Lives pregnant with hope
Luke 1: 26-38
I want to say “don’t be afraid” of angels and prophets or the Word of God that seems to be speaking to you from nowhere. I want to say “don’t be troubled” by voices of strangers in your kitchen who greet you as a friend and tell you to do the impossible.
I want to tell you not to be troubled or afraid, but the truth is YOU are and I am because Christmas isn’t a celebration of history — it’s a vision for our future demanding that something will happen through us. We are pregnant with a hope for the future that will come to life and bring a great Light into the world. God speaks into the darkness and says, “let there be light” and there WILL be light. It will be good, so, as a John Bell chorus says, “don’t be afraid. My love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear.”
The love of God is far, far greater than our fear and will always be near so, even if you are a man, let Christ be born through you. If you are as young as Mary or as old as Elizabeth welcome the impossible that will change the world. Age or gender, race or culture, provide no boundary for what God plans.
I want to say “don’t be afraid” of what God wants to do through you, but, if you are anything like me, I am seriously troubled by the challenge that seem to be waiting for me. However, I will say “don’t wait in your fear,” but “grow through the love” that God has for you.
I am reminded of the old Christmas story of a grandmother and grandchild looking at a Nativity scene in a shop window when the child says: “Gran! Why hasn’t Jesus got any bigger. He was a baby when we were here last year, and the year before!”
We can celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas year after year and always remember him as the baby born to save the world, but are we going to help him grow up to be great and recognised as the Child of God? Are we going to be among the many who will always know Jesus as a baby or will we get to know him better as he grows in strength and wisdom?
If I was Mary I would be more troubled by the Christmas of today than I was when the angel first delivered the news of her pregnancy. Being a virgin, or, as with Elizabeth, too old, isn’t the ‘impossible’ anymore, but I imagine the young woman saying: “How many more times, Lord? I have given birth every year for over 2,000 years, I can’t do it anymore!”
We can’t change history, but we can make history OUR story as we identify with the characters of the past and what their experiences mean fo us today. Jesus started with 12 disciples who grew to become apostles, but God never intended for them to be the only 12 so today there are millions and it is our aspiration to be like them. To BE disciples who have been baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and have learnt how to obey everything we have been commanded. (Matthew 28: 19).
This is a story of growth as 12 disciples are commissioned to a new role and from nation to nation more people are inspired to follow and become the messengers of hope. Growth follows the pain of birth for the kingdom to come from heaven to earth which is God’s great plan. It’s our prayer that we will learn to do our Father’s will, resisting temptation, forgiving people who hurt us, sharing the Bread of life and giving glory to God in all that we do.
From Mary’s womb to an upper room then to cross and tomb we know the history, but it is the birth of our story to be lived today. As the last verse of the carol, O little town of Bethlehem, says: “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.” Birth isn’t easy, is it? I haven’t had to go through it, but I’ve witnessed it and I have seen it can be painful. It can involve months of discomfort with a new life to nurture toward birth and there can be complications and worry mixed with fear. The HOPE we are pregnant with is placed within us by the Holy Spirit and the power of LOVE overcomes our fear so that we can be the servants of the Lord to become the people we are meant to be and do what we are born to do. This is our mission and ministry which gives birth to the kingdom of God from within us.
We can rejoice, yes, we can rejoice and rejoice again in what the Lord does through the wombs of the young Mary, and the older Elizabeth, but to reach the joy there is an uncomfortable pain barrier to be overcome. God will achieve the impossible when we let be what is meant to be, but there is no gain without pain and the greatest gain is for what we aim!
Jesus sums it up when he explains to his disciples how grief will turn to joy (John 16: 17-24) and says: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come, but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no-one will take away your joy….”
Our time has come to be, man or woman, old or young, like Mary and Elizabeth, and to have that great vision of HOPE that we can be blessed by the Holy Spirit with the PEACE of Christ within us that can deliver great JOY to the world with the LOVE that is stronger than our fear. “Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord! Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice; tender to me the promise of his word; in God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.” That’s not Mary’s song, but words for us to sing with the faith and hope that bring joy to the world as we deliver God’s abundant love.
I want to tell you, and I want to tell myself, “not to be afraid”, but, like Mary I want to ask how Jesus can possibly be born in me, after all, I am a man! I want to tell you, and I have to tell myself, “not to be troubled” by the words I hear that don’t conform with rules of society, religious tradition or what humanity regards as reality, but what I hear is impossible!
When I look beyond the pages of history I see the story of our ministry today exemplified through the young faith of Mary and the mature faith of Elizabeth. It is the story of birth which through history has been painful and uncomfortable, but produces something in which we rejoice. That IS the story we are called to deliver through our lives today. It is the good news of great joy that will be for all the people so don’t abort the new life within you because it seems an impossible nonsense, but be that servant God has called you to be.
“Don’t be afraid. God’s love is stronger, God’s love is stronger than your fear. Don’t be afraid. God’s love is stronger and He has promised, promised to be always near!”
So may you be blessed this Christmas with the great love that will overcome your fear and deliver that great hope to the world that will shine brightly into the darkness that seems to be surrounding us at this time. Amen.