2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

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A Stirring In Our Wombs

Luke 1: 26 ‑ 38

"In the sixth month….

In the sixth month of what? We're curious about this so we read backwards into the earlier part of chapter one. We are not disappointed: just before this story, we find the clue. Elizabeth, an older woman beyond the age of childbearing, has conceived a child—just as the angel Gabriel had prophesied to her husband Zechariah. The narrator pays attention to details... Elizabeth conceived and “for five months she remained in seclusion.”

"In the sixth month, we enter the story. The angel Gabriel is sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth. He is sent to a virgin engaged to be married, and her name is Mary. Two women—one old, the other young. One past the age of child­bearing, the other, a virgin who had not known a man. Two women linked together by the promises of God. Connected, in the sixth month. The two stories are woven together ... each strand is important... each piece of revelation must be tended—the voice of heaven's angel and the earthly stirring in a human womb.

How does God speak to us—an angel's voice—or could it be a stirring in our wombs? Many years ago, before such things as ultrasound and amniocentesis, pregnancy was not so different from the days of Elizabeth and Mary. It was the 1930's and a friend of mine had a hard time being born. Her mother had given birth to two children and thought she might be expecting her third. So she went to the doctor. The doctor was uncertain and the woman was rather large so a pregnancy could go undetected, at least for a while. Weeks passed. She went back again and the doctor examined her again, listening for a fetal heart beat. Then, he made his diagnosis: "You have a tumor," he told her, "a fast growing tumor."

"Are you sure?" she asked, hoping for some percentage of error. "So sure," he said, "that I want to schedule surgery for next week."

She left his office trying to believe things would be alright... thinking of her two children at home, relieved that her own mother had come to stay for a few days. Of course, her mother refused to believe the doctor. "You're pregnant!" she kept saying. "I don't care what that doctor says, you're pregnant. Some things, I know. I just know."

The weekend passed. Surgery was scheduled for Thursday, Her mother helped with the children and the meals, saying every chance she got, "I wouldn't let any doctor cut into me! Don't you feel pregnant?" Yes, she did, she thought she did anyway. But she couldn't remember exactly how she had felt the times before... and there wasn't any heart beat and she could easily discount her own feelings in the doctor's office. And there was laundry to do—three loads, at least—then, ironing. She put the irons onto the stove to heat up. Then, as she lifted the heavy iron from the stove, she felt it. "Mama! The baby kicked me!" (Now her mother didn't say, "What baby, dear?" She simply called the doctor and cancelled the surgery.)

A month later, my friend was born... two months premature and very tiny. Her grandmother put her in a shoebox and kept watch over her near the kitchen stove. She has grown up to be a very big woman, this friend of mine... and she continues to be grateful that they had heavy irons (and grandmothers) in those days.

You'd think her mother would have known. Well, yes, you'd think so—yet, she could have been mistaken. There had been no movement inside until that day by the stove, and the doctor seemed so sure of his diagnosis. When are you certain enough to get the nursery ready? When can you trust what you feel inside? Must you wait until the doctor has confirmed it for you? I am not speaking only of pregnancy—you know that, don't you? When will you trust what you feel for certain inside? Will you wait for another opinion—the doctor, the professor, the review in the paper, your minister or your parents?

Or maybe, an angel. Now Mary heard the voice of an angel—surely that should do it! "Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…." Oh, Mary knew it was an angel—but she also knew his words were impossible. "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Or as Elizabeth must have wondered—How can this be, for I am surely too old!)

The angel assured Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her—even as the Holy Spirit hovered over the deep in creation... breathing life where there had been no life. Even so the Spirit would now bring to life what seemed impossible. "Nothing will be impossible with God " the angel said. The angels also said something else—something about Mary's relative Elizabeth, the woman too old to have a child. She had conceived in her old age and was now in the sixth month of her pregnancy.

Did Mary believe everything the angel told her? Indeed, it seems that she did—for, after questioning and raising up impossibilities, Mary responded, saying, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

And the angel departed from her.

Had she been dreaming? Could she trust the voice that now was gone—who would ever believe such an incredible story once her belly started to grow? But the angel had left her with a connection—a heavenly word bound to earthly things! Elizabeth—old Elizabeth—was six months pregnant. So Mary set out at once to see her kinswoman.

Perhaps you know how that part of the story goes (even though we didn't read it). Mary enters the house and greets Elizabeth—and Elizabeth feels the unborn baby leap within her womb. Leap, mind you! For Elizabeth, the stirring in her womb was a connection with Mary’s child—indeed, she dares to exclaim, "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 "

Who can trust a stirring in the womb? Elizabeth, for one. Mary, too, for it was after Elizabeth's confession of faith that Mary sang—"My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant." Her song celebrated a world turned upside down —as though it is already true!

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,

God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

She sings with certainty—even though Caesar is still on the throne in Rome, even though her people would soon have to register in the census, even though she is still as poor as she was the day the angel came. Nobody could tell Mary to postpone her song. She knew the world's realities—her life was filled with outside opinions that would have her stifle her singing. But she would not deny God's stirring within her. (And she didn't care at all that most people wouldn't give a hoot for the evidence of Elizabeth's leaping womb!) Believing would not wait until all the evidence was in. There would always be one more reason to hold back from believing, to keep from singing.

God comes once more into this Advent time, stirring within the world's womb, longing not to be discounted or disbelieved. How God comes to you or to me, I cannot explain. St. Paul described it by saying that God's Spirit speaks to our spirit. The Spirit that hovered over the deep in creation, the Spirit which breathed life within Mary's womb, that same Spirit of God speaks to our spirit. Paul goes on to say that the whole world is groaning in travail—the whole world is in labor! I can't put it any better than that. And it's clear that this is a word not reserved for women who have borne children. It's a word for me, though I have never given birth. It's a word for men, too—for it's more than a matter of anatomy. The womb is a particular place, yes, but it is also that space in which poetry and music are born—that mysterious place where faith begins to stir by the Spirit's power. Sometimes, there is a stirring inside us—we cannot explain. "It's nothing," we might say, shrugging it off. And yet, we know something/someone has touched us with a connection of grace. Will we wait for this stirring inside to be confirmed or will we dare to join Mary in the song that came before birth—before all the evidence was in, before the outcome was clear?

Who can trust a stirring in the womb? There is something strange and wonderful in the Hebrew language: the word for womb and the word for mercy are the same. Mary and Elizabeth were not only connected to each other; they were connected to the womb of God.

"God has helped his servant Israel

in remembrance of his mercy…. "

The voice of an angel—who can believe it? A stirring in your womb: who can trust it? God comes once more to you, to me—longing not to be discounted. The poet W. H. Auden has written new words for the angel Gabriel... perhaps they will also be good words for you:

Hear, child, what I am sent to tell.

Love wills your dream to happen, so

Love's will on earth maybe, through you,

No longer a pretend, but true.

So may God's presence be for you—no longer a pretend, but true. Blessed Christmas to you, my friend.

Rev. Barbara K Lundblad

THE PROTESTANT HOUR