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Genesis 17:15-22 Translation by Wilda Gafney – A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church
Thus God said to Abraham, “Now as for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is [now] her name. And I will bless her, and indeed of her will I give you a son. And I will bless her, and she will become nations; rulers of peoples shall come into being from her.”
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said it himself, “Can a child be born to one a hundred years old? And can Sarah, ninety years old, give birth?” Then Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael could live in your sight!” God said, “Nevertheless your wife Sarah shall give birth to a son for you, and you shall call his name Isaac. And I will establish my covenant with him, an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. Now as for Ishmael, I have heard you and I will bless him and make him fruitful and I will make him exceedingly, exceedingly numerous and he shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall give birth to for you at this season next year.” And when God had finished speaking with him, God ascended from Abraham.
Genesis 17:15-22 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her and also give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” 19 God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22 And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
Luke 1:39-45 Translation by Wilda Gafney – A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church
Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does this [visit] come to me? That the mother of my Sovereign comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is the who believed that there would be a fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the Holy One.”
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
This week, we again meet Abram and Sarai in our Hebrew scriptures. We are with them as they are becoming new people, transformed people. God has spoken to them, moved in their lives, and they are not, cannot remain, unchanged. Their name changes signify a new relationship or status, with God and with the world. Abram is to be called Abraham, meaning “the exalted ancestor.” Sarai becomes Sarah, which means, “princess,” the offspring of royalty.
We shall attempt to view our Hebrew scripture from Genesis and our Christian scripture from the book of Luke, through the lens of our Advent themes – which last week was Hope and this week is Peace.
Blessings and covenants abound in these two scriptures. God is close to her people, moving and working in mysterious ways. We are told that Sarah, unable to have children in the prime of her life, will bear a son in her old age. We are told that at age 90 she will conceive a child with her 100 year old husband, Abraham.
Pregnancies are surely signs of hope. Bringing new life into the world requires hope for the future. Knowing they are bringing new life into the world creates within the parents the desire to create a peaceful world in which their children can thrive and grow. Hope-filled annunciations and pregnancies are central to each of our scriptures read today.
All three of these pregnancies were in surprising circumstances. The pregnancies of the older women (Sarah and Elizabeth) were blessings they had prayed for, but had long since given up. For Mary the blessing was initially harder to see, thus her decision to go to her cousin Elizabeth for support and reassurance.
All three women were marginalized in their settings. Sarah and Elizabeth as elderly women and Mary as poor, young, and unmarried. Yet these three are pivotal in the stories of our faith. Sarah as mother to Isaac, Elizabeth as mother to John the Baptist, and Mary as mother to Jesus, God incarnate.
What are we to learn from these scriptures? God uses whom God uses. God sees what is in our hearts, sees our potentials as humans, and encourages us to live into that potential. But how do we see one another? How did the neighbors and religious communities of these three women view them? Did they look upon them as unfit or unlikely mothers? I suspect they did. Why do I think that? Because we still do that today. We place our small-minded limits and prejudices on people that are different than us, or who are quite simply, not us.
Let us explore the blessings bestowed on the females in these scriptures a bit further, namely how Elizabeth and Mary supported one another through their unlikely pregnancies.
Did Mary go to the hill country “with haste” to get out of town before her pregnancy was revealed? Did Mary go to support Elizabeth and care for her, or did Mary go to receive comfort and wisdom from Elizabeth? As is often true, it was likely some of each of these possibilities.
When Mary arrives, Elizabeth recognizes the holiness growing within Mary and tells her so. Elizabeth is happy to see Mary – and to know that Mary is, “with child.” Not only does Elizabeth recognize that something special was happening within Mary’s body – in Elizabeth’s womb, her infant recognizes that Holiness also.
Elizabeth comforts and reassures Mary by affirming that yes, Mary is blessed by this unlikely, unexpected, turn of events. Blessed because God came to her, blessed because she believed the Angel Gabriel, blessed because she consented to this holy task. In Lukes’ gospel, Elizabeth names an as yet unspoken truth between them. She acknowledges Mary as the Mother of God.
Mary and Elizabeth both experienced the connection of their individual smaller stories with the larger story of God. Both of these women have the experience of listening to, and learning to trust, the voice of the Holy Spirit. How might we do the same? In what ways do we hope for that? In what people and places do we witness this?
We are all part of the Holy Family although we do not always see one another in that light. God sees and chooses those whom we consider unlikely or unqualified – and God proves us wrong –and if we are open to learning we are changed by these experiences.
We can change. There was hope for Sarah and Abraham, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. There is hope for us all.
Where is our hope for peace? Perhaps it is that we can see glimpses of these ancestors in every expectant couple. Every child born is holy. Every one that takes on the task of parenting is holy.
If God blessed these ordinary, imperfect people, then it can also be true for us. We are also blessedly imperfect children of God, vessels for God.
There is hope for our future, both for ourselves and for all of humankind. We too can hear from God’s messengers exclaiming the good news of being in God’s favor.
Will we listen? Will we laugh? Will we ultimately put our trust in God?
Rev. TJ Mack – December 10, 2023