Be With Child

Pastor Julia asked me and an older woman in our congregation to assist with the sermon this week. It is part of our church's portico talks series. The bible story we were responding to was from Luke, where Mary goes to stay with Elizabeth after learning that she is expecting. Below are are some of the thoughts I shared with the congregation.

St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Photo Credit: Pastor Paul Moessner

Luke 1:30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.

We know Mary's life is about to change suddenly and permanently. She is going to become a mother. She is about to get married. Although I haven’t had the same demands placed on me, like Mary, I am not a stranger to abrupt life change.  In fact most of my adult life is mapped by it. Two weeks after college graduation Chris and I were married.  We were married young. Two weeks after our wedding we moved across the country. I’d taken a publicist job in Berkeley, CA.  I’d never lived more than a few streets away from my parents. Now, in our little pocket of the west coast, Chris and I started building our own lives.

Two years later, I felt a calling to have more of an impact serving children. I applied through the New Teacher Project and suddenly found myself in a classroom  teaching and studying in the evening to complete a Master’s program. My first formal teaching assignment was to start a special education program for elementary students at a small school in East Oakland. The neighborhood where I taught was often on the news for violence. Our playground was protected by a barbed wire fence. And yet it was in those classrooms that I learned kindness, gentleness, creativity, and fell in love with teaching. 

One day I was at recess with the first graders. A student, James, asked to chat with me in the serious way only seven years olds can do. We sat in tiny plastic chairs and he asked if I would be his mom. It turned out he’d always needed a family. Chris and I hadn’t yet even started talking about making a family ourselves. We had a dog; we thought we were good.  But God works in mysterious ways.  I prayed often about James. We talked to or parents about him. He took hold in our hearts. And as God would have it, shortly after Easter, James became our son. Our lives changed again, abruptly, blessedly, with our first child, a son. 

At Christmas each year we’d ask James what gifts he wanted and the answer was always the same, well the first half was. “I want a little sister.” “I want a little sister and an iPod.” “I want a little sister and a DS.” When Chris and I learned we were expecting a baby, James was the first person we told. We told him he was finally receiving what he most wanted for Christmas.  As we waited to meet her, Lilah grew inside my heart just like her brother had done before.  We didn’t need gold, frankincense or mirth to know this little bundle of warmth was our family’s newest great treasure. 

Luke 1{39] At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, [40] where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. [41] When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. [42] In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! [43]

If Mary had lived in modern times would we have connected her to Lutheran Family and Children Services? I know firsthand how God does good works through these agencies. What kind of support could they have been to this young mother?

Mary would have been about the same age as my students, many of whom are here at church today.  It is not too hard for me to imagine her texting me, as my students do, to tell me she is doing okay. My students are growing up accustomed to technology, they take for granted their public lives.  What would Mary’s Facebook statuses have been? Would an image with an abbreviated version of her story have gone viral? Would the Christmas story have become partisan? We have to be cautious.  The world is filled with both violence and kindness.  We have to help our children navigate this world, both virtually and literally. I can almost see Mary hanging out in my classroom, and as her teacher I can imagine the tightening in my chest as I aim to protect her from any misunderstanding.

This advent, I encourage us to have faith in change, even when it is abrupt,  to give thanks for the Elizabeths in our lives and to remember the tremendous hope that comes to us through little children.

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