Expectation

This is my sermon from this past Sunday. I enjoyed sharing with my congregation both the Gospel and the good news. 

Sermon Text: Luke 1:26-55

“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.” Luke 1:46-47

Mary exclaims the words of the Magnificat and celebrates her own blessings but she does not stop there; she also is given a prophetic voice and speaks of the radical changes in God’s Kingdom: of the hungry being fed, the  humble being exalted, the arrogant and rich scattered, and rulers being brought down from their thrones.

Her pregnancy as a young, unmarried woman could easily have been a place of shame and despair but instead, she realizes that she is bearing a child who is holy.  She is a young woman in First Century Israel, but she is well versed in the teachings of her Jewish religion. She knows the story of the prophets, and the promise of return from exile and delivery from oppression.

See, when Mary showed up on Elizabeth’s threshold, it wasn’t like she had sent a letter about the angel Gabriel appearing to her. Elizabeth had no reason to suspect that Mary was pregnant at all, let alone with the Messiah.

For six months Elizabeth had suffered as an old woman from pregnancy sickness and nausea, felt her belly grow and her feet swell, but, a few months into her pregnancy, she hadn’t felt the baby move. I wonder if she was fearing a stillbirth. She couldn’t go get an ultrasound, she didn’t have any other proof that the baby inside was healthy and so had been hoping against hope that this child she was bearing would be born healthy and whole.

When Mary called out to Elizabeth, John leaped inside her womb. Finally, her baby had quickened and was there, present and healthy. Elizabeth knew that something special was going on with Mary as well. There was something new and different with her little cousin.

Indeed, Mary was pregnant, and I would have loved to hear that conversation between the two of them, Elizabeth telling how Zechariah came home unable to speak, but he still wrote to Elizabeth an account of what had happened to him. That this child she would bear was to be named John, and that he would be a prophet, set aside for holy work, and prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.

And then there was the story Mary had to tell, about the angel Gabriel appearing to her, and how she indeed was to bear a child named Jesus, and that he would be the Son of the Most High, the Son of God.

These are both two very big stories, and as we witness them, hear the promise re-told, we are invited to participate in the stories ourselves.

See, we may not be bearing any Sons of God anytime soon, but we do bear the image and likeness of Christ. We are called to bear the image of God’s Son in the world, to share the Living Word with the people around us, to deliver the message of salvation, hope, peace, and the coming of the Kingdom of God with those around us.

And y’all, I have a sign of hope I would like to share with you.

We’ve been waiting, we’ve been praying, and finally John and I are going to have a baby. We are expecting our first child in July. We are ecstatic. and our family is thrilled as well.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.

Now, I’m not bearing the baby Jesus in my womb, but I have been tasked with the privilege of bearing another life into the world.

In a way, this is what we are all called to do. We are called to bear the life of Jesus into the world. We bear the Word of God within us, and we are called to deliver it to the world.

May our hearts be filled with joy in the same way that both Elizabeth and Mary’s were. And may we be led to share this glorious news with everyone around us, in the same way that new parents cannot wait to tell the world that they are having a child.

Gratefuls

Each morning at nine o’clock a reminder on my phone clinks. It is my daily reminder to be grateful. I think of three things, and then text them to my sister halfway across the world, who responds in kind with three of her own. I started the practice over a year ago. At first I just was doing it myself, but when my sister came to visit last Christmas she asked me about this ding she kept hearing each morning. I told her what it was, and soon she began to participate in my gratefuls. It has been a space of grace and hope in some times when I had a very difficult time seeing outside of a shadow.

There are rules, but only for good reasons. The Gratefuls can be anything: a simple sunrise, a simple cloudy day, what I’m eating for breakfast, joy of spending time with children, and so on. Or they can be complex: a changing relationship, a change at how I see the world, plans for growth or celebration, or a new development at work. The only thing they cannot be are Sour Gratefuls. You know the kind: I’m grateful that I don’t have to do something because other plans failed, in other words, a statement of gratefulness that only points at the negative direction of an event. When we do those, they require a do-over. It is not sufficient, and is not the point.

I don’t always have bubbly feelings each morning, and I surely don’t always have the perspective I need to be able to see the promise in the darkest situations, but I can usually find three things to be grateful for each morning, and sometimes, when I’m feeling I want extra practice, each night as well. (Of course, this means that my sister receives them in the morning… she is 14 hours ahead of me right now.)

