December 23rd, 2012 “Sisterhood of the Holy Spirit” Rev. Heather Jepsen
Luke 1:39-56 with Micah 5:2-5a
Our gospel reading for this morning is one of my absolute favorite passages in the whole of Scripture. As a young woman serving the church, I used to struggle to find a place in the scriptures that spoke to me. So much of our Biblical writing is oriented towards men; the scriptures can be an unwelcoming place for women. In my life I have had plenty of folks tell me that a woman’s place is in the pew, not the pulpit, and there are plenty of Scriptures to support that view. But not today’s reading; today’s lectionary passage is all about the power and the voice of women.
Our two characters in this morning’s reading, Mary and Elizabeth, have a lot in common, most obvious being their pregnancies. The two times that I was pregnant during Advent, reading these scriptures from the pulpit, was a gift to me. Now I am not saying that being pregnant is the be-all-end-all of being a woman, but being pregnant is a pretty amazing thing.
There is something about pregnant women that draws other women to them. When I was pregnant with Olivia, I was astounded at how many ladies would look at me, start a conversation, or even touch my belly. Their forwardness seemed like a strange thing. There is no other time in our lives when we think it is OK to stare at or even touch someone else’s stomach. Now that I am done having my babies, I suddenly understand the urge. I won’t have that magical time in my life again, so I am drawn to others who are. Now I’m not out touching tummies, but when someone is pregnant I notice. I look, I smile, I think good thoughts and send up a prayer for them. Being pregnant is blessing and a gift, it’s just cool.
Now, as much as non-pregnant women are drawn to pregnant women, those who are actually going through pregnancy are really drawn to each other. Ladies am I right? Think back to when you were pregnant. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. When you are pregnant, especially the first one, it is so wonderful and exciting. And yet, chances are, you feel like crud. It’s great to have a person growing inside you, and it’s not so great. You feel sick, your feet swell, you get sciatic nerve pain, you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you need a drink and you can’t have one, you’re crying, you’re eating. You’re scared and worried and nervous and trying not to be. Basically you’re a wreck. And no one understands this better, than another pregnant woman. Pregnant ladies are drawn to each other.
So it’s quite natural to find in our gospel reading, these two pregnant ladies drawn to each other. If you’re going to have a baby, you need friends and you need help. Mary is pregnant and unwed, an outcast in society. Basically she is all alone. She needs the help of other women. Elizabeth too, is doing this for the first time. She is older, perhaps more patient; but she too needs help, she needs a friend. Luke tells us that the women spent three months together. It will be together that they survive and enjoy these pregnancies.
Now we remember earlier in this passage, Mary is speaking to the angel Gabriel and asks how she can be pregnant and he replies that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. Mary is full of the Holy Spirit. Now, when Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s Luke writes that Elizabeth was also filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that is moving between these women, drawing them together, in one of the most important times of their lives. They are enjoying a sisterhood of the Holy Spirit.
This got me to thinking, are we not all filled with the Holy Spirit when we are drawn to each other in empathy and care? Women who see other pregnant women are drawn to them because we have been there. We know that great joy and great fear and great power. Can’t that connection of empathy, of care and emotion, be the working of the Holy Spirit? Is this not a sisterhood of the Holy Spirit, the working of God; that draws us together and calls us to care for each other? To see ourselves in the other, to love our neighbors as ourselves, is the Holy Spirit.
Elizabeth, full of the Holy Spirit, calls out the truth before her. This woman and friend, this Mary, is pregnant with the hope of all people. She is the mother of the Lord. And Mary, full of the Holy Spirit, opens her mouth to preach. We often think of the Maginifcat as song, and it very well may be, but Luke writes “Mary said” and I read “Mary preached!” Mary preached these words of hope and power.
Mary preaches about the God who favors the poor, looks to the lowly, and lifts up the role of women. Mary preaches about the kingdom come, when the poor will be filled and the rich go away empty. Mary preaches about when the powerful will fall and the weak will be lifted up. Mary preaches the word of God, the word of Advent; Christ is coming, and the world will change. It’s very exciting.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week, about the connection of people, and the working of the Holy Spirit. As you know, I was at a loss for words last Sunday, and I give thanks to God for the youth who spoke when I could not. But in this past week, I have seen something, something that gives me hope, something that has started a sermon brewing inside my heart. This week I have seen a sisterhood of the Holy Spirit.
We the people, of this church, of this community, of this nation, and of this world have been connected by tragedy. Suddenly those who are parents of young ones look at each other differently; together we know that it could have been our kids last Friday. And those who are grandparents look at each other differently, thinking of their grandkids last Friday. And those who are teachers look at each other differently, wondering what they would have done, what more they can do to protect kids.
As a nation and as a people, we have been connected empathetically by this tragedy. And I would say that as a nation, as a people, we are connected now by the Holy Spirit. This tragedy has formed us, and bonded us together. And through that sudden rise of empathy and emotion, of caring and love the Holy Spirit is present. I see it in the prayer vigils held in communities here in the United States and I see it in signs of sympathy from around the world. We have been drawn together by this experience; those kindergartners have become our kids.
In this working of the Holy Spirit, I find hope and I find the Spirit of Christmas. This week, a good friend of mine from seminary, Aimee Moiso, who currently serves as a university chaplain, posted this statement on Facebook and I believe this is something we all need to hear. She gave me permission to share with you. She writes, “Friends: if you're feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the news out of CT, know that it's okay to turn off the news. It's okay to not know every detail, to not follow every new piece of info, to not hear every speech and memorial. It's okay to conserve your emotional energy for the people around you who need it. It's okay to continue with your Christmas preparations. God needs us to be salt and light where we are, not because we are avoiding or denying tragedy, but because we know it will not be the last word.”
I loved this because I think for many of us, including me, we need permission to move forward. We need permission to stop crying. And most of all we need permission to celebrate Christmas.
The reason that we light candles is to celebrate hope, to celebrate the promise of peace, to celebrate the light who comes into the darkness. God is among us and as the prophet Micah says, a day is coming when we will live secure. A king is coming who shall be the one of peace. We need to hear these words now more than ever, and we need to celebrate that promise now more than ever.
As we celebrate this coming week with family and friends, we will experience a bonding of the Holy Spirit. Together we have considered and mourned tragedy, and now together we rejoice in the birth of new life. Now is the time to gather as the community of hope. Now is the time to raise our voices and preach about the coming kingdom of peace. Now is the time to join the sisterhood of the Holy Spirit and proclaim the work of God in our world.
Today I give thanks for this church, for you, and for Christmas. May we go forth from this place to be salt and light to our own community. May we go forth from this place to preach the Good news of Christmas. And may we gather together tomorrow night as Mary and Elizabeth gathered; in hope and expectation.
Now is the time to celebrate the miracle that was that first Christmas night, and to look forward to the day when Christ returns, the prince of peace. May God continue to bond us in the sister (and brotherhood) of the Holy Spirit. Amen.