Miracle Babies – Rev. Yena Hwang (with audio)
Title: Miracle Babies
A long long time ago, not in a galaxy far far away, but in a nearby State of Maryland, I was an eighteen year old freshmen working diligently to finish up my first semester in college. My English 101 assignment was to write an essay on one woman I admired the most in history. I chose to write on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I cannot remember what kind of arguments I made to support my choice, or the grade I received, but I do clearly remember my instructor’s somewhat snarky comment: (something to the effect of) “So, there are women who made significant advancements in the field of science, medicine, and politics, which opened doors for other women and made important improvements in life, but you chose Mary, simply because she gave birth?”
That comment stayed with me…“simply because she gave birth?”
Yet, on this fourth Sunday of Advent in the year 2015, we are remembering and celebrating Mary the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, two women who gave birth to miracle babies, babies who changed the whole world. Once again, through their stories of miracle pregnancies and miracle babies, God is nudging us to shift our focus from “what used to be”to “what can be.” In a tradition where men are at the center stage with women playing the supporting roles – beginning with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; and continuing on with leaders like Moses and David, along with all the misguided kings of Israel; and with famous prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel – God is making room for two women and their babies to take the center stage of human drama. We remember and honor these two ordinary women who are given an extraordinary place in history, not simply because they gave birth but because they were exemplary women of faith and courage.
Both women’s miracle pregnancies and miracle babies signal to the world that God is working out a salvation plan that will look, sound, and feel completely different than before. The core message was the same: God is your Creator. Trust in God’s love for you. God’s will is that you take care of the young and the weak; the orphans and the widows. God’s will is that you respect each other; treat each other with compassion and justice. Live according to God’s will and you will prosper. However, the messenger was not the same: no archangels, no high priests, no kings, or prophets – but two women. One is young, poor, and an unwed virgin. The other is a barren woman, beyond her years to conceive. Although they were carrying messengers in their wombs, they themselves were messengers, too. They embody the message of God’s radical, transformative, “my ways are not your ways,”kind of message that will rock their belief system and transform their tradition, in every way imaginable.
You see, they did not simply give birth to babies. They gave birth to revolutionary vision, to hope, to joy, to peace, to truth, and to love, in a world that desperately needed vision, hope, joy, pace, truth, and love.
The lectionary reading begins with Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby “leaped”or as my friend’s 5-year-old daughter said, “John went kaboom in her womb!”and she was filled with the Holy Spirit to pronounce a prophetic blessing: “Blessed are you among many women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”(v.42, 45) To this blessing, Mary sings her song of praise, also known as the magnificat. Mary’s song of praise is filled with wonder of what God has done for her, but also what God has done by giving this miracle baby Jesus to the world. Her song is filled with images of this new order God is creating: God has “scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”(vv. 51-53). As Charles Campbell, homiletics professor from Duke Divinity School, states “Mary proclaims the promised, topsy-turvy future of God as an already accomplished fact – possibly because that future can already be a glimpse in God’s choice of Mary as the bearer of the Messiah”(Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, p. 95).
Elizabeth and Mary – their faith to believe that God would do the impossible; their courage to accept