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Sermon Ideas For Luke 1:39-45 Part 2

This text reports a grand piece of God's story. It exalts in the wonders of what God does. In so doing it shows that human experience is a core location of God's activity. This perspective expands our usually narrow notions of that location. Thus when we preach, teach, and converse we may come to notice with care some aspects of life we often don't see as being worthy of much attention by God and human beings. Let us look at some instances triggered by the text. For a few days the central scene of God's story took place in a "hillbilly" home where female relatives got together to talk about their respective unlikely pregnancies. The meaning of all existence was woven through the ordinary excitement and fears of women needing to say aloud what the new lives in them seemed to mean! It is likely that this implies that preachers and those to whom they preach should notice within a faith perspective the so ordinary wondrous ecstacies and agonies related to pregnancy. Yet, women have told me how experiences associated with it are shut out of the faith community's attention. Some of these experiences are: still-births, miscarriages, "difficult" pregnancies, anxieties about the "normality" of the offspring, etc., besides the terrors and pains which accompany most childbirth labor. Women have told me of their suffering infertility, a grief enhanced by the heavy Mother's Day traditions exercised in most churches. One woman who had tried every scientific procedure to attain pregnancy with her husband remained seated, hoping to be invisible with her pain, while all the mothers were standing for applause by the Mother's Day congregation found herself being told by a nice older lady, "You can stand with us anytime you decide to have children."
The pastoral issues around the story of the visiting done by Mary and Elizabeth are too many and gigantic for full discussion here. So we point to just a few. One is that the Holy Spirit clearly hovers again over the creation process (Gen 1, Ps 104). Here the Spirit is part of the saving of the creation, as Mary proclaims. The Spirit is seen to be present with both the fetus and the mother as the abortion crisis challenges our society. Violations of the human in harassment, abuse and rape, are spiritual violations. The breakdown of human culture is represented in the many unmarried and teenage pregnancies. Reproduction has lost connection with the full generative process of which Mary sings. So the human and the spiritual together seem to get lost. How may one sing for joy when too many billions of people seem to be born for our fragile environment to support them whether it be human or ecological?
Yet in the Spirit, Mary deals with her own very human feelings and questions in the "support system" with her cousin. The pastoral power of the Spirit means that the family chat by two pregnant women means the emergence of clarity and meaning in two personal stories. But the pastoral is not confined to the privately personal. The women's stories found meaning as they came to see themselves as part of larger stories, God's "mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation" (v. 50). Mary's song of meaning is that her little experiences are part of the biggest and most meaningful story of all. She is of the humblest in the earth and yet, because God gathers her into God's vision of history, she is blessed, and those who seem most mighty and proud are scattered, brought down and sent away empty. It is revolutionary singing of the most crucial in a little dwelling on a country hillside by women experiencing most ordinary things. It prefigures the millions in our generation who sing, "We Shall Overcome."
The pastoral is revolutionary. Experiencing the pastoral presence of God's Spirit means two wondering female peasants are drawn into the redistribution of the vast forces of history. Mary's song is in the hearts of people as they struggle from despair to hope wherever the hills are. As I was pondering this text I was at a meeting where I listened to a woman from Appalachia. She has become a leader in inviting and helping theological seminaries to care pastorally and prophetically for the marginalized people of Appalachia. She spoke of the story of motivation for her care and hope. It includes remembering her grandfather, a coal miner, at the mercy of all the mining powers. He had eleven children to care for. He finally was hampered by injury to his back by his labor. Yet, she remembers hope, meaning, and some joy in his family's desperate struggle because of trust in the Savior Mary trusted and herself did bear. That hill country experience was for this woman leader the beginning of meaning and ministry which empowers her dealing with the challenges of Appalachia today.
The pastoral is not to be confined to "clinical pastoral" responses we sometimes offer to people struggling with crises such as Mary and Elizabeth faced. The pastoral includes joining with people as they put together stories of faith out of the things which fate them. It is hearing the people until they are able to sing. Singing is one of the ways unlikely joy beyond words emerges out of the staggering experiences of our humanity. Sing with Mary. Experience with her the self's fullness of hope and wonder. It is bestowed by God in the midst of life's overwhelming shocks and surprises.
Leland Elhard