June 23 2019

Luke 1:39-45

A few months ago, one of my spiritual direction clients returned from a week in Taize France,

at the Taize community. She had been looking forward to this week of singing, silence and

worship for a very long time. She brought back a small token for me. A wood plaque with a

replica of one of the stained glass windows. This one was of the moment when Mary goes to

visit her relative Elizabeth, and John leaps with recognition of Jesus…from inside the womb.

Pictured here like toddler beings in their becoming. One woman is reaching wide, the other

woman is reaching out, and the two enwombed figures reaching toward. The gift giver said that

this was how she saw spiritual direction; a recognition between two souls of something deep

within, holy connection.

Our text today, normally a December text, reaches backward to Zacharia, a priest, on duty in

the temple, setting the incense to smoke and scent. And wouldn’t you know it, the Angel

Gabriel shows up. The word spoken by this cosmic being is powerful and fearful. First, the

angel gives us its name. Maybe to ease the fear? The news is an answer to Zachariahs

prayer. A son is to be born to old Zachariah and his old wife, Elizabeth. Unbelievable, really.

And he will be for a purpose. A purpose that will have weighty implications for the people of

Israel, and his upbringing will not be normal.

The texts lets us know that not only is Zachariah a priest, but Elizabeth is from the line of

Aaron. From a priestly line. I want to read between these lines. I want to read the possibilities

of what it means for the text to record that Elizabeth is from the house of priests. And not only

that, but of Aaron, who Moses tried to foust his call onto because he himself could not speak

well, so let Aaron speak. And here we have the angel Gabriel, announcing something

spectacular, and then silencing the recognized priest Zacharia.

But not his wife Elizabeth, the decendent of priestly lineage of Aaron.

We dare not miss this. It is easy to do. We read these well known and well worn texts, which

beg us to slow down, and explore word for word anew. We go from Zacharia to his silence, to

Elizabeth, to Mary, then to our text today. It is easy to stay on the broad surface and see the

greeting of Mary and Elizabeth as a couple of women visiting during pregnancy, going about

their day to day.

There is a bit of connecting happening in this text. Larger to the particular. The scholars from

the new interpreters commentary make a bid deal that Mary traveled from a region to a town

the home of Zachariah and then to Elizabeth. Like links in a chain or a funnel to guide our

focus. And then there is both Mary and Elizabeth, carrying Jesus and John. And then, I can’t

help but wonder about what is within John and Jesus.

The larger story nests the next, and the next, down to their very atoms and hopes.

It feels important to notice the layers, or the elements within one and another. Like striations in

the earth, telling stories of even more ancient realities of earth experience, soil to coal to oil

and dinosaurs, striations within us telling stories of even deeper essential parts of ourselves.

What was it that caused John to leap at the presence of Jesus? It caught Elizabeth by joyous

and maybe giddy surprise, like a catch of breath, causing her to proclaim the elements of the

moment “blessed”. Elizabeth is the prophet. A prophet in her home. She is the proclaimer of

blessedness. Her son will be the prophet in the wilderness, the proclaimer of repentence that

turns us to what saves us. Both turn our faces in new directions, to see God where God will

show up.

John, who is still in formation, recognizes Jesus, also still in formation. Elizabeth recognizes

greatness in this young girl, who we know from other extra canonical stories, may have been

being prepared her whole life for this role in the world. And Mary. Mary recognizes God and

the lowly and the irony. Mary recognizes her own greatness. Each recognition goes deep

into the essential core, becoming rich fuel for the next revealed layer.

These images of women gaining their voice, of raising the next generation to their own

greatness, is happening in this text. And it is happening all around us. Our biblical text is a

shared story, and when we open our eyes, we see it being played out again and again, in

recognizable ways and in new ways. Women are being seen and heard as proclaimers that we

might wake up.

In many Orthodox churches, iconography surrounds sanctuaries as larger than life murals of

the patriarchs of faith. Yet, rising from behind the iconistasis, the holy of holies half-wall of the

alter where only the male priests and deacons enter, is the image of Mary, known as

Theotokos. God bearer. Larger than all, looking down tenderly over every woman, child and

man, priest, deacon and cantor in that sacred space.

Women of today, like Elizabeth, are proclaiming an arrival of sorts. This past April, a 22 year

old female student named Alaa Salah in Sudan, stood on top of a car, in her white cotton dress

and flashing full moon earrings, arms raised amidst protests of the harsh regime of President

Omar al-Bashir. She sang the word for revolution, connecting a moment with a movement

toward something better. All of this has been caught and documented on hundreds of cell

phones. From many websites, including the BBC, we read that these women who were leading

the protests are being called Kandaka,' which is the title given to the Nubian queens of ancient

Sudan whose gift to their descendants is a legacy of empowered women who fight hard for

their country and their rights."

Closer to home: This week, Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscokee Creek Nation, is named our

national poet laureate. Her poetics, filled with images of cigarette smoke, whiskey spills, loss of

identity and the erasure of indigenous culture in the United States, tells a revolutionary story

that we might set what has been tilted, upright. If we listen with a holy listening, we will connect

in silence and allow the indigenous voice to proclaim.

And closer still in Fort Wayne is Sally Segerson. I was tuned into Sally and her foundational

work with Street Reach for the Homeless by Sid Gauby, former pastor of the Agape Church of

the Brethren. Every week Sally scans the Goodwill bins for boots, socks, sleeping bags, tents

and winter coats, and feeds 100+ gents and ladies several times a week with nourishing, belly

filling food. I follow her revolutionary seemingly one woman show on facebook. I don’t know

the full story of funding or founding or volunteering, but her agenda is clearly to proclaim the

good news that each person fed is loved.

Elizabeth proclaims the moment blessed.

Mary, like these women of today, takes it one step further: for she knows who she is, who she

has been raised to be, and what upside down, turning, revolutionary message she now sends

out into the world:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all

generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is

his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown

strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has

brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry

with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in

remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham

and to his descendants forever.”

In our today news and in our scripture scene of Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another,

silent father Zachariah, of John recognizing Jesus, is a rising of what has been deep in the

human story and what is yet to be. There is a rising in your own spiritual journey from before

your birth, through your upbringing, to this very moment. What is within you to proclaim?

These are stories of Theotokos. God bearers, bearing God, again and again and again with

silence, with exclamation, with leaps, with food, with poetry, with full moon earrings. From large

exclamation to the tiny particular, we see the holy born.

The Universe bears God

The planet earth and her moon bear God

The waters and land bear God

The plants and animals bear God

The humans on each continent, unified and without borders bear God

The Miami Nation of Kekionga/Fort Wayne bear God

We are God bearers

You are a God bearer

This scriptural scene, these scenes all around us are awakened examples that have been

happening through all time. The voice of the lowly rising.

We who already have a voice,

can flip the message of being a voice for the voiceless.

And like Zacharia, stand aside in attentive silence and hear those

once silenced voices,

once dismissed voices,

once erased voices….

proclaim a holy moment,

to voice wisdom that has waited to be heard,

to rise up and proclaim the arrival of the Gospel

And when they do, oh, how our whole insides will leap with joy. Amen