Advent 4C, 2012
Luke 1:39-45

A Liturgy is also available


At long last we have arrived at the end of Advent.
The season of preparation where we have been invited to
‘stay awake’ to the unexpected presentness of Creativity ‘G-o-d’,
in our ordinary living.

In the ordinary... like the click-clack of two branches knocking together in the hot Summer wind...
In the ordinary... like the realisation that rain is not a singular thing
but made up of billions of individual drops of water,
each with its own destination and timing...
In the ordinary... like the flares of a friend’s passion to shape justice,
and move the world toward peace.

And in the ordinary... like the ‘southern hemisphere’ landscape, in all its diversity.
In the ordinary... like the lovemaking songs of the Green Grocer cicadas.
In the ordinary... like the red orange glaze of a setting sun.

I resonate with the scientific imagination of Richard Dawkins, when he says:
“The world and the universe is an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear.  It is an immensely exciting experience to be born in the world, born in the universe, and look around you and realise that before you die you have the opportunity of understanding an immense amount about that world and about that universe and about life and about why we're here.  We have the opportunity of understanding far, far more than any of our predecessors ever.  That is such an exciting possibility, it would be such a shame to blow it and end your life not having understood what there is to understand."
(Radio interview/book release).

Unlike a few years ago when this Advent 4 day was also known as Christmas Eve,
we still have an opportunity to pause, to 'stay awake' just a little longer
and hear the message of this day, before we embrace the counter claims for attention
operative in our community at this time.

For I reckon Advent still needs all the encouragement and attention it can get.
So let me offer a few spoken cameos
about our Advent story for today.


Two pregnant women meet.  Cousins, tradition tells us later.
Two named pregnant women, with speaking parts, meet.

Like all the other stories told by Luke, and this one is no different,
the teller has a ‘theological’ reason for the story:
• to confirm the miracle promised by the angel, and
• to establish the superiority of Jesus to John even before they are born.

Most scholars also agree Luke is not telling a realistic story.
While the trip itself is the first of two unrealistic trips
to be undertaken by Mary while she is pregnant.

Causing one female scholar to suggest:
these stories could only have been told by a male!

Yet this fictional story of this meeting of the two women
has shaped Christian imagination and inspired Christian art
through the centuries.

Artistically, their meeting is often depicted
“with these two women in a wordless embrace, sharing, like all mothers-to-be, the mystery of new life within themselves, and with a sense of mutual awe over what God has done.”
(JDonahue. America web site, 2006).

On the other hand perhaps the most famous artistic Mary presentation
is in the great Pieta, where Mary as mother, is
cradling the broken body of her son.

People who are oppressed and cannot speak out because
they’ll be imprisoned, or shot,
or retribution will be made against their families,
say they understand this Mary.

While for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our society,
Mary “an unwed mother in an extremely traditional society.”
(MBrown. 'Out in scripture' web site, 2009).
understands what it feels like to carry
the awful burden of ‘otherness’.

But unlike many LGBT people, however, tradition suggests Mary
does not see her otherness as a reason for despair.
“She sees through the identification, this stigma, and recognizes that God is working through her otherness to transform the social structures that dominate the world.” 
(MBrown. ‘Out in scripture’ web site, 2009).

Perhaps the most contemporary artistic rendering of the meeting
of Mary and Elizabeth occurs in Michele Zackheim's 1985 art work called The Tent of Meeting.

It is a 400 square metre art work in the form of a Bedouin style tent
whose canvas walls are covered with historic imagery
from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Describing this work, the late professor of Christianity and the Arts, Doug Adams, said:
“An appropriate surprise appears at the top... where the hand of God appears above the pregnant figures of Mary and Elizabeth meeting. The surprise is that we see God's left hand instead of God's right hand.”
  (DAdams. PSR web site, 2003).

Adams explained:
“Michele Zackheim has presented God's left hand to include and affirm what has often been excluded or viewed negatively.  Traditionally, God's right hand has been featured in art but not God's left hand.  In social as well as religious rituals and stories, the right hand has been associated with the clean or the saved while the left hand has been associated with the dirty or the damned.  Such associations have been based on social customs arising from use of the left hand to wipe ones rear end in the days before toilet paper...”
(DAdams. PSR web site, 2003).

In another comment Adams indicates that the artist’s intention
is to say God reverses all our assumptions.
God includes those whom we often exclude.

And then this short but telling comment:
“We need to develop eyes to see the unexpected in Advent.” (DAdams, PSR web site, 2003).

Yet it is not the artistic depictions which have grabbed me so much this year.
What has stayed with me more than anything else
is the way our storyteller has chosen to play
with a whole series of parallels or contrasts.

We don’t hear them all in the Mary and Elizabeth story.
But they are there when you read great slabs of Luke’s story.
Such as these contrasting emphases:
• the play between light and darkness,
• the supernatural with the ordinary,
• the role of women - and that spirituality is not men’s business alone,
• the plight of the powerless rather than the position of the powerful,
• Jesus and John,
• and between Caesar's empire and God’s empire.

For me, all of these things come full front-stage this year.
In the drama of the unexpected presentness of Creativity ‘G-o-d’
introduced by the storyteller, they have leading roles.


So... today is Advent 4, the last day in the Season of Advent.
The season of preparation where we have been invited to
‘stay awake’ to the unexpected presentness of Creativity ‘G-o-d’,
in the ordinary human business of living.

Because human business is holy business.
Frequently a messy business.
But holy business none-the-less. 
(WLoader web site, 2009).

There is no indication in Luke’s story that Mary should be seen as
less than human or more than human,
less than woman or more than woman.
What she is, is ‘blessed... among women’.

And that’s the provocative challenge and the promise of Advent.
Engage meaningfully in life.
Love wastefully.
Be all that we can be.

Because Advent and the sacred are rooted in our everyday experiences.