I think I’ve told this story about Megan’s birth, but I thought of it again this week preparing for this sermon. With Megan’s delivery, Janet had a few little complications. Turns out there was nothing, but there was some concern for a few moments. The first issue was that Janet ended up delivering far sooner than any of the nurses or the resident doctor predicted. Our family doctor never made it until the very end. The main issue was that with Janet’s contractions, Megan’s heart rate would slow. So, when the actual time to deliver came, we had a pediatrician, the resident doctor, an anesthetist, our own family doctor—who finally made it—and several nurses in the room. Me—a young, somewhat frightened and overwhelmed soon-to-be dad—ended up stuck in a corner until a nurse asked me who I was. I said I was the dad, and she grabbed my arm, ushered me to Janet’s bedside and said, “Stand here and be helpful.” It turns out the alarm was for not and all was well. We were relieved.
This memory flashed back into my mind as I read the reflection from The Christian Century magazine written by Amey Victoria Adkins-Jones. Adkins-Jones, the assistant professor of theology and African diaspora studies at Boston College, reflected on her own pregnancy and the risks that came with it as a Black woman in her 30’s. She raised the question, “I wonder if Mary thought of herself as high risk. Surely that’s what others saw— Questionable, perhaps even unlawful, sexual activity and partnership status; Questionable identity of the father; Questionable resources; Questionable maternal mortality rates; Questionable government decrees; Questionable stability; Questionable world that one must be willing to birth a baby into.”1
At the end of her article, Adkins-Jones answered with a big yes to the question of risk. She said, “I continued to work and live into the possibilities of birthing a better world, of naming this process as part of my own work of resistance. Mary, did you know? I’m sure you did. Perhaps not firsthand, in the finest of nuances and details. But enough for your yes to resonate as the sound of resilience. God is still speaking, has come to us, has come again. It’s a reminder that the greatest hopes are worth high risks.” In another article, Adkins-Jones wrote of the actual birth of her child.
I’ve often thought of Mary’s question to the angel, “How can this be?” I made mention of this a few weeks ago in Advent. I think to myself when I read this story, and hear the words “how can this be,” … how can it be that we’ve got so far down the road of climate change? How can it be that we can’t seem to learn to live together as human beings after tens of thousands of years of evolution? How can it be that there is such a gap between the poorest and the richest people? How can this be?!
I know that Mary’s question is more specific, but maybe Luke, in telling the story leading up to Jesus’ birth, is trying to be more cosmic in scope. Luke’s story of the angel visiting Zechariah and the story of the angel and Mary—not to mention the angel and the shepherds—fits into this cosmic scope of Luke’s Gospel. The angel’s appearance leads us to the fundamental declaration—fear not! Three times we hear about fear and three times we hear the words in response, “Fear not!”
Luke’s vision, though, was more than just not fearing! It’s as if the angel is telling us all, “Go on. Take the risk of changing the world! Dare to risk hope! Dare to live your life fully, trusting in God’s arc of justice and peace. Dare to be part of the new Kin-Dom of God where love casts fear to the sidelines. Dare to be part of a Kin-Dom—a Realm—led by a little baby!” Perhaps, underneath all of these stories at the beginning is Luke telling us all, “Dare to live God’s promises of love!”
Luke gives us a blueprint for how to respond to Jesus’ birth in these early stories. We’re given guides to the journey of living more authentically, of living more hopefully, of finding meaning and purpose.
Firstly, I think, the blueprint reminds us that we have a history… or more to the point, that God’s co-creating love is part of our history. Zechariah is a priest and is rooted in the history of his people and God’s promises through the prophets, through Myriam and Moses. That’s key, Luke tells us. The promises made for a new Kin-Dom are rooted in God’s story of creation. Mary points to this when she sings her song, the Magnificat, echoing, as I said last Sunday, the song of hope and promise that Hannah sang.
Another part of the blueprint is that of being rooted in community. Zechariah and Elizbeth were part of a community. Mary went to Elizabeth for support, encouragement, and community. She went home after spending time with Elizabeth and we hope, to her home community.
And undergirding this whole blueprint is love. Maybe it isn’t so much that love means we don’t become less afraid. Some of our fears aren’t so easily dealt with. But what I think can happen is that love enables us to live with our fears and not let our fears dominate us. We remember God’s history of love in the world, of creating the world in love, and of the ongoing re-creation of the world in love. We remember the love we know in our supportive communities. And we know that we are not alone in whatever we face; love—the simple, fierce love of a mother… the simple, fierce love of someone who’s had enough with oppression and hopelessness… the simple, fierce love that says, “I’m going to be among you as one of you and I’ll help you find this new Kin-Dom based on love and compassion”… this is what gives us resilience in spite of our fears.
And when all is said and done, as Luke points to, perhaps it’s poetry that helps us understand. Poetry can usher in the new Kin-Dom of which Mary sings. Poetry can fill us with the courage to face our fears and live in love. Poetry says it best, and that’s why poetry especially at this time of year is so important. I found a poem, called Magnificat, by Mairi Murphy, based on Mary’s song:
in the nano-second of conception
a wave sent out, rippling creation
nothing will ever compare to this:
so imperceptible the stars,
planets and everything that breathed
fused in harmony as the soul of the world
expanded, caught in one gentle ‘yes’
a tsunami of overwhelming love.
time out of ordinary time light from extraordinary light
everything that had been, now never would be
future redemption startling this moment
beginning new endings, perpetually present
every living thing enlightened, every darkness exposed.
time counted from this moment, forward and back:
everything reacts, leaps in recognition,
joyfully disrupted. 2
(End quote.) That, for me, is love and the coming of Jesus. Amen.
1 High risk (Advent 4B) (Luke 1:26-38) by Amey Victoria Adkins-Jones, December 18, 2020, The Christian Century