Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
December 24, 2000 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
It was a rainy, dreary afternoon in Seattle during the week before Christmas. The men and women on the striking picket line in front of the Seattle Times newspaper building were trying to keep their spirits up but the dampness and the darkening of the day made it difficult. Huddling together, they talked to one another about their anxiety and anger and struggled to hold on to hope; they all knew they would remember this particular Christmas.
As they were talking a green Subaru station wagon pulled up next to the curb. A man got out, hesitated a moment and then walked over to them. "I brought some soup; I don't know where to drop it off. Do I just take it in there?" he said, gesturing at a doorway near them. A young woman on the picket line looked confused. "Is it for the paper or for the union?" she asked. "The strikers," answered the man, realizing now that of course the strikers would be standing in front of the entrance to the newspaper building; he was a bit embarrassed. "There's a place around the corner" said one of the strikers, pointing down the street. "I have a financial donation, too," said the man, "do I take that there as well?" The faces on the strikers lit up with big smiles. "Yes, that's wonderful, thank you very much," said one. The man said, "So, it's just up the block there and around the corner?" The young woman stepped forward: "Would you like me to take it there? I'd be happy to." The man gratefully handed over the soup and the envelope containing a check. This was a new experience to him and we was feeling a bit awkward and out of place.
"Who are you?" said the young woman, looking curiously at him. The man looked at her in surprise. "I'm just a person," he said. "I'm not even a union member but I support what you are doing. I thought of you standing out here in the rain and I wanted to do something to help." The woman smiled warmly, "Thank you and Merry Christmas," she said. The others joined in, "Merry Christmas!" "Blessings on you all," said the man and he returned to his car. As he drove away, he honked and gave a thumbs up sign. The strikers waved back - no longer as chilled as they had been a few minutes before.
This encounter was one that had a significant impact on the people involved.
This morning we heard about another encounter, the one between Mary and Elizabeth. Mary, surprisingly and miraculously pregnant seeks Elizabeth who also is pregnant due to a miracle of God. Elizabeth is old and way beyond child-bearing years but her wish for a new birth has come true. Mary is young and has not wished for what has come to her, but she says yes to God and the changes that will come in her life.
There is something very special about this encounter. We hear how Mary hurried to be with Elizabeth. We hear how the child in Elizabeth's womb leaps with joy when Mary greets her. They come together in their humanity to celebrate the mystery that has moved into both of their lives. God was in both of them birthing new life and they delighted in that and shared their joy with each other.
I imagine they shared concerns too - anxieties about what the future would bring and how they would cope. Maybe they shared stories about birthing; perhaps they exchanged ideas about raising a child. It's likely they talked of the dreams they had for their children and the joy other family members and friends would take in this new addition to their lives. Elizabeth may have wondered how she would have the energy to raise a child at her age. Mary may have wondered how she would have the wisdom. They might have talked of the words of the angels and what they would come to mean. Most of all they likely took comfort in each other's presence feeling there a love and support they could count on from one another.
In the intimacy of their conversation God's spirit was weaving a bond between them, strengthening them for the future and sustaining them with a shared vision of new life.
This story of Mary and Elizabeth gives us a picture of how God's spirit is indeed present among us. That spirit dances amidst the relationships that we form creating openings for us to discover God's presence. We come to know God "in the in-between" as that life force which pulsates between us and all we encounter calling forth from us love and healing for one another. We are lovingly invited by God to open ourselves to the powerful activity of the Spirit bringing about the fullness of God's creation.
All of us have a yearning within to draw closer to that Mystery we call God. As we become more aware of that longing within ourselves we also began to identify the same yearning in others. When we make ourselves vulnerable with another person by caring for them, we give birth to God in and between us.
The men and women on the picket line that rainy day in Seattle led different lives from the man with the soup who stopped by. But in encountering each other something of God grew larger and spread Christmas warmth among them in a way that no regular present ever could. The gifts of noticing someone, sharing compassion and a sense of appreciation and thanksgiving are ones we have the opportunity to give daily to those people with whom we come in contact. Whether a loved one or a clerk at the store, we can look with eyes searching for Christ in every person. If we truly look, we will find it. God "in between" us will help us get there.
God with us in the "in between" spaces is apparent not only in relationships we have with other people but also in how we encounter our natural world and the creatures in it. Listen to this story:
It was early on an overcast morning; the rising sun hidden by heavy clouds. The mother, awakening before her children, walked outside to the hot tub to greet the morning. These days before Christmas were hectic ones and for just a few moments she wanted to absorb the silence and peace of a morning not yet fully awake. She laid back in the hot tub, the warm water soothing her soul. She gazed up at the sky relaxing into its grey blankness. After a couple of minutes she heard the sound of crows nearby. There were often many flying around in her heavily treed neighborhood. But as these crows came into view they were way up high in the sky. One after another, in an almost choreographed way, they flew into her view of the skyscape, their wings spread wide, black arcs against the milky sky. She caught her breath; it was beautiful. There was an aliveness surrounding her that seemed to shout with gladness. She sent a prayer of thanksgiving to the crows and the sky and God for this was an entrancing moment of encounter she could not put into words but which symbolized some deep connection she had to the birds, creation and Holy Mystery. God was in her and in the crows and in the space in between them pulsating with wonder and awe.
God with us. God in the "in between" places. God yearning to gather us to each other to experience the holiness living in each person and each part of creation. God asking us to open ourselves and say "Yes" to the invitation to live a life of fullness and joy.
This is what Mary did so very long ago. She said yes to an unknown future because she knew God was with her. She said yes in the midst of uncertainties because she was certain of God's love for her. She said yes to a life she could not imagine because she knew God would be with her in between the places of who she was at the moment and who she would someday become.
We all are living in an in-between kind of place. Between who we are now and who we might become. God lives in those spaces with us and calls us to say yes to the gentle tugging that pulls us toward a future yet to unfold.
Let us now imagine ourselves as if each of us were Mary on the night before new life was to be born in her. We are often told in scripture of Mary "pondering these things in her heart." The ponderings of Mary are likely to be similar to our own as we contemplate the future possibilities God is offering to us to be born now in our lives.
Let us open ourselves now to hear these words as if they might be our words as God calls us towards something new in our life:
O God, draw near to me in this night of waiting. In the darkness of this night I feel the forces of creation culminating to bring about new life. As a younger person I imagined a future but it never looked like this. Yet, here I am, aware that something beyond my understanding is occurring within me; something transforming that will change my life and the world in which I live.
O God, I have been waiting for such a birth for so long. I have longed for my life to be different, more full of joy. Ever since the angel came unto me I have continued to hear that voice whispering within me that I am birthing something of God. These many months have been a struggle as the other voices within me tell me this is foolish - how could a peasant girl such as I give birth to a miracle of God. Why would God seek me out to bring such gladness to the world?
O God my comforter, draw close. The time is near I can tell. I feel as if I am about to burst; the new life inside me has grown and it is time, it is time for it to be birthed. How will I cope with this newness in my life? How will I nurture this new spirit in my care? Will I be up to the challenges it will present? Am I ready?
O God who is always with me, I inhale your spirit in every breath I take. I remember all the miracles you have created in this world; why should I doubt you now? Your promise to be with me in all parts of my journey is one I remember this night. I surrender to the transforming power of your love, trusting it, believing it.
I let go of my fears God and make a place for you. I feel the welling up within me of a new confidence and trust in what comes next.
And so I shout out loud "Yes!" to the stars this night. I say, "Yes!" to this journey I am beginning. I say, "Yes!" to this new life within me. I say, "Yes!" , O God of my heart, to You.