Advent 4 Pregnancy
You may have read about Eeyore’s birthday. Piglet raced through the Hundred Acre Wood with a balloon, bigger and rounder than himself. He falls and bursts the balloon, and Piglet gives the flat thing to Eeyore with a wish for many returns of the day. Pooh Bear thinks what Eeyore will love best is what he loves best, honey. He sets out for the rubble of sticks that is Eeyore’s house, feels a mite peckish on the way, pauses for a snack and licks up all the honey, leaving the sticky pot empty. But it is a good pot, and so give that for the birthday present. The joy of Eeyore’s birthday is picking up the popped balloon in his mouth, putting it in the empty honey pot, toothing it up again, and out, and then in again. Imagine that? Look at the illustrations. We talk about sad and well meaning and stupid, thinking these stuffed toys come alive, and play out human versions of life. They are a kind of were-creatures, a mix of human and animal, and how real they do seem, and how much of that play we relish.
So here comes a man, Luke, who says that the God-man, son of God, born of the Spirit of God and the ova of Mary, must be named Yeshua, “savior.” He will carry the power of the Holy Spirit to be master the baptism of new birth in himself, the resurrection life birthday. And God, his Father, will give unto him the throne of Joseph’s father, David. But he will not reign, as David, in religious ecstasy of Spirit, adultery, genocide, and power politics. Yes, the throne of David, but not the reign of David. Indeed, Mary, the mother of Jesus speaks of a radical shift in the way of the reign of her son. She says of herself as slave of God, that her condition of disempowered need and dependence is the focus of the Lord’s blessing. “Holy is his name,” Mary says, for mercy on those who shudder and exalt at the greatness of their God, who casts away those of imagined grandeur, and removes them from command to lift up the poor in Spirit. The Holy One of Israel will feed the hungry, and starve the rich, Mary says, exalted in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus reflects his Mother’s reversal of privilege and power to the disciples of John. When asked is he the One to come, he says, “Go, tell John what you see and hear, how the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and to the helpless this good news is proclaimed.” (Lk.7) Jesus has made actual the evidence of the Lord’s coming prophesied by Isaiah: “Strengthen the faltering hands, and feeble knees. Say to the terrorized of heart, ‘Be strong, fear not. Look up, your God is coming with vengeance and punishment. He will come and save you.’ Then blind eyes shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame will leap as gazelles, and the tongue of the mute shall sing. For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” (Is. 35)
Does that seem more real than Winnie the Poo, or Aslan the Christ-lion? Or if we don’t understand, it can only be holy blather? If we hold in faith literally that Isaiah said it, and Jesus fulfilled it, does that reframe our reality, or not? Terrific story this, about angel Gabriel, and virgin birth. Maybe we affirm that the Church arises out of the actuality spoken in the story. Maybe we know the story as the singular message that Jesus is the Son of God. The substance here is that the Church, as the body of Jesus, is born of Mary and the Holy Spirit, some would say, Mother Eve, and Mother God. The Church is born of the divine and human mother. The Church, whose mission is to make offer the body of the resurrected Jesus to the world. And resurrection is actual by immediate birth of the Creator, not by lineage and urgency of men. And notice, we affirm the real presence, and the personally directed, Spirit born gift of the fruits of Jesus’ liberating death in the Eucharist. And the story upholds that tangible feeding on Jesus by asserting the Church is the evidence of virgin birth, a birth without human male lineage of Judah, or Moses, or Zedekiah. The story asserts that the Church, as the Body of Jesus, is a revelation of the marriage of Mary and the God of Israel.
God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary in the unsavory mash up of Jew and Gentile in Nazareth. But observe, in the time of Jesus, there was no science to cleave fact from fiction. Still, we believe gossip, freak out over what might be as source or effect. Stories invoke reality for us, and this astonishing story, when real to the heart, is a channel of divine presence, love and blessing in the heart of Jesus. Imagine it, His mother is your mother. Cutting His umbilical cord is the sacrifice and offering that assures our life as most true and full in Him. His utter self-sacrifice, as told us in scripture, speaks of God’s life, not ours, overcoming death. And if we are aware, the resurrection presence of Jesus with us is the truth of the Gospel.
