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Can You Feel It

December 23, 2018


December 23, 2018 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR


Luke 1:39-55

39 In 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 leapt 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 leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’


46 And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’


Shepherd of Israel, 
you gently support the one who is with child 
and call forth the Lamb who dances in the womb, 
Stir our hearts to recognize Christ's coming, 
as Elizabeth recognized his presence 
in Mary's radiant obedience to your desire, 
an open our souls to receive the one 
who came to love your flock. Amen.

We worship on the final Sunday of Advent before Christmas in 2018 as weary and vulnerable people in a troubled society and world.  We worship in a world suffering from violent storms, floods, and fires.  We worship in a world troubled by terrorism, terrorists, and terrifying policies and politicians.  As we praise God, pray to God, and proclaim the goodness of God, we ponder again the touching and exceptional account that Luke shared in the first chapter of his Gospel about Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea.  


It is a touching account of two pregnant women.  Mary was young and pregnant.  Her cousin Elizabeth was mature enough to have been beyond child-conceiving and bearing age, yet also pregnant.  This account is touching because it involves two pregnant women of different generations.  


This is also an exceptional passage.  Like the account of Ruth and Naomi in the First Testament, women are the main characters.  Luke’s account is even more exceptional because women are the only speakers.  


Ruth and Naomi were widows without children.  In Luke’s Gospel, Elizabeth was married to a priest and pregnant.  Mary was not married, pregnant, yet not shamed nor scorned by her elder married and pregnant cousin Elizabeth!  That alone makes this passage exceptional.


Another reason to call this passage exceptional is that Elizabeth and Mary – two women – were oracles about God.  Two women rejoiced as they declared the goodness of God.  Two women spoke about the power of God for liberation.  Here two women preached to each other about believing God’s promises.  In a world where men ran everything, Luke’s account about two preaching pregnant women is exceptional.


Can you feel it?


Two preaching pregnant women affirmed each other and celebrated God’s plan to turn the world upside down.  Mary, the younger of the two, spoke about God’s mercy ‘from generation to generation’ (Luke 1:50).  


Mary, a preaching un-married pregnant woman, spoke about God’s strength to confound the plans of the proud (Luke 1:51).  


Can you feel it?


Mary, a preaching un-married pregnant and marginalized woman, spoke about God’s power to bring ‘down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly...’ (Luke 1:52).


Mary, the preaching un-married pregnant and marginalized poor woman, declared that God ‘has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty’ (Luke 1:53).   


Mary, a young preaching un-married pregnant and marginalized poor woman, proclaimed that God ‘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’ (Luke 1:54-55).  


Can you feel it?


Mary and Elizabeth do not appear in this passage as passive actors.  They were not fulfilling supporting roles for men.  Two pregnant women who lived in a patriarchal society and whose lives were shaped by patriarchal understandings of God and society met away from Jerusalem and away from any temple or synagogue.  Without asking or getting permission from any man, they met and preached a subversive – and scandalous – gospel to each other.  


And what made it more subversive and scandalous was that Mary, the younger and un-married pregnant woman, was the principal preacher.  It was Mary – who was the most marginalized of women in her culture because of her youth, un-married, and pregnant condition – who sang the Magnificat.  One of the most prophetic declarations in the entire Bible was proclaimed by a young, pregnant, and un-wed woman!  


This is more than a touching and exceptional passage of Scripture.  It is unmistakably subversive.  It defies all the norms religious people associate with preaching and prophets.  In this passage, God’s goodness, power, and worth were proclaimed by two powerless women in a house somewhere in the hill country of Judea.  The politicians and religious big shots in Jerusalem didn’t know about it.  The Roman emperor Tiberius didn’t know about it.  But that didn’t stop Elizabeth and Mary!


This passage is so unmistakably audacious as to seem absurd!  We are, in a manner of speaking, eavesdroppers on an unauthorized worship service involving two un-licensed, un-ordained, un-wanted preachers.  In Elizabeth and Mary, you and I are invited to re-think and re-imagine all we know about how God works.   


We are called to re-think and re-imagine what we know about the people God calls and sends to proclaim the gospel.  We are called to re-think and re-imagine what we know about where God’s truth is preached.  We are called to re-think and re-imagine what we know about the way God turns wrong things upright. 


Can you feel it?  Can you feel how what God did in the lives of Elizabeth and Mary applies to our time, our place, and our situations?  Can you feel how what Elizabeth and Mary preached about God vibrates in marginalized, overlooked, and disrespected people of our time?  


This controversial passage forces us to admit that God works in ways that run radically counter to the conventional religion, conventional power, and conventional order.  In a world run by men who scheme of ways to over-power and dominate one another and everyone else, Elizabeth and Mary show that God selects and sends vulnerable, marginalized, and rejected women to proclaim liberation.  God selects and sends people who without conferring with human credentialing authorities.  God selects and sends people who dare to say that God’s promises are certain, and dare to live that in the power of God’s promises!  


Can you feel it?  If you can, be a 21st Century version of Elizabeth and Mary.  With Mary, show the world that your soul ‘magnifies the Lord’ and that your spirit ‘rejoices in God my Savior.’ 


With Mary, live and show the world that ‘the Mighty One has done great things… and holy is his name.’  


With Mary, live and serve the One who scatters the proud.  


With Mary, live and serve the One who brings down the powerful.  


With Mary, live and serve the One who lifts the lowly.  


With Mary, live and serve the One who fills the hungry with good things.  


With Mary, live and serve the one who sends the rich away empty.  


Didn’t Mary say it?  Won’t God do it?  Can you feel it?  Then join Mary and Elizabeth as God’s radical, subversive, and scandalously pregnant people!  


As God’s people, live in the power of God’s calling.  As God’s people, be pregnant and prophetic in this time and place.  As God’s people, dare to carry the pregnant promises of God in your living waiting for God’s liberation to break out!  


God’s people are pregnant.  God’s people are prophetic.  God’s people are subversive.  Hallelujah!  Can you feel it?