“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
At this point in Advent I always think a lot about Mary. Some of the questions that come to my mind about her are:
- Did she really know what she was involved in? Did she understand the depth of her role in history?
- Could she imagine the depths of joy and pain she would experience being the mother to the Christ Child?
- Was she afraid?
- Was she excited?
- And the question that always haunts me, knowing that she was probably very young, maybe 15 years old at the most–was she emotionally able, how was her soul?
I think about Mary a lot because so much of our work as leaders in the church is about being midwives and birthers of new things. The work is beyond us, it is not even ours to have or see or know. But yet God calls us and invites us. And the invitation never comes at the right time, it is always scary, we are usually not able or capable. And like Mary, we also stand at a pivot-point in history.
Last month I travelled to Atlanta, Georgia to attend a summit of denominational leaders. It was a fascinating time. One idea out of that gathering sticks with me the most, “The decisions we make in the next 10-20 years will determine the next 100-200 years for the Church.”
But it is true. We are making holy and important decisions. These go even beyond the scope of our work in Albany Presbytery–we are part of a bigger picture as we think about and engage our role in the large narrative of Christian faith. Things are shifting. The institutional Church that most of us knew and grew up with is gone. We are living in the midst of a pregnancy–and each one of us is pregnant with the New Thing that God is up to.
That’s a weighty responsibility–but the Good News of the Nativity is that God calls all sorts of people to do the Holy Work. All sorts of people–that means you and that means me.
Mary also runs to Elizabeth to talk about what is going on with her. Elizabeth sits beside her and encourages her. She also takes Mary in. An older woman offering a younger woman safe harbor and friendship. For me, that is also the holy work of this time. We do not do it alone and to get it right, we have to take some time together in the midst of the pregnancy. I love what Mary and Elizabeth shared. It is what we need today:
Holy ways of living for the holy work that surrounds us.
May the joy of the Nativity be with you in these waning days until Christmas.
May fear and excitement be yours to propel you forward into God’s mission.
May you be gifted with friendship and relationship for the work you are called to.
New life waiting to be born.