(Luke 1: 36-45)
When he came home that day, I thought he was crazy. I mean I really thought he had gone mad, and he had, I mean, a little bit. He came home and didn’t say a word but he kept motioning, motioning with his hands, moving his mouth but no words were coming out, the look on his face was this weird look of horror and excitement and confusion.
He motioned over and over again with his hands, pointing at me, pointing at my stomach, it looked like he kept saying, YHWH, but I couldn’t hear anything. When I stared at him in confusion, he ran out the door, with purpose, with a plan, and for hours I sat there wondering where my crazy husband had run off to, what he was motioning about, for hours I tried to understand what was happening, pacing across the floor, replaying all the things he was motioning to me, trying to piece something together. In my confusion, I finally sat down, tired from all the pacing, I drifted to sleep for a few moments, the moment my eyelids fell shut, he came in, blowing through the door, again with purpose. He spread out the long parchment on the ground, smoothing it out over and over again excitedly and impatiently working until it was flat and smooth, so that this time when he motioned without words, he motioned to the parchments, earnestly and seriously, pointing at the paper, motioning for me to begin reading.
I lit a candle and hovered it over the pages, pushing my finger against the words, moving it slowly across each letter. With each word it became stranger. It was unbelievable, I couldn’t understand how this could be, what was happening. My finger stopped on the last word and I pressed down hard on the parchment and peered my eyes slowly up to Zechariah, his face saying what I was feeling:
The perplexed wrinkle forming between his eyes, a new one, not the ones that have been forming these last few years, but a perplexed crease right between his eyes, said the same thing to me that I had wondered, “how” “how can this happen” “how is this possible” “how will we tell people about this?” But beneath that perplexed wrinkle and confused eyes, I saw a grin of hope sweeping across Zachariah’s face, ever so gently the corners of his silent mouth turning up, I could have sworn I heard him chuckle a little, a silent laugh of hopeful expectation and bewilderment.
I went to bed that night with the same chuckle of hopeful expectation and bewilderment. For years, for decades even I had hoped for a child, I so wanted to be a mother, to hold my baby in my arms, to teach him about God, to raise a child to be a servant of the Lord. I wanted so badly to be a mother and the people in my town had looked down on me for not having children, they looked down on me for not being able to conceive, looked at me with pity in their eyes and wondered what I had done wrong.
So when I read what Zechariah wrote, I couldn’t believe it, I was to have a son, and this son had a purpose, this son of mine was a gift, a gift from God, sent to prepare the people for what was coming. The news was so good, the news was so exciting I almost forgot to wonder what that purpose was, who was this child in my womb, what was he to do? And then once I remembered, once I remembered how bizarre it was that at the age of 60 I was carrying a child in my womb, then I couldn’t think about anything else. I spent my days reading and re-reading the words Zechariah wrote that night. How is this child in my womb part of the plan of God? Who is it that my child is preparing the way for? How will I show him the way when I am so confused? I read the words Zechariah had written so often I was able to recite them soon, “he will go before the Lord God, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” so I walked through the house reciting the words that Zechariah wrote, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” words that had repeated in my head so often they felt like my own, pacing, trying to piece together what was to come.
One morning as I paced through the house, reciting again the words from Zechariah’s parchment, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” again working through the bizarre scenario: how did this happen, why did this happen, what do I do with this child, this special child?
As I paced I heard a sound at the door and I turned, I turned and saw Mary. Mary, why would Mary come here, how did she get here all by herself, what was she doing here? I looked at her, tired from the day’s journey and alone. And as I walked toward her with my arms out to greet her, she spoke something to me, her sweet voice trepidatiously speaking, calling out to me. As I walked toward her and heard her voice, her sweet voice speaking trepidatiously, my steps slowed and came to a stop. I put my hand on my belly and felt it. I felt the child in my womb, the child I’ve loved, the child I’ve longed for, the child I’ve dreamed about, the child I’ve worried over and wondered how, I felt the child kick my belly. And I stopped, I stopped walking toward Mary and as she spoke her sweet voice spoke so trepidatiously, her voice caught me. I moved my hands over my belly feeling the child within me leaping and jumping with joy at the sound of the voice of Mary. Her voice calling to my son, calling to me. And as my child kicked me, as I felt him leap and jump in excitement at her voice, I looked at Mary’s face and I see her smile, and she sees mine. The smile across my face from the joy of feeling my baby kicking with joy, the holy moment of realizing what is happening.
