26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
(Luke 1:26-38, NRSV)
Bearing life involves nothing short of a miracle. Or so it seems for millions of hopeful women who struggle to conceive. For hopeful soon-to-be parents, the fragility of life is consistently evident. I recall this notion well. I too once was a hope-filled, expectant one waiting for a miracle. After more than a year trying to conceive we were overjoyed when the impossible seemed to be true. We were cautiously optimistic but already reveling in the thought of becoming parents. However, only a few weeks shy of the first trimester, we learned of yet another complication. The embryo never made it to the right place and we were suddenly in an operating room having an emergency ectopic pregnancy removal. Following recovery, the doctor informed us that our chances of conception were now lessened with only one functional tube remaining. Our hope dwindled and we wondered if we would ever be able to bear life into the world.
It wasn’t until a year later that we found out we were expecting, again. We were very cautious, but surprised and grateful for the possibility to grow life together. I remember hearing Aaron’s heartbeat for the very first time. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. It felt like we were witnessing an actual miracle within the four walls of that small exam room. We even asked if we could record it on our cell phones so we could listen to it repeatedly. Once we knew he was healthy and developing according to schedule, my every thought was consumed with this growing life within me. My sole priority for the next six months was to bring a healthy life into the world.
As many of you well know, Aaron made his debut into the world on July 19, 2008, healthy and wondrous. And a little over two years later, our second miracle baby arrived. Our Charlotte Cathryn made her way into our world and into our hearts on November 1, 2010. Life is miracle and life is fragile isn’t it?
I think about my friend Lindsay and her husband Brandon. After trying for more than three years to conceive, they decided to give IVF or In vitro fertilization a try. Even with the astronomical costs they decided after two failed attempts to try one last time. The one remaining egg left was not ideal and they were told their chances were slim at best. Cautiously optimistic, they began the all too familiar process for the final time. And on August 10, 2017, Amelia Ponder entered the world, healthy and perfect. Her parents made her life possible, but she is the one giving them life.
Life is fragile and precious isn’t it? I think about Rev. Amy Karriker, church member and chaplain at Cohen’s Children’s Hospital. I think about her daily interactions with parents who dream of the day they might bring home a healthy child, free from sickness or disease. I think about those in our family of faith, who are walking through the possible shadows of death with their loved ones. Time is of the essence and we grasp on to every moment we are given. There are still times that I wake up in the middle of the night; sneak into my children’s bedroom and watch them sleep. I want to see the rise and fall of their chests and know that they are okay – that all is well. Sometimes we need to be reminded that life is wonder-filled and Holy. We need a reminder that our life somehow matters in this grandiose web of humanity, fragile and fleeting as it is.
In our story this morning, I wonder if Mary senses the Holy gift of bearing life. Mary’s story too is one of an unexpected miracle. In the familiarity of today’s story, we are quick to showcase the blessed words of the angel. “Greetings favored one. The Lord is with you”. We recall the angel’s calm reassurance to Mary as he says, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” We call to mind the angel’s account of this life to come as he informs her, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
In this familiar moment in scripture, we witness the teen Mary receiving incomprehensible news. She eventually accepts the angel’s proclamation wholeheartedly, but not without resistance – not without a real and honest fear about the realities surrounding her. “But, how can this be?” Mary questions. I imagine this phrase repeating itself regularly throughout Mary’s mind in the days that followed. Like many of us have experienced at the realization of conception, there are mixed emotions running rampant. Fear and uncertainty. Will I be able to do this? To give life to this child? What kind of mother will I be? Will my own selfish interests hinder me from loving this child fully? Perhaps some of us have experienced guilt and unworthiness even. Why me? Why did God choose me to carry this precious gift? So many other women struggle and I now have this blessing growing in my womb. Am I worthy to be this child’s mother? Will I be a good enough example of kindness and compassion? Will I be able to protect this life and will I be able to give it all it needs to live a full and healthy life?
