4th Sunday of Advent C "Go to the Place called, "Barren" ~ Susan McGurgan

Wherever women work

or laugh

or mourn a lost child

they are there.


Whenever women wait in pregnant hope,

one heart beating with another heart,

they are there.


Wherever women struggle and dream

and cry out for justice,

they are there.


Wherever emptiness longs to be filled

or silence echoes with God's call,

they are always there.


Through the lives of two women,

Mary and Elizabeth,

God's song found a feminine voice,

and the lowly were lifted up.

Through them,

the promise to Abraham was kept,

a prophet was born to lead the way,

and God came to live among us,

and see the world through peasant eyes.

The hill country of Judea

was about the last place you would expect to find

a prophesy fulfilled

or a miracle revealed.

It is a rough and stony land

of limestone outcrops weathered into deep valleys.

It boasted no great armies,

no ancient libraries,

no hidden treasures,

no wealth to be mined

or power to be exploited.


In the eyes of the world,

the hill country of Judea was insignificant,

unimportant,

an afterthought on the way to someplace else.


It was in fact,

about the last place

you would expect to find God.

Yet, as Joan Suaro says,

no matter where we walk,

we will find that God has been there before us.

God's name is written everywhere,

on every layer.

Go to the place called "Barren"

Stand in the place called "Empty."

And you will find God there. **


Elizabeth knew all about the land called, "Barren."

She stood for years in the place named, "Empty."

For most of her life,

her family and friends had seen her as forsaken--

a woman abandoned by God--

an object of pity,

a target of scorn.

Barren.

Empty.

Desolate.

Without purpose.


But one day,

in that land of high plateaus and lonely valleys,

the one who had been barren

became fruitful and her emptiness was filled.


One day,

in just about the last place

you would expect to encounter God,

Two pregnant women--

Mary at the beginning of her life,

Elizabeth moving towards its end,

met,

and greeted each other in wonder and delight.

And in an extraordinary moment of recognition,

two surprising babies

danced to the beat of their mothers' joy.


Elizabeth, once empty,

now carried the herald of the Lord--

the last of the Old Testament prophets.

With the birth of her son, John,

the cycle of prophets which began with Elijah,

would become complete.


Elizabeth knew the history of her people.

She knew that the golden ark of her ancestors

was carried before the Israelites

as they wandered 40 years in the desert.

This ark contained the Law of Moses,

the very Word of God in stone.

It held the urn of manna and the rod of Aaron--

the bread from heaven

and a sign of priesthood.


And in this moment of revelation and joy,

Elizabeth saw that a new ark

now stood before her.

An ark not made of wood or gold,

but in the form of a girl,

who carried the Bread of Life

and the true High Priest within her womb.


When she embraced Mary

Elizabeth knew instantly that everything had changed--

that everything her people longed for--

Freedom

Forgiveness

Hope

Salvation

was now alive among them.


In a world where women could not legally testify,

Mary and Elizabeth became God's witnesses,

testifying to the Truth.

In a world where girls had no voice,

Mary and Elizabeth proclaimed the greatness of the Lord

and Mary's voice became God's "YES!" on earth.

Her "Yes" echoes through time,

bearing God's bread into a hungry world,

bearing God's light into the darkness.


In a world where their lives did not matter,

their lives transformed history.


Today, the voices of Mary and Elizabeth

continue to resound.

They challenge us to be faithful.

To be bold.

To be brave.

To believe.

To risk everything.


They remind us that our call as disciples

is to be broken and poured out--

to let our emptiness to be filled--

to let our voices prophesy

and our lives bear Christ into the world.


Their witness calls us to be open to life,

to work for justice,

to embrace a future that the world might

ridicule,

deny,

or scorn.


They remind us that God is faithful

even when the world shouts,

you are too old.

You are too young.

You are barren.

You are scandal.

You are female.

Your voice is not heard.

Your life does not matter.


In our world,

where the bodies of women and children

are too often abused and discarded,

Mary and Elizabeth remind us that our bodies--

all bodies--

are temples.


They remind us that we are wholly loved,

wholly blessed,

wholly redeemed.


They remind us that God's Word

comes only as a gift.

It cannot be bought

or earned

or awarded as a prize.


It simply comes.

Unbidden.

Unexpected.

And about as shocking as finding God,

born in a feeding trough and hung upon a cross.


Mary and Elizabeth remind us

that no matter where we walk

God has been there before us.

God's name is written everywhere,

on every layer,

in every remote gully and hillside.


Go to the place called "Barren."

Stand in the place called, "Empty."

And you will find God. **


Their laughter reminds us that God's glory still shines

on people and places

that the world might ignore

and that sometimes,


God surprises us.




**Joan Sauro, Whole Earth Meditation as quoted from a sermon by Leah Grace Goodwin, December 15, 2002.


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