For months I had wondered, for months I wondered how, how had this happened, how could I have become pregnant after all these years, I agonized over what was to come, how would I explain this to my child, what was this prophecy that Zechariah wrote down, what was to come from my son? I paced the house wondering what this meant, wondering what to do, how to prepare for what was coming.
And in that moment, the moment of Mary’s sweet and trepidatious voice ringing in my ears, in that moment, the fear left, the worrying seceded, the confusion was overcome with joy. I stood there in that holy moment, gripping my belly as my baby kicked inside me–jumping with joy for what was to come, jumping with joy knowing that he was in the presence of God, jumping with joy for this holy moment.
She kept speaking and I kept standing there, paralyzed with happiness. Paralyzed for those few moments as I realized that this unbelievable thing that was happening, this unexpected pregnancy, an old woman carrying a baby, my husband’s odd prophecy, this was all from God. It didn’t make any sense, it still doesn’t make sense to me, it still perplexes me why God did it in this way, why God chose this young woman to bear Jesus, why God chose me, an old barren woman, to carry a prophet. It doesn’t make sense, but as I said, I stood there for moments, paralyzed with happiness, still from the holy moment I was experiencing, I knew that my child was kicking to tell me that this was what God was doing, that this was God working in this unexpected way, this way I simply could not understand before.
When I looked up I saw Mary’s grin, her grin of happiness, for she saw what I saw, she knew what I knew–the thrill of hope we were experiencing, the beauty of waiting. After that silent, holy moment when I felt the baby jump for joy, I exclaimed, louder than I have ever exclaimed anything, I was surprised, surprised to hear my own voice so sure, so loud, so happy. It was odd, what I was speaking, the way I was speaking it– so sure of what I was saying and yet surprised by the words coming from my mouth. They were words that in that moment, that brief silent holy moment just before, had rung so true to me, a certainty that had only just come over me.
Standing before me greeting me, quiet and unassuming, nervous and curious yet oddly certain, was the mother of this child. The one we had long been waiting for, the one written about in the scriptures, the one Zechariah wrote about on the parchment that night, “he will go before the Lord God, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” It had all been so confusing until Mary came, until she quietly came to the door and greeted me. And then I knew, then it was clear to me, what was happening, what we were waiting for. Here stood Mary, the mother of the one we had long since waited for, and that kick in my womb told me the time was here, it was finally coming! And if that kick — that moment of utmost bliss, the overwhelming peace that came over me, that moment of holiness — if that kick tells the story of what is to come, well, then what is to come is unbelievable, unimaginably wonderful, completely holy.
After I exclaimed those unexpected words to Mary, she sang, a song so beautiful, a song praising God with joyful shouts of the wonders of what was coming and the surprising way it was coming. After Mary sang those words, that beautiful song of praise, that holy and wonderful song of what was to come, I sat down and I pondered. No longer the scared and confused wonder of what was to come, no longer a worried song of what would happen. No, now I sat down, and I spoke words to my belly, spoke words to my unborn son, words of great joy, words of what was to come. I said to John:
My son, you are precious to me, you are the sweet child that I longed for my whole life, that I waited 60 long years to bear, that I waited 60 long years to meet. You are the most precious gift I have received from God. You are precious to me not only because of who you are, not simply because you are my child whom I love. You are a precious gift from God, a precious gift that came to point me to what God is doing, to the plan God has for the world. The first time I felt you move in my womb, I felt the kick of the Spirit in your kick, you kicked to remind me that this was God’s plan, that you were God’s child. Your kick told me of what was to come, your kick in my womb told me that the Lord our God was coming to our midst, that the world would soon be changed, your kick pointed me to God.
As you grow older, my son, remember that kick, remember that it is you who pointed out what God was doing with Mary and with her baby, remember to keep kicking in the world, keep kicking to tell people of this good news that has come into the world, this good news that Mary carries in her womb. Keep kicking to remind people of that wonderful gift that is coming into this world. Keep kicking to let people know that that is a precious gift from God. My child, you did that to me in my womb now do it for all of us in the world–prepare us for that most blessed child in Mary’s womb. My child, that is your call, that is the most precious gift from God.
All these years later, it still doesn’t all make sense, it still doesn’t fit into its neat and tidy perfection. But it’s so oddly imperfect, it’s instead completely unbelievable, wholly amazing, perfectly wonderful.
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.