Monday, December 1, 2008

Favor

I remember the moments (there are three of them) when I first discovered I was pregnant.  Beve and I never planned a child.  All three were unexpected surprises, and the moment of discovery was accompianed with a little fear and a little dismay, to tell the truth.  Thankfully, it takes nine months (or more like seven by the time a couple finds out) for a baby to be born. By then, at least for us, we could hardly wait to meet the person who'd occupied my body, mind and heart for all that time.  Once that resident began to kick, I think I spent practically ever moment of the day--even when I was caring for one then two small children--with my hand on the bulge, touching the spot where I could feel that hand or foot move against me.

But many couples aren't as fortunate as we were.  For many, that moment of discovery comes after many months, even years, of waiting, hoping and praying.  For others, it never comes at all, and they have to live with the pain of absence of that moment, the pain of failure and loss of someone who they dreamed of, but doesn't exist.

In scripture, there are three specific examples of this long season of longing and waiting for a child.  Sarah and Abraham, who had even been given a promise of populating 'many nations' with their seed/their child, first believed, then Sarah laughed at such a promise at their ages.  I've always wondered about what a year meant in the days of the Patriarchs.  They just live soooo long.  And I'm telling you, I would have laughed hysterically--in disbelief, the text implies--at this long-held dream coming true at 90! Then there's Hannah, who begged and pleaded with God for a child so deeply and full of anguish that the priest thought she was drunk.  Then she made a bargain with God I can't imagine either.  "If you give me a child, I will give him back to you, to serve in the temple."  Seriously?  And she kept that promise, giving up Samuel at a mere three years old.  How hard that must have been.  It would be impossible for me, I think, given how I tend to think of my children as 'mine.'

And then there's Elisabeth and Zechariah.  Also old to have children, an angel tells them that nevertheless, she will bear a son.  And not just any son, but the 'voice calling in the wilderness', filled with the Holy Spirit before he's even born.  A man who will ready the people for the long-awaited Messiah.  The text doesn't tell us Elisabeth's reaction, but Zechariah, to whom the angel came, argued so much with God's messenger that he was rendered mute.  Meanwhile, a young cousin of Elisabeth's showed up, a little less pregnant than Elisabeth, but with an even more impossible story.  But the child in Elisabeth's womb recognized the one in Mary's, and began to dance in adoration.  Really, I think that's what John was doing within Elisabeth, and she was filled with his own, Holy Spirit-filled gift of prophecy. 

This moment where Elisabeth speaks to Mary is the first time anyone recognizes that God has become Incarnate: "Blessed are you," she tells Mary. "And blessed is the baby within you."  And as is often the case, the insight that she's facing Christ humbles her, makes her aware of her own human frailties and the unbelievable favor of God that she gets to host His mother.  It's an astounding moment, for both the women, a holy moment when they both fall to worship whom they both acknowledge is the Lord.

Each of us must come to that moment as well.  One way or another, Philippians tells us, 'every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."  We are favored with His presence, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and like Elisabeth, it surely floods us with awe when we first meet Him.  It did me.  That moment when I first met Him is seared in my memory.  And though, for some people, such a moment isn't nearly as dramatic, comes with a gentle, growing understanding, it's no less humbling to recognize Him when He comes, no matter how that looks.

In Advent, we wait expectantly, like Elisabeth and Mary, for the Christ-child to come.  But like Elisabeth, God favors us by His Incarnation.  Let it fill you this day, that He who has been waited for, is on His way.  May it bend your knees and cause you to worship "Jesus Christ, the Lord."

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