Presbyterian minister and blogger Katie Munnik offers insight into the notion of Mary’s struggle as well as her liberation to offer life to others. In a recent blog entry Munnik writes, “Last week, I went to a lecture by Dr. Emma Percy from Trinity College Oxford. She spoke about mothering as a metaphor for ministry as both relationship and activity. As mothers are, so clergy might be. Homemakers. Community builders. Cherishers. Nurturers. Comforters. Challengers. Celebrators…Mothering involves ‘a blending of being and doing in which the character of the one doing shapes and enhances the relationship.’ Mary’s own thought-filled questioning shaped her obedient response to the news about her pregnancy. And, of course, all the days that followed, too. The days of settling her infant, of learning to feed and soothe him. Days of wrestling with her toddler…days of storytelling and scraped knees and but-I-am-hungry-again and learning how to be with other kids and learning to be away from home. I’m sure that Mary’s heart was full of questions and so were her prayers… Mothers teach their children how to live, and in turn, are taught. We become the mothers we are because of our kids’ personalities. Christ’s own questions would shape Mary’s thinking heart. Christ’s own love would give form to her loving. Mary finds her identity as mother in the identity of her son. Constant to the end. Brave.Vulnerable. Munnik continues, “Who are [we] shaping in [our] relationships? Who is shaping [us]? Because, birth mothers or not, ordained or not, as Christians, we are all mothers and ministers, one way or another. We all share our lives and our stories with others, and take on the work of comforting, cherishing, teaching, weaning. Being present, individually, with many people in many contexts. The work of love is broad. And, like Mary, we’re never quite sure what [the] result will be. There are blessings and shadows, too. We can’t see too far ahead, [we can only] hear the constant call to love.”
The news of Advent is that life has come. The good news of Advent is that as life has been given to us through the Christ child, so we in turn offer life to others. We are called to be bearers of life in this broken world. We are bearers of life when we sit with a friend who is grieving. We are bearers of life when we say to those closest to us, “I love you and I’m glad you are in my life.” We are bearers of life when we say to a new person who comes in the sanctuary, “You are welcome here and we’re happy to have you with us.” We are bearers of life when we speak words of kindness and encouragement to our children and youth. We are bearers of life when we stand up and protect the world’s most vulnerable people. We are bearers of life when we share our stories with one another – when we sit in a moment of despair or perhaps even anger together and simply utter the words, “me too.” We are bearers of life when we can finally say to someone, “I forgive you.” We are bearers of life as we continue meeting together week after week – in our simple coming together, we are offering life to each other. We are life bearers together.
On this third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate joy. We remember Mary and the joy of an unexpected miracle. We celebrate the joy of God coming into our midst in the form of a baby. We celebrate the joy of Emanuel God with us as we seek to bring life to others. In our waiting with Mary for the birth of a miracle, might we echo the words to this prayer by Rev. Jennifer Bronwell as she writes,
“[As] we await you, [O God], help us to remember to wait as your mother Mary waited — not passively but actively. As Mary ran to her kinswoman, remind us to seek out the wisdom and companionship of elders and sisters. As Mary imagined a world in which the usual order would be turned upside-down, give us the vision to imagine the true peace that you desire for your beautiful and broken creation. As Mary sang an old justice song and made it new, put old and new songs of hope, equity and compassion on our own lips. As Mary dared the journey, even when it was not convenient or comfortable, grant us the courage to set forth, one painful step in front of the other, until the new thing that we feel kicking at our bellies is, at last, born.”
Bearing life is miracle. Sustaining and nurturing life is miracle. Christ has come so that we might live. Might we go now, in expectant joy, knowing that life is fragile and precious. Go now with Mary, bear life – rich and abundant so that others may become fully alive in this world. AMEN.
Good and gracious God, we give you thanks for gifts of life, for gifts of love and joy during this season, for gifts of comfort when we do not or cannot feel that joy, for gifts of healing and mercy, for gifts of patience and serenity, for gifts of hope as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.
Christ’s presence changes our world, so we pray that he may indeed be born in us once again, that we may be continually born anew, that the whole world would be reshaped and reborn as your kingdom emerges around us and within us.
May your Spirit stir within us, and cause us to long for the day when earth will in fact be like heaven.
We pray for our world this morning, O God. Where there is violence, we pray for a peaceful solution. Where there is hurt, we pray that we would find ways to mend. Where there is hunger and thirst, we pray that we would find ways to quench and to satisfy. We pray for those who are separated from loved ones this day. We ask that you would comfort and sustain us as we seek homecomings and reunions in the days to come.
We pray for the needs in our church family. May your spirit guide us and give evidence of the places in our lives that need mending. We ask these things in the name of Christ, who came so that we might have life, Amen.
~ written by John W. Vest, and posted on John Vest. http://johnvest. com/ www.re-worhsip.blogspot.com
 Munnik, Katie, www.presbyterianrecord.ca
 Brownwell, Rev. Jennifer Garrison; www.revgalblogpal.org; pastor at First Congregational Church Vancouver, WA.