These times of being grateful are not necessarily hopping up and down grateful times, more often than not I simply look around at my surroundings and see what is in the immediate vicinity, and think about how it has affected me (or effected me, depending on what it is).

I never thought that I would be able to continue the practice for so very long. I am usually pretty good at forgetting and leaving aside rituals that don’t have immediate rewards. I suppose my sister joining me in the practice is part of the reward, but in some ways she simply keeps me honest, and helps to remind me if I have ignored my electronic reminder.

Sometimes I will experience something, and I will know that it will be my next grateful, and then sometimes as I sit back and reflect on my gratefuls, I will realize something that never occurred to me in the moment.

So, today, what are mine? Rituals, practice, and accountability.

Swinging

I love swings.

I love the free abandon of swings.

To swing, you can get a push here and there, you can have people help you along, as you begin and gain momentum, but at a certain point, there is only so much someone can push you, there is only so high you can go with a helpful hand at your back, and at that point, to go higher, you must take your own initiative, and push yourself.

Alternating your body in a sideways S in back fall, and a lengthened L in forward motion, you have to pump back and forth to be able to rise higher. But as you propel yourself through shifting your weight back and forth on the swing, you reach a higher point at each apex, until your eyes are beyond the level of the structure from which the swing hangs.

It becomes much more than a seat suspended on a rope or a chain. It is a way to glide, to test what it would feel like to fly, to feel temporary moments of utter weightlessness alternated with extra force on every limb, down to your core. The swing is a way to escape, for a moment, the normal way the world works, and feel the rise and fall of your new being, carried by the dynamic of back and forth, back and forth.

I remember having to wait in line for the swings, to take turns to be able to swing on them. It always seemed that the amount of time I was in the air was minuscule in relation to how long I saw others take their turns. I don’t think that whoever was mediating was being unfair, I believe that time on the swings changes. I think that time is different when you are going back and forth on the swings, time is different as you go from weightless to heavy and back. When we swing, we are different people. It sounds silly, of course, but many things that we do change us, and when we play we are especially changed.

When we play, we can take on other ideas, we can become other people, we can discover new things about the world and about ourselves. We grow, as we play.

I still love to play on the swings. I don’t do it as often as I could, the church where I serve has a set, and they are well sunk in the ground, so I can swing as high as I want without worrying about tipping out or over. And every so often, I do go out, taking my seat, beginning to push myself back and forth, back and forth, creating an ever widening arc, playing with the joy of a child as the cumulation of my years float away on the wind.

And I swing.

Altered Plans

Yesterday did not go the way I planned.
There was rain all day long. Perfect weather for writing, curling up with a good book and a cup of tea, or having a warm fire in the fireplace.
Not really great weather to drive in.
But drive we had to do to get down to our thanksgiving plans. And there was a parking lot on 85 north of Atlanta, where we sat in the car, inching forward for over two hours.
And I was not the best of riding companions. I usually drive these days, still enamored with my new (to me) car, letting John take the passenger seat for navigation. But I had slept horribly the night before, and felt wretchedly puny, and it would not have been safe for me to drive. Unfortunately I never felt better, so poor John had to drive the whole way.
A seven hour drive took nearly twelve. It was exactly what I had been hoping to avoid. So much for those plans.
So, yesterday didn’t go as planned. It didn’t go as I wanted. I wasn’t able to have dinner with my grandfather and parents relaxing in the place that I know as home.
But, my car made the journey. We never ran out of gas. I didn’t have to stop and go do any business in the dripping wet woods in the rain. There were enough munchies in the car to eat. We had technology that helped us avoid the last stretch of traffic and have a dinner that sustained us along the way.
Yesterday did not go as I planned. But I am feeling better after a good nights rest. Tea and company really are magnificent restoratives. Today I cook, prep, visit, write, and celebrate that I have a warm place to call home. There are situations that could be much worse.
I am grateful that I had a traveling partner who took on the whole stretch of the journey so that I could take time in relative rest and heal. I am grateful that when we crossed the “Yay Bridge” that I had enough energy to cry Yay while we drove across it. I am grateful that I have enough perspective to know that yesterday was not as bad as it could have been, and that I can see blessings in the midst of altered plans.