"Pregnant with the Good News"
A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on December 24, 2017
Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; “The Risk of Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle; Luke 2:1-20
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
Dec 24, 2017—Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7; “The Risk of Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle; Luke 2:1-20
The shepherds were sitting on a hillside, minding their own business. Suddenly, there appeared an angel, announcing good tidings of great joy, a savior born for all people! Next came the heavenly hosts singing Glory to God and peace on earth. Which pretty much blew the shepherds’ plans for the night out of the water. Luckily, those didn’t include a really fancy Christmas party (for some reason they hadn’t been invited to one), so they were free to scoop up their belongings and hurry down the hill to the village. There they found the baby, as promised, and burst out with the message they had heard: glory and good tidings and peace and joy!
They saw the child, and then went away, singing their way back up the hill. Mary, however, was in a quieter mood: treasuring the words and pondering them in her heart.
Pondering … it is a deep and very internal image. It is hushed and dark and searching, like tonight. It summons the image of something germinating inside her. As though she has given birth to the child, yes. But is now pregnant with the good news.
Which suggests that good news doesn’t always pop out fully formed. That it might need time to grow and develop and take root. It suggests that it’s possible that even the most powerful good news in the universe must enter this world in embryonic form. Must enter the flesh and blood and complication of this beautiful broken world as just the tiniest seed of hope.
And so it must germinate within Mary, and germinate within us. We must carry it, for as long as necessary, until we are ready to birth that good news into our own life and into the world. We do not simply receive this good news; we are pregnant with the good news.
It takes time. Which might well come as a relief to many of us. Because there are times when Christmas is a lot to take in, and if it were really a take it or leave it proposition, we’d honestly have to leave it! I mean, sure, there are years when we are totally IN IT, with the glow and the good cheer and the goodwill to men. We feel the peace wash over us, and even if things aren’t perfect in our lives, we are nonetheless flush with gratitude and kindness, with awe and wonder.
But even that is often a passing feeling. A great holiday, for sure, but not something that truly gets born into our lives. That kind of coming into being is more gradual … less dramatic … perhaps less satisfying. But the upside is that it can begin even in a year when we’re NOT feeling it. Even in a year when the message of Christmas gets drowned out by everything around us that so clearly runs counter to the angel’s proclamation. It can still begin, because that’s where Good News needs to begin: in the very midst of Bad News.
Also, apparently, in the midst of our own doubts and resistance. Look at Mary. She had agreed to bear the Child, despite the difficulties that landed her in. But she must still ponder the good news his birth brings. Needs to once again make that journey from “How can this be?” to “Let it be.”
After all, the angel claims that this is all Good News, but if we’re honest, the future it foretells is as unsettling as it is glorious. Mary has faced the pains of birth, but now must face danger and death for her beloved child. She has faced into the gossip and shame of her pregnancy, but now she faces the upending of her world, the traditions she has known, the way things are! She has confronted her own disbelief that she has a part to play in God’s larger story, but now must overcome her skepticism that God’s story could ever unfold in the midst of the world’s story. This does not look like a world into which the good news is breaking. Surrounded as she is by the domination and greed of the Roman empire, by the self-righteousness and greed of the religious leaders, by the drudgery and worries of peasant life, not to mention by things like neighborhood gossip, overcrowded inns, and the fact that the dratted drummer boy won’t stop playing!
Can this good news truly be trusted? Does it stand a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving the night, let alone 2000 years, let alone however long it will truly take to make this promise into full reality?
It can, it has, it will. As long as we continue to hold it within ourselves, to let it come to life and grow. After all, God’s great plan for the salvation of the world came as the smallest thing possible: a baby born in the back of beyond. God has to sneak in through the cracks, it appears. Has to start small, and grow from there. That’s true in our individual lives as well. The great truths about redemption and death and resurrection generally show up in small ways: in kindness and forgiveness, in loyalty and commitment, in unexpected new beginnings. Small, but unimaginably miraculous. Sort of like babies. Babies who are born every single day in every conceivable part of the world; which makes them common as dirt, and also a reflection of the wonder of Creation. Every time.
That is how good news can grow within you, can germinate and come to life, until you too are ready to shout it out with the shepherds.
And so we are here, in the quiet darkness. In a world that is, and always has been, drenched in bad news. Which makes some of us pessimistic and depressed, and some of us expectant and hopeful. Either way, no matter which you are, angels are bending to down to sing to you. Sheep are butting at your hip, trying to get your attention. And a tiny baby is lying in a manger, staring you in the face with the truth that when God wishes to enter this world, God must start very, very small.
God will start with nothing but a seed of hope, flaring up within you. God will start with a tiny dash of daring that just might allow you to echo the song of the angels. God will trust in the power of creation—the long, evolutionary, gestational power of creation—to birth the good news within you.
I bring you good news of great joy. Ponder it in your heart and carry it within you as it grows. May it be born into the world through you, in God’s good time. Amen.