Madeleine L’Engle’s poem The Risk of Birth states: “This is no time for a child to be born, with the earth betrayed by war and hate.” With the world we live in where children die every day from violence, starvation, and lack of medical care, one can see she was correct in writing this. I wonder if I am ready to receive such a child--yet, there is always room in my heart to love one more.
I think of Elizabeth whose world was just as violent and uncaring, and she was excited at the prospect of a child. I think of Mary who was willing to have a child under very odd circumstances and went to her cousin to see if she felt good about bringing another child into the world. Little did Mary know that Elizabeth’s unborn child would immediately recognize the importance of Mary’s pregnancy. Elizabeth and Mary were ordinary women who lived in the world doing human things--carrying babies in their wombs and getting together to compare physical symptoms and hopes for the future.
According to Luke, the first thing Mary did after her encounter with the angel was to go see Elizabeth. Elizabeth was able to speak unlike her husband, Zachariah, and the Holy Spirit got hold of her tongue and she prophesied, “You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!” [The Message Remix by Eugene H. Peterson] These are joyous words brimming over with happiness!
One assumes that Mary had told no one of her celestial encounter. Yet, Elizabeth knew about the pregnancy. It would have been too early for Mary to even know for sure, yet she was taken by the same joy. “I am bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened--I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, (and so far she was right) the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly as he promised…” I can almost see their smiling faces and their sparkling eyes.
And this is how we are to be the body of Christ in the world. We must set things straight, but we must do it with smiling faces and sparkling eyes. We can’t lose sight of the joy that is in the world along with the violence, starvation, and sickness. As it says in Hebrews, it isn’t all about sacrifices and where things are placed on the altar table, it is also about incarnation--about joy. The sacrifice was made once-for-all. Our joy is that God saw fit to come to earth to make the human body holy. And, here we are each of us--a holy vessel made to do God’s work--empowered to do God’s work. We can prophesy, we can knock the tyrants off their high horses, we can bring God-news to the poor. We can protect the innocent, feed the hungry including high school students, and clothe the naked. We can visit the prisoner and provide gifts for his children at Christmas. We can see the invisible and advocate for them--the disabled, the mentally ill, and the elderly and the sick. We are holy people because of that once-for-all sacrifice that Jesus made to come down to earth and become fully human, trailing the mist of God behind him. We can be the wide-eyed innocent and the vulnerable. [Idea from The Reverend Martin L. Smith/Sojourners-Dec. 2012]
Elizabeth and Mary obviously felt that their time was the perfect time to take the risk of birth. We, too, can smile with sparkling eyes and greet each newborn with joy. We, too, can make space in our hearts for the holy child. Madeleine L’Engle’s last stanza of her poem says,
“When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn--
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.”
This is the perfect time for a child to be born. Let‘s take the risk to be holy people and magnify the Lord here on earth.