A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
Two mothers-to-be meet at the door of a house in a small Judean town not far from Jerusalem. One young, engaged but not yet married. The other far past her prime child-bearing years. Both know disgrace and, I suspect, despair. One knows the sadness that comes with a life not complete. The other the fear having a child out of wedlock often brings. She knows death by stoning or strangulation is often the fate of women in her condition.
But this week I’ve not been able to focus on those two mothers. I’m hearing the haunting cries of other mothers—the mothers of Newtown and mothers everywhere who have lost children to violence, to drugs, to disease. Mothers who live, like us, in a world turned upside down. A world where children die of hunger. A world of children swallowed up by war. A world where children’s lives are cut short in so many different ways.
Mary and Elizabeth stand together on the threshold between despair and hope. They greet one another. Mary, weary after her long walk from Nazareth in Galilee. Elizabeth, now heavy with the weight of the child growing insider her. At that very moment, the child moves in Elizabeth’s womb. Taking Mary’s hand, Elizabeth places it on her quickening womb. “Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth says to Mary. Words—encouraging, healing words Mary needs to hear. No wonder Mary stays so long. She’s found a place where she can carry her child unafraid. At last, she dares to hope. At last, she dares to dream.
What a dream she has. What a hope she holds.
“All generations will call me blessed,” she responds to Elizabeth’s blessing—how bold, how brave.
“For God is doing great things through me and the child I am bearing—God is turning the world right side up. ”
That bold hope, that daring dream carry Mary through. They carry her back, head held high, to Nazareth and to those who scorned her. They carry her down the long road to Bethlehem. They carry her from the stable to the cross and to the empty tomb. That bold hope and that daring dream carry Mother Mary bold and strong through all the frustration, fear and joy that come with any child. And in the end they carry her through her deep grief.
Ours is a world like the one Mary knew. Ours is a world turned upside down. Every day, every hour children die of hunger, violence, neglect, abuse. Ours is a country that registers cars but not guns; a country that regulates sugar calories in the foods schools serve our children but allows bullets to go unregulated and uncounted. Ours is a country—a world—crying to be turned right side up. Just ask the mothers among us.
And yet when we look at all there is to be done, when we see the enormity of it all, it’s easy to feel defeated before we even start. Where to begin? What to do? It seems too much. But I wonder, does it need to be that daunting?
A principal hears gunshots and heads out to protect the children in her charge. A teacher hides her children—one child at a time—and then faces a gunman poised to shoot her. Each doing what they can to turn a crazy world right side up.
It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Healing the world often happens one step, one act at a time. Years ago, I heard a scholar talk about “the righteous ones”—Christians who hid Jews during World War Two. Wanting to find out what set the righteous ones apart from those who collaborated with the Nazis, this scholar interviewed thousands of people. The only difference he found was that the righteous ones did what they could when they could. They used who they were and what they had in the moment to turn the world right side up one stone at a time.
You and I, we can’t right the world all at once. And we can’t do it by ourselves. Yet we long for a world in which children are cherished, nurtured and nourished. Like the mothers of Newtown and mothers and fathers everywhere, we long for a world where our children can grow into the people God created them to be—beautiful, beloved and gifted children of God. Like the mothers and fathers of Newtown and parents throughout our world, we grieve when lives are cut short, when lights are snuffed out. Like Mary, we are fierce in our love for our children and the promise they bring. Like Elizabeth, we stand with all the Mary’s in our world.
We are Mary doing what we can to right things for our children and for our world.
We are Elizabeth, supporting one another as we work to turn our world right side up.
And we are the Body of Christ, turning things right side up when we can, “knowing that we are not obliged to complete the job but (that) we are obliged to continue it.”1
We do so confident that light will shine in the darkness and that God will come to our broken world and we will be changed. This is the core of the Christmas promise. This is the core of our Christian hope. In the twinkling of an eye we and the world in which we live shall be changed. Thanks be to God.
1 Richard W. Swanson, "The Magnificat and Crucifixion: the Story of Mariam and her Son" in Currents in Theology and Mission 34: 2 (April 2007)