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Dec 11, 2022

When the World is Pregnant

When the World is Pregnant

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: December 2022


Today's Sermon


"When the World is Pregnant"


First Reading
Isaiah 35:1-10
1   The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
          the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
     like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
          and rejoice with joy and singing.
     The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
          the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
     They shall see the glory of the LORD,
          the majesty of our God.
3   Strengthen the weak hands,
          and make firm the feeble knees.
4   Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
          “Be strong, do not fear!
     Here is your God.
          He will come with vengeance,
     with terrible recompense.
          He will come and save you.”
5   Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
          and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6   then the lame shall leap like a deer,
          and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
     For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
          and streams in the desert;|7   the burning sand shall become a pool,
          and the thirsty ground springs of water;
     the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
          the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8   A highway shall be there,
          and it shall be called the Holy Way;
     the unclean shall not travel on it,
          but it shall be for God’s people;
          no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9   No lion shall be there,
          nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
     they shall not be found there,
          but the redeemed shall walk there.
10  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
          and come to Zion with singing;
     everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
          they shall obtain joy and gladness,
          and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Second Reading
Luke 1:47-55
     “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47       and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48  for he has looked with favor 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.”

When the World is Pregnant

            “I think I preached this sermon last week and the week before.”  That was my reaction when I sat down to prepare.  It’s just that the Advent scriptures form a relentless refrain for justice, yet no matter how many times we can say it, it can be difficult to absorb and integrate the message.  Big issues, the kinds that call for justice are hard to get your head around, in our time violence, poverty, displacement, discrimination, devastation of God’s natural world.  As a result, I understand the impulse this time of year to get small, gazing longingly at the simple beauty of the creche scene with the holy family, shepherds, angels, even animals gathered at the manger and the singular Jesus.

            By now you might know me well enough to know I’ll tell you to resist that temptation.  Stay with the vastness of the message of the prophets who dreamed of the world Christians proclaim Jesus’ ushers in.  Mary seems to.  Upon learning of her divine pregnancy, she sings a song of justice, scattering the proud and the well-resourced while lifting up those who have been kept low, of filling the bellies of those who are hungry and emptying out those who have too much. 

            The prophetic vision is one so wide-reaching that it can only be spoken of with image and metaphor—wolf and lamb lying together, lion eating straw.  Today’s passage from Isaiah points to strengthening the weak, opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, the lame leaping like dear, and the mute singing for joy.  Even the desert is transformed into a lush and fertile landscape, the burning sand becomes a pool, streams appearing, and even the predators wreak no havoc.  “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,” says Isaiah, “the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus…and rejoice with joy and singing” (Is. 35:1). The world itself sings.  The entire scene is of unbounded joy. 

            Today we light the candle of joy.  Our culture tends to privatize and individualize everything, joy included, but the best of our tradition reminds us joy is a communal good.  We can think of the justice of the prophets as establishing the conditions for as much joy as possible, far-reaching joy.  If we’re only with seeking our own joy, or if we treat it as a scarce good, we’ve missed the point.  I’m listening to and loving Franciscan Richard Rohr’s new book on the Sermon on the Mount called Jesus’ Alternative Plan.  That’s precisely how he sees Jesus’ famous sermon, as an alternate plan not merely for our personal lives, but for the world.  Rohr uses Jesus’ image of needing new wineskins for new wine. If you put new wine in old skins, when the wine ferments and expands it tears the skin.  You must have new skins that grow with the new wine.  Rather than treat the gospel as a nice product, a variety circa 33, Rohr implores us to recognize the gospel is about swapping out the skins as well.  The container, the world, and its value system have to be made anew. 

            Again, big things can be hard to get our heads around.  I read years ago a study about empathy.  It used images of people in distress and measured the level of empathy the images provoked based on how many distressed subjects were in each image.  It turns out as the number of subjects increases, there comes a point at which empathy starts to go down.  We start to disconnect from the subjects or are overwhelmed and so there becomes diminishing returns on our empathy.  Care to guess at what number of subjects our empathy peaks?  One.  We are most empathetic to the single individual. Groups, much less systems, lose us. It’s not that we are not generous or kind or well-intended most of us, but rather than it can be difficult to think beyond the person right before us.  Things feel too big to affect or too distant and vague to connect.    

            This is the brilliance of the story of God meeting us in Jesus, one person. He embodies the world the prophets called for.  In him you could see a vision for society, which he called the kingdom of reign of God or reign of heaven.  Similarly, the stories told about him show encounters with individuals because that’s the level on which we connect.  Clearly, though, in each moment these stories operate on both a personal and societal level.  When he restores sight to the blind, he also restores them to society.  When he heals, he also empowers participation in a functioning community.  When he resists crooked leaders, he refuses participation and support of corrupt power. 

            When Mary sings The Magnificat, she is not only singing about the birth of her child; she is singing about the birth of a new world.  Another way of putting it is we are to ponder not only how Mary is pregnant, but how the whole world is pregnant.  That’s big, which is why believe it or not, I’m going to encourage you to get small.  Trust that instinct.  Spend some time as you prepare for Christmas letting go of everything else to gaze at a creche scene with all the figures at the manger.  Really do it.  Don’t sit by the tree scrolling on your phone.  Contemplate the scene.  In it you can find the world – the family of modest means in difficult circumstances trying to be faithful faced with surprise, those of means and power trying to get in the way, perhaps some of means helping make the way, the shepherds working their lot in life out on the fringes brought into the center gifted with a direct line from the angels, the angels surrounding and leading us in good directions, the wise ones seeking this light to pay it homage and spread the light, even the animals, all creation gathered to witness and participate in the birth of the one who embodies what God wants for the world.  These next days, get really small that you might understand the bigness of God’s dream.  Pick your one image to explode your capacity for empathy and love and let it grow from there. 

            Now that’s enough from me for we have our own singular one to celebrate.  From Jesus to Jesus, we have much for which to be thankful.