My soul proclaims…

Faith from the Margins to the Web Bible Study for Advent 4, Year C

Opening Prayer:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 1:39-55

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.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web co-authors: Angela and Thomas, with Sarah

I first met Angela and Thomas on a Friday when they came into the lunch program at the parish where I serve and asked for me and this project by name.  Good news travels!. They had been connected by a friend and mutual participant when they had arrived in Richmond after losing all of their possession and home in inland flooding a few months earlier.  They were now rebuilding their lives one day at a time, in faith. They needed money, no doubt. But theirs was a life of faith and Sandra knew that this project was more than just fair compensation: it was also a place where good news was made known.  I was glad to have the time to welcome them to participate.

The three of us sat together with this Gospel in our midst for well over an hour that afternoon, filled with the sharing of loss, recovery, hope and great rejoicing in the face of adversity.  It was a deeply heartfelt sharing, and I remember it vividly. That is a good thing, because the one thing we completely forgot to do was to turn on the tape recorder!

Angela had volunteered the read the Gospel lesson.  She got mid-way through and paused, grabbing my arm, “…and the child leaped in her womb.”   She read it again, nodding her head and really feeling it: “only a woman can know what that is like.  I know that feeling, and I only imagine how that must have felt!” She went on to finish the reading, but the poignancy of this setting of mutual recognition framed Mary’s song as a harmonious duet of these earthly cousins encountering the divine in their midst.

Admittedly, this setting of Mary and Elizabeth’s conversation is one of my own favorite pieces of scripture.  I shared with Angela and Thomas that my background as a social worker in maternal and child health settings has convinced me again and again of the sacred space of that time of expectation.  There was something about Angela’s emotional response to this reading which opened up the maternal urgency of this holy moment. We went on to talk about that.

At this time in their lives, Angela and Thomas were raising a family while living in separate spaces and places, doing the best that they could with the shelter options available to them while doing all the daily things it takes to remake their lives: finding work, learning a new community, re-establishing relationships with schools, services, and supports.  It was clearly a time of great worry and great uncertainty. Angela said, “I feel like this Gospel, while it’s so beautiful and filled with Mary’s song…you know, it misses something. I say that because I can tell you, Mary had to have been scared. So scared! Even if she was rejoicing, even if she had a heart filled with faith: she was a human woman and she was scared.  You cannot convince that she wasn’t. I actually love this story more because I think there is so much of that real, human fear.”

“For Joseph, too” said Thomas, “I mean, he had to be able to trust.  I want to think that I could trust but you know, I admire the guy!”

Angela smiled and squeezed his hand, “I know, honey, I mean I can imagine it and that’s why I think about Mary, wondering how she could possibly convey her story any way other than pure faith.  I mean, just think about last week. It felt like we were on the verge of falling apart…we couldn’t figure out the bus system, and we had tried to spend some time, all of us together before having to go back to the shelter.  I needed to get groceries and then I got on the wrong bus, and ended up walking three miles with all those bags all the while you were worrying about me and I couldn’t even get to my phone to tell you. It felt like we were all falling apart and that was just groceries!  I know what it’s like to just have to do the Mom stuff in the middle of a hard life, and there is Mary doing all of that, too, and having no one to turn to except her cousin. I admire her. I admire them both.”

It turned out, when it came to sharing how this story resonated with our personal lives, that Angela and I both related to Elizabeth because we had both been pregnant during times in our life when we were older than the norm.  It became clear to us that Elizabeth’s own fears as an older expectant woman are so rarely focused on or talked about. Even in a modern age, fears of health, of being too old, of not being able to do what the younger mothers can do: these are real and frightening; they are not new phenomena!  Elizabeth was likely just as filled with doubt about her own pregnancy. “I’ve never thought of this before” I said, “but being of ‘advanced maternal age’ even now the doctors get very concerned about our pregnancy health and viabiity, and pay so much attention to fetal movement. I wonder what happened to Elizabeth’s faith when she felt this child-in-becoming in her womb not only move but LEAP.  It must have been a moment of relief, as well as wonder. I’ve felt that relief, too…and I hadn’t considered that might have been Elizabeth’s experience.”

As we continued to talk and share our stories of faith and hope, this deep admiration felt as if it took on a new depth for all of us.  These two women of old, sharing not only a divine encounter but also a maternal one. These two women who didn’t have social power but did have deep faith.  These two women filled with awe and fear, each in their own way coming to a place of profound rejoicing at the divine in their midst, filling them with expectation in spite of all the odds.

My advent hope rests in the anticipation of these two women, whose hearts would continue be expanded and broken so many times, in so many ways.  And yet, the joy of faith unseen and unspoken flowed forth from them in prayer, and Mary’s song continues to speak to us today.

May it be so for you as well in these Advent days of waiting, hoping, longing, praying…


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