At the Threshold
Luke 1:39-55 [watch sermon here]
It’s only been a few days
since Mary heard the news
that that would change her life forever.
Mary had just learned that she would be part of the process
of birthing a revolution for her people.
Unable to stay still, Mary set out
and ran with haste to the hill country.
There’s an intensity to her movement.
She flies with intention,
her feet pressing into the dirt path.
At this moment of chaos,
Mary longs to be with her kinswoman Elizabeth.
So run Mary does.
She hurries all the way to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house,
where she flies through the doorway and cries,
Mary lingers there at the threshold.
The threshold of the house.
The threshold of this next chapter of her life.
Mary lingers in the liminal space.
Liminal space being an in-between space.
She doesn’t quite go all the way in … yet.
Likewise, we, too, linger at the threshold of Christmas.
We hunger for the birth of Christ.
We ache for the coming of the loving revolution right now!
Please, God, give us soft mercy to counteract the world’s harshness.
We thirst for Christmas.
We decorate our houses and churches.
We cover our towns with lights.
We play Christmas music,
sometimes starting in November,
because we yearn for the promises of Christmas.
Like Mary, we linger at the threshold.
Christmas is almost here, but has not yet come.
Like Mary, we wonder,
What will the future hold for us?
Mary has pondered this question all the way
to Elizabeth’s house. Her urgency,
curiosity, worries, and hopes all come pouring out at once
as she greets Elizabeth.
At the sound of Mary’s voice,
Elizabeth instantly knows it is her dear one.
In the recognition, there is suddenly this whoa moment,
this inrushing of the Holy Spirit,
as John leaps within her.
At the sound of a voice,
something has happened.
Something worth paying attention to.
In a loud voice, Elizabeth cries out,
“Blessed are you!”
What a response.
It’s not, “Oh wow! You are in trouble!”
It’s, “Blessed are you.”
This to a young girl, likely a teenager,
preparing to get married. This to a teenager
who found herself unexpectedly pregnant.
This to a poor girl from Nazareth, so unknown
those who wrote her story did not both to include
information about her parents or genealogy.
This to a girl from Nazareth when we all know that
nothing good comes from Nazareth.
Blessed are you.
There’s calamity, shock, here,
but there is also something of blessing.
With the help of the Spirit,
Elizabeth sees Mary in a way that allows her
to offer a response that differs from the world’s response.
Pay attention to this.
Pay attention to the way Elizabeth recognizes Mary.
The way she salutes her.
This is the foundation for their conversation together,
as together their souls interweave with the Holy Spirit
and they are collectively held, cradled and nurtured.
It’s not just John and Jesus who are being fed
and grown from within;
God also attends to Mary and Elizabeth,
that something new might be birthed in their lives.
Lives that may have felt stale, stagnant, and repetitive before this.
They, too, knew what it was to hunger for newness.
Please, God, they may have prayed,
give us something other than this,
a string of days that blur together,
with the next one looking the same as the last.
A safe space had been prepared.
A blessing has begun.
Together, they begin to prepare the way,
and to prepare the way for their little ones,
and to prepare the world to prepare the way.
This is not just the work of Elizabeth and Mary,
but the Holy Spirit who companions them.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
But why am I so favored, that the mother of the Messiah should come to me?
The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished!
There’s something empowering about Elizabeth’s blessing.
Once her prophetic words are spoken,
Mary speaks prophetic words about the world.
In response, Mary sings out,
My soul magnifies you, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm; you have scattered the proud in their conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant, mindful of your mercy – the promise you made to our ancestors – to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever.
Suddenly, Mary’s heart combusts. She desires change.
A fire burns in her heart for a world that has turned.
In Hebrew, the word for repentance means to return.
The space Mary and Elizabeth created together
is a space where they can turn and return.
In every sense of the word.
They can return to it when they needed to center.
They can turn themselves. Turn the world.
Here they can turn, return, and turn again.
Together, with the Spirit,
they are birthing a new world
with their songs and blessings.
They are birthing John and Jesus
who will also bring it about.
Yet, it starts with them
and their ability to imagine and tap into the essence of God.
Elizabeth has a lot to do with this ability to imagine.
She encourages her friend. She interprets for her friend.
Elizabeth’s blessing begets Mary blessing to us.
Elizabeth’s holy perceiving begets Mary’s holy perception of the world.
Elizabeth’s truth begets Mary’s truth about what is to come.
It’s like something is clicks for Mary,
once her friend affirms her journey.
It’s like she suddenly thinks, Oh I get it!
What I hunger for is becoming real, not just for me, but for everybody!
Her soul then magnifies this reality for all us.
To magnify something is to make it clearer and more visible,
as with a magnifying glass.
What Elizabeth and Mary magnify for us
is the need for community and companionship.
In the midst of chaos,
when we turn and return to our community and our companions,
the Holy Spirit rushes in.
The Spirit pulls on our hearts
until we run with haste to one another.
At the threshold of Christmas,
we need each other more than ever.
The gift of Elizabeth’s friendship
is not that she knows something Mary doesn’t.
Rather Elizabeth welcomes Mary at the doorway;
Elizabeth blesses Mary’s hunger.
She doesn’t judge Mary’s fear or anxiety.
Rather, the Spirit remains as a witness to both of them.
The Spirit connects them both to the truth of who they are.
The Spirit affirms that they can have all this turmoil inside of them
and still be blessed.
Blessed are you.
Come for a blessing
when you find yourself lingering at the doorway of life.
Give out a blessing
when you don’t know what to do next.
Cultivate, water, plant, perceive
that which lives even amidst the winter of stagnation.
There is something good here in the earth.
Even when the snow obscures it.
Bless the goodness.
Bless your goodness.
Bless the goodness of others.
For what we are giving birth to is God.
God within us.
God within others.
God within our earth.
If only we would recognize
the sound of God’s voice.
Blessed are you!
You are blessed!