Summary: The Holy Spirit works quietly within us, bringing new things into being
Unexpected and Expecting
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I had the good fortune of attending a baby shower a week ago. Baby showers are joyous occasions. Everyone celebrates the advent of this little one soon to enter our world. We rejoice with the mother and grandmothers. Stories are told. And there is laughter.
When I first met this mother-to-be, I had just arrived at a former congregation. She was a baby herself then and riding on her mother’s hip. And now she’s fully grown and expecting a baby of her own.
“Expecting.” We say that of a pregnant woman. “She’s expecting!” What exactly are they expecting? Well, their baby, yes. But soooo much more!!! They’re expecting this new and unique soul which will soon enter the world. They’re expecting the years ahead and all that they will bring. They’re expecting the new duties thrust upon them. They’re expecting a change in the balance of the family system. They’re expecting joys and delights, and with them, sorrows. In short, they’re expecting their whole world to change.
In today’s gospel reading, we encounter two expectant mothers-to-be. Two cousins, Elizabeth and Mary, are both pregnant. But for all their expectancy, there is much in this story that is UNexpected. To begin with, both of their pregnancies were a surprise.
Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had suffered from infertility. For whatever reason, they couldn’t conceive. By now, Elizabeth was past the typical child bearing years.
In those times, the chief purpose of a woman and a wife was to bear offspring. The inability to have a baby was a valid justification for a man to divorce his wife. But Zechariah had not divorced Elizabeth, and that speaks something about the relationship these two had. Society looked with scorn on a woman who couldn’t bear a child. Elizabeth had endured the whispers in public settings and the looks of pity from the kind-hearted.
But now, after all these years, Elizabeth was expecting! Word spread throughout her community and her family. Now, with her emerging baby, Elizabeth stood vindicated. She was having a baby! She walked a little taller and her heart was filled with joy.
Her cousin Mary also had an unexpected pregnancy. But whereas Elizabeth’s pregnancy lifted up her social standing, it had the exact opposite affect on Mary. Mary was pregnant when she shouldn’t be.
Mary’s unexpected pregnancy left her very vulnerable. First of all, how would her betrothed, Joseph, respond? He could publicly condemn her and call for her to be stoned for infidelity. Instead, he opted to quietly divorce her, which speaks to his good character.
But Joseph was also surprised by the unexpected. An encounter with an angel convinced him to go ahead with the marriage to Mary. So as Mary’s belly grew, her safety and place in society were protected by her marriage.
Mary journeys to visit her expectant cousin Elizabeth in the Judean countryside. This was in the days before phones and text messages. So it’s quite likely that Elizabeth had no knowledge of her visitor until she heard the sound of Mary’s greeting at her door. And at the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps.
An unexpected visitor and a surprising joy. Elizabeth channels little John’s joy. The kick he gave her spreads into her own soul. Two women are unexpectedly pregnant. And their joy multiplies when shared.
Mary will sing her beautiful Magnificat. “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.”
In her song, we see exactly what she is expecting. Mary is expecting the mercy of God from generation to generation. She hopes for a reign of justice, when the powerful and overbearing are made humble and the lowly are raised from the depths of poverty. She sees a time when the hungry are filled with good things. Mary is definitely expecting!
Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months. They share their expectancy for a trimester. We can only imagine the support they give one another. Like pregnant women everywhere, they share their experiences. They strengthen and counsel each other.
Today we hear a story of gestation. Not much happens outwardly during pregnancy. A woman’s belly gradually expands, but the main work is largely hidden. That baby is being knit together in secret. And it occurs without any active agency on the part of the mother. What’s happening occurs outside of her control. It happens in the dark; it continues while she sleeps.
In our walk of faith, the Holy Spirit is at work within our souls. There are measures at work that will ever remain outside of our understanding. We see only through a mirror dimly. Oh, we might recognize that our faith is expanding, much like the waistline of an expectant mother. But the workings of the Holy Spirit are beyond our control.