1985 Dec 22 – 4th Sun Advent – Homily (Bulletin Letters)
4th Sun Advent – Cycle C
Lk 1: 39 – 45
Fourth. Sunday in Advent
December 21, 1985
Luke 1: 39-45
When my sister-in-law, Rosie, was having her first child, the ongoing dialogue between her and my brother, Joe was, “You know, Joe, I’m not sure I want to be pregnant. I don’t know if this is a good idea.” She was ambivalent through the whole process. Come the day that they woke up early in the morning to take Rosie to the hospital to have the child. she turned to Joe and said, “You know, Joe, I don’t want to be pregnant.” A lot of good it did her at that point.
In today’ gospel reading we have a meeting of two pregnant women. Who were they? Well, they were Jews in the first century, Jewish women who lived in Israel. Their homeland was an occupied country. The Roman Empire controlled their lives. They were not free to do as they wished to rule themselves.
These two women came from families that were not really poor, but certainly not well to do either. By no means were they involved in the power politics of their day or in the circles that made the decisions in the major metropolitan areas. No, they were simple, working folks. Both families were also very, very religious. Elizabeth was the wife of Zechariah who was a priest and one month out of every year he was in Jerusalem doing his work at the temple.
Tradition has it that Mary was born to her parents late in their life. At her birth her mother said that they were going to dedicate the child, whether male or female, to God. Those two families were very much religious families in the Jewish sense, religious fanatics almost. These people were what you call true believers. Like in the 1950s, if you can remember Catholicism back then, there were daily mass people who probably went to confession every week and had a major commitment to their faith.
What else about them? Well, they were two women who were pregnant. One was beyond her childbearing years, yet conceived. The other one was a maiden; she too conceived. The older was bearing a child who would be called John the Baptist, the last of the old world. The younger was bringing into the world a man named Jesus, the first of the new world. Unique in these women was that the older saw the supremacy of the younger and clearly understood that she was to serve the younger. And what about that John the Baptist, our great advent character? Even in the womb this man made his presence felt. When the Lord came close and Mary’s greeting hit Elizabeth’s ears, that rascal kicked his way out there saying, “I recognize the Lord.” Called from birth, he was the one who prepared the way of the Lord.
This week in our, Bible study class in Mondamin we talked about what it meant to be marked from birth. You may know Rena Kirlin. She has an identical twin, and they are both still living at 85 years of age. She told us that one thing that stuck with her was that for, as long as she could remember, she always had to go first. When the twins went to school on the first day, she was the one that had to go into the crowd first. She was the one that had to go into difficult situations first. And we said, “Well, why was that?” She said, “I don’t know. They told me it was because I was the first one out.” We are talking about a difference of maybe 30 minutes. But, nonetheless from birth she was called to be the first. John was one of those types called from birth for his special role.
Two pregnant women meeting in Israel 2,000 years ago–perhaps the story could tell us more about our God and how our God operates. For you see, it seems that God continually chooses to work through the weakest, the most vulnerable, the most dependent and powerless of people. In today’s story he works through pregnant women and infants.
There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about feminism and women’s liberation. In my mind’s eye the feminist philosophy and the Christian philosophy are very similar. Radical feminists and radical Christianity meet. Now when I talk about feminism, I’m not talking about ironside Margaret Thatcher as an example or “shoot ’em up in the United Nations” Jean Kirkpatrick or Sandra O’Connor, a Judge in the Supreme Court. That type of Women’s advancement is not what I’m talking about because those women represent a movement of women who are men in a men’s world. No, I’m talking about a women’ s movement that at the heart of it talks about how we are to relate to each other and the world around us.
The radical message of feminism is similar to the radical message of Christ and God. For it is a message that hinges on the wisdom of God, a wisdom that sees the world in a different way. For this worldview, God’ s worldview is different than one that wants to dominate. It is one that works with the forces of life. God’s worldview has a sense of harmony with nature and puts the emphasis on the nurturing forces in life. It is life giving rather than life taking. God’ s wisdom is built on the power of self-giving and self-sacrificing. That is why women have traditionally/ throughout times been the ones who have been more likely to be advocates for those who are down-and-out or who are weaker and powerless. At its root I believe that is what radical feminism is telling us. We should put on the eyes and the heart and soul of women who because of their biological function bring life into the world. They know better than anyone that all life is sacred.
And if life is sacred, then the environment we live in is sacred. Yet, that was not the wisdom that ruled the day in Jesus’ time. The attributes traditionally seen as male ran unchecked in that historical time 2,000 years ago. A male’s world, out of touch with the female side, sees nature as something that has to be conquered. Power, force am violence rule the day. The few lord over the many. Hierarchy is established concrete, and a pecking order is established which puts the rich over the poor. It is a world where a man must be in control, willing to dominate and even willing to kill. It is upon this wisdom, the wisdom of male domination that the Roman Empire, the super power of its day controlled the world. It is no wonder that Jesus didn’t get very far when he first came. It was the crazies like John the Baptist and the women who recognized him, people who had no voice in the politics of their day.
Today God’s wisdom, God’s radical worldview, appears just as impractical as it did 2,000 years ago. We live in a world still in the grip of super-power rules where the rich lord over the poor. Power is measured by intimidation and the ability to inflict violence. In our primary relationship with each other and in the fragile ecology of the world, domination, exploitation and the incredible urge to control are the bases. Only the difference between now and 2,000 years ago is that the stakes are a lot higher than they were then. This need to control has put us in the position where we are capable of destroying all life through the arms race.
We also have a great deal of “mispriorities” where the majority continues to get poor while the few continue to gain and gain. We live in a world where poverty again is taking on the face of women and children. And we in rural Iowa can feel it even more poignantly when we talk about the soil and resources of the land. We have been fooled and controlled by a food producing system in which we take more out of the land than we put back into it. The powers of the world, the kind of dominant power oriented struggle is still very prevalent in our times.
Yet, there is something about Christianity, something about Christmas, something about the wisdom of God that continues to break through our reality, and to make inroads into the spirit of the human soul. It makes people who are down trodden and down-and-out have hope. Try to pretend that perhaps you are a Third World peasant or perhaps a poor person who lives behind the iron curtain. Try to pretend that you are a farmer who is losing his land, and listen to these words of Mary who, right after this encounter, expressed this prayer to the Lord:
“My soul proclaims your greatness, 0 my God, and my spirit has rejoiced in you, my Savior, for your regard has blessed me, poor, and a serving woman. From this day all generations will call me blessed, for you, who are mighty, have made me great. Most holy be your name. Your mercy is on those who fear you throughout all generations. You have showed strength with your arm. You have scattered the proud in their hearts’ fantasy. You have put down the mighty from their seat, and have lifted up the powerless. You have filled the hungry with good things, and have sent the rich away empty. You, remembering your mercy, have helped your people Israel—as you promised Abraham and Sarah. Mercy to their children, forever.”
This kind of prayer gives heart to those who are downtrodden, to those who feel the pain of oppression and suffering in today’s world as well as it did 2,000 years ago. Christmas is a season of hope for the downtrodden. Christmas is also a season of challenge for those who are well off.