Luke 1: 39-55
“Dear Lord,” writes Mary Oliver, “I have swept and I have washed but / still nothing is as shining as it should be / for you.” As the day of Christmas approaches, some of us may share in that sentiment. If we are getting ready to host family and friends we may feel that preparations are rushed or less than perfect. If we are baking or making cards, it might feel as if details are lax. Our gifts might not be wrapped as well as we like. And in the midst of whatever physical preparations we are making (or not) we may feel sad or distressed or not very celebratory or not very much like God actually does enter this world.
It’s hard for everything to be as swept and shining as we wish it were. In her poem Oliver paints a picture where there is hardly even a hope of physical tidiness: mice are under the sink, squirrels dwell under the eaves and in the walls, and (she says) “the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard / while the dog snores.” Everything is delightful disorder.
It’s a pretty safe bet that Mary Oliver is not describing her literal home. But she captures a sense of confusion that we know in other ways: the houses of our spirits may feel bedraggled or inhabited by things we wish were not there; certainly the world-house can feel disheveled and out of control. No matter how much we seek to make the house ready for the Lord, we will never have it ‘just so.’ And yet, we can continue to make the invitation for the Holy to come on in, as Oliver does: “Come in. Come in.” she says to the Lord as the poem ends.
Chances are that Mary the mother of Jesus would not have felt like her house, her life, her world, her spirit were quite ready to welcome the Holy One either. She was a young peasant, with a life unlikely to be pristine and entirely orderly and prepared for the sacred surprises of God. And yet, unprepared as she might have felt, she consents to bear Jesus Emmanuel, God-with-us, into the world.
The thing is, that we can never be entirely ready for God to come on into our homes, our lives, our spirits. There isn’t a single story in all of Jewish and Christian scripture that describes a person ready for whatever the Divine asks. Agreeing to carry God’s Word into the world isn’t about being ready, or about being special or remarkably worthy in some way. It’s about being open. And saying yes.
Being open to God’s Word, for example, means risking giving up some control over life. In some ways it’s easier to just keep about our everyday work rather than listening for the Surprises that the Holy One can bring. We can, though, listen. An angel might not come. But God may speak in silence, and the deep stirrings of our hearts that emerge when our lives are still. God may tug deeply at our hearts during prayer. Or in scripture reading. Or in the striking word of a stranger. Or in a news story that stays on our hearts. Or in communal discernment. Be open. Let the desire and willingness to hear the One be a guiding star in life. We can heed the word of John the Baptist from earlier in this season and prepare. But the open invitation to God can be made any time. All times.
And then, as the spiritual writer Wendy Wright says, “Like Mary, we gestate and give birth to the Word through the actions of our lives. Like Mary, we are involved in the process of bringing God into the world. Like Mary, we are the finite earthen vessels into which infinite divine life is poured…the notion that our participation in this God-bearing is neither negligible nor passive….The request that we allow the dynamics of divinity to be realized through the medium of our lives is a genuine one. We can refuse. Or we can assent and let the most intimate recesses of our lives be inhabited, transformed, made new by God. (The Vigil, 103-104)
Inhabited by God. Transformed. Made new.
Will we say yes to the One who comes? Can we commit ourselves to gestate and give birth? Do we stay open to the Word that changes us and the world?
When we are open, we will know joy. Know the ongoing presence of the Holy in our lives. We may not be happy all the time—that’s a different thing. But we will know that we are blessed and beloved and honored. We might even find ourselves, once in a while, feeling like singing.
Today’s scripture tells us of Mary’s first song: a song of praise; a song of justice and equity; a song proclaiming God’s reign. We know from this song that violence, exploitation, and hate are not signs of the Word growing within us and among us. It’s crucial in these days that we remember that.
I like to imagine, though, that Mary sang other songs in her life. Songs of daily work. Songs of confusion. Songs of grief. Songs of mothering’s delights. Songs of praise for beauty and love. Songs of intercession. I imagine that because the Word can move through each of us lovingly, and powerfully and constantly. And differently, depending upon where we happen to be in life. Perhaps even depending upon what day it is.
On this day, and in this season, may we each ask for the openness of Mary, and invite the Holy Word into our lives. “Come in. Come in,” we can say. Then we will change. Then we will gestate and give birth to the Holy. Then the world will change. Then many new and wondrous songs will fill the air. What, today, is yours?
-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk