" is still a cluttered mess though I've really tried to practice what I preach.
I wonder where Jesus will choose to visit -- Will it be the well-prepared house with all the perfect colour-coordinated decorations and the tastefully wrapped gifts? Is Jesus looking to be born in the soul that is really prepared for his birth? The person who really "has her act together"? the one who has neatly ordered his spiritual life? Does our God search out the people and places who are perfectly prepared and in control of things?
Our reading for today reminds us that God doesn't seem to be showing up at those places that are neatly prepared.
We hear that our Lord is going to be the child of an unwed teenager. Elizabeth might logically have greeted her young pregnant cousin with "Mary, what have you done? You've ruined your life!"
Then our imagined dialogue between Joseph and his mother in law paints a picture of God coming into people’s lives in radically unexpected ways. Right in the place that one is least prepared.
Surely this God has a sense of humour. Showing up where least expected. Instead of pointing out our strengths, God shows up and magnifies the lowly places in our lives.
Did you really hear Mary's familiar song -- the Magnificat? It's not an affirmation of the good stuff of the status quo. It's a radical turning of the world upside down. The proud are scattered. The powerful are brought down. The rich are sent away empty. The lowly on the other hand are raised up; the hungry are fed. Apparently when the Lord is magnified, the ‘down and outs" are magnified also.
God seems to prefer the needy "have nots" to those who "have it all." God chooses strange unexpected ways to make history. This most important event in all human history happens not to a powerful and wise man, but to a powerless teenage girl. It is announced not by an assembly of royal heralds, but by an elderly pregnant woman.
Perhaps the wealthy and powerful would not have heard the message that Mary and Elizabeth heard. The lives of the wealthy and powerful are too full and too well ordered. But if you've ever lived with a 13 or 14 year old girl, you've seen that wonderful adolescent chaos and you know that there is an emptiness and powerlessness there as well.
The miracle is not the virgin birth. The miracle is that God spoke and Mary heard. The Christian tradition has a long heritage that speaks of what preceded Jesus' birth not in sexual terms but in terms of God's word. In our time theologian Karl Barth echoed this tradition writing that Mary's pregnancy was "realised by the ear of Mary which heard the word of God."
God spoke and Mary heard AND obeyed. Obedience in the biblical sense (and in fact in the root meaning of the English word as well) means to hear. To hear, really to hear, is to obey. And the result of that obedience is a miracle. Miracle enough that both women react with songs of sheer joy. God sends totally unexpected miracles in unexpected places to unprepared and needy people.
It's those unprepared and empty places that God chooses to fill with joy. God sees human need and answers our deepest longings.
So instead of looking for God in the beautiful, well kept part of our lives. Let's take time to consider our neediness. The unprepared places. A skilled carpenter is not asked to build a beautiful home for Jesus, he's asked to be midwife to a young girl. A successful businessman may not be asked to manage the kingdom of God, he may find God only in the brokenness of a sudden heart attack. A gifted teacher may be too busy speaking her wisdom to hear God's work, and God may come to her in her weakest spot.
Where is it that you are truly needy? Where is your life broken? Where do you feel inadequate and unprepared for life? Where are the empty spaces? Where do you hunger? Maybe it's loneliness or alienation? Poor health or financial stress? Depression or overwhelming fears? These are the mangers of our lives where God is asking to be born. Listen carefully in the broken places of your life. God is looking with favour on your lowliness.
Hear God's unexpected word promising to fulfil your greatest needs. Hear and leap for joy. The Lord will do great things for us and with us as we humbly and obediently submit and respond to God “I am the Lord’s servant”