Fourth Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 20, 2015
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“What Mary Came to Know”
Aloha! Some of you have been on the receiving end of e-mails detailing my most recent bout with a kidney stone and a recurring flare-up of my prostatitis. On at least three previous occasions I managed to pass the stones.
But over a month ago, a 7 millimeter stone lodged itself just outside one of my kidneys. The initial pain has subsided but the stone is basically paʻa – it’s stuck and it is not going anywhere anytime soon.
A surgical procedure earlier this month to remove the stone was partially successful. Unfortunately, it aggravated my prostatitis and as a consequence, I returned to the clinic the next day for a catheter. It was removed a week later.
However, less than 2 hours had gone by when it became apparent that another catheter was needed. Despite the two setbacks, I realize that I have become a member of a distinct group of men who know about debilitating effects of bladder spasms and the rest.
It is a bit of cliché to say that having “a kidney stone is like giving birth to a baby.” Women have said so; other men have taken the comparison to heart. Some have confessed that if God decided men would be the ones to give birth to children it would have been a very, very bad decision. The pain would be too much for men to bear and human beings would quickly disappear from the earth.
But if having a bout with kidney stones is any indication of pain and discomfort, I have become more profoundly appreciative of the joy, not the pain, of the women who make it possible for the cycle of life to continue from generation to generation. That joy is apparent in our reading from The Gospel According to Luke.
The story of Mary’s pregnancy is plainly shared in Luke’s account of her encounter with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary sets out and in haste went to the Judean town where Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah lived.
We are not told why she set out so quickly, but within the context of the story come to realize that Mary made her decision in a moment of joy, aware that something miraculous was happening to her. She is hāpai. She is pregnant, carrying within her womb a child whose name will be called Jesus.
Elizabeth is also hāpai. She is pregnant with her son whom she will name John. Both will grow up and come to face to face as young men when Jesus makes his way to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.
As Mary approached Elizabeth’s home, it is said that the child in Elizabeth’s womb recognized Mary’s voice and leaped in response. If Mary and Elizabeth lived here on Maui, I can only imagine Mary calling out from a distance to announce that she was approaching Elizabeth’s hale – “Hūi!” “Hūi!” “Hūi!”
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth could hardly contain herself as she greets Mary. “As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” Then she reminds Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
What a wonderful encounter it was for both women – a moment filled with great, great joy. Yet, we know that there will be a moment of pain for both Elizabeth and Mary as they experienced the death of their sons.
Both John and Jesus will die at the hands of religious leaders and politicians and others afraid of the loss of their positions of power. But for now there is only joy.
Mary responds to Elizabeth’s exclamation with words that bear a strong resemblance to Hannah’s words of praise upon realizing that she was to bear a son, Samuel, who would become a prophet and a judge of Israel (1 Samuel 2:1-10). It is likely that Mary knew of Hannah’s hymn of praise.
The parallels are striking – whether we attribute them to the birth of Samuel in 1105 BCE or the birth of Jesus centuries later. We may be inclined to focus on the similarity in words and phrases without paying attention to the significance of what Hannah and Mary were saying of the state of the world in their day and time.
What Mary came to know is what Hannah came to know. It did not matter that they lived centuries apart from one another.
What Mary came to know is this: God’s mercy’s is for those who fear God from generation to generation. For me being fearful of God is not about being afraid of God’s punishment, but about being in awe of God’s presence in our lives and in the world.
We do not cower in God’s presence, but we bow down in acknowledgement of God’s mercy and grace. God’s strength is not found in forceful actions but in the ways in which the “proud” of the world are scattered in the thoughts and imaginations of their hearts.
Those who think more highly of themselves whether in the church or in government are brought down low. What Mary came to know is that in God’s presence, the hungry are filled with good things; the poor and those in need are raised up, the weak are strengthened. The rich are sent away empty. The proud, the arrogant, the powerful are brought low. (1 Samuel 2:3-8; Luke 45-55).
There are those who choose to be blinded by fear and hatred. Like the wise men from a foreign land who followed a star to the birth place of the baby Jesus, we will not be afraid. We will open our eyes to see where there is hope and compassion, there is no fear or hatred.
There are those who choose to believe that the louder one speaks, the more certain one is heard. As Americans in the U.S., we are good at talking.
Unfortunately, we are not good at listening. Ongoing political debates, regardless of the party, make that evident as we look at our national life. But we will open our ears and give heed to those whose voices which are seldom heard or often silenced.
There are those who build walls along national borders. On every continent and in every corner of the world, walls are being built. Instead of building walls, we will open the gates of our hearts to all like Mary and Joseph who crossed the border into Egypt, as refugees, for the sake of their son Jesus.
What Mary came to know is what we proclaim this Christmas season. What Mary came to know we proclaim above the din of an American presidential campaign season filled with political and religious rhetoric devoid of the humility we hear in her voice.
Today, we join our voices with Mary’s voice. Our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for God has looked with favor on our lowly service to the One whose birth we anticipate once more.
As this season of Advent comes to end, we are reminded once more:
Not in the mighty places of power,
but in little Bethlehem,
in a room out back:
The Messiah is coming.
Not born in nobility and wealth,
but of Mary and Joseph
who pondered and planed wood:
The Messiah is coming.
Not announced by prophets, priests, and kings,
but by two women,
who were the first to know:
The Messiah is coming.
Nothing will be impossible for God,
but when and where we least expect it,
look among the straw and the stars:
The Messiah is coming.
Mahalo Malia. Amen.