So there she is, Mary, engaged to Joseph the carpenter. She is of the tribe of Aaron, he of the tribe of Judah, tribes of priest and king. Listen to what Gabriel says in his angel voice, vibrant and stunning: “Hail. You are most favored of God, the Lord is your spouse. You are most blessed amongst women.” So you are eighteen, and Gabriel comes in. She saw him, and heard him, and how did she know the reality and the truth of presence and word? “Mary was troubled, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be.” Shaken and puzzled to beat all. Who she thought she was evaporates. That experience is inescapable, invincibly actual. Who you are is gone, and then who you will be is spoken, and finally evidenced in fact, the word become flesh. Gabriel sees her terror, and comforts her: “Do not be afraid. This is all born of the favor of your God.” And then the promise that puts Mary in a new universe, takes her from Nazareth with a carpenter husband, to be Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Church. Gabriel minces no words, says, “You will conceive in your womb a son, and his name is to be ‘Yeshua.’ He shall be son of the most high God, and shall rule anew from the throne of David.” Yes, and Mary’s heart will be pierced as her son’s heart is pierced, tortured and crucified as an unholy, naked and untouchable criminal. Her son, for a mother’s heart to see, on a cross, who has reigned over disease, madness, and demons who know him as Son of God, and melted frozen hearts. He will assault religion and state with talk of God’s favor for the poor, imprisoned, naked, hungry, sick. He will own nothing, and write nothing. He will rule by pouring the life of God as Spirit into those who are poor in Spirit, the social, moral, mental, and ethnic road kills. Mary will see it all, and watch her son die, and will realize at Pentecost that Jesus was born of God, the messiah to liberate and spiritually empower the house of Jacob, that is Israel, to bless the world forever.
Yet Mary now knows only that pregnancy comes from union with a man. She cannot understand. The Holy One impregnating her to form a new covenant in her son’s blood for liberation into God, has no ground in her experience. Joseph’s son, of the tribe of Judah, she can understand, but how could Joseph’s son be also son of God? Mary asserts her reality to Gabriel. Imagine it – Mary says, “How is that, since I am apart from man?” Now, wonder of wonders for what ear has not heard, conception by the Holy Spirit. That’s what we mean by “virgin birth,” having naught to do with men. This is crucial, incomprehensible, but if incomprehensible, then impossible? Well, how possible does it seem that all life as we know it is tangible revelation of the divine will moving “our” world for the sole glory of God, the all in all? Without understanding can we say true or false? Mary does not understand even when Gabriel tells the how. The power of the Most High, the Holy Ghost shall come upon her, and a holy being will come to term in her, and he shall be Son of God thusly. Gabriel tries to help Mary’s understanding by a lesser example. Elderly cousin Elizabeth, barren all her adult life, is pregnant, the seeming impossible now possible by God. Yet to be bride of the Power, and to endure the radical servitude of a mother’s body to the child more weighty daily in here womb, and then the quickening of the child, and rejoicing and fear of painfully birthing a God-man, Mary cannot grasp. We cannot grasp. We are not in a position to say. So with Mary – “As you see me I am the woman slave of the LORD. Be it unto me according to thy word.” And Gabriel goes off.
Imagine the pregnancy, the nine months, the immense weight of destiny, the radical fault assumed by friends and neighbors of adultery, betrayal of lineage for lust. An unseen baby with fingers, and face, awakening to hear the resonance of her voice, and weeping and singing, in the small darkness of Mary’s womb. Then the crises of birth, of transformation of heart and lung and feeding by baptism into a world all space and solid, rather than edgeless immersion in water. Imagine the mind of God, more and more attuned by the brain of Jesus, infusing in leaps and staggers. Imagine that with such a one, the terrible twos being a real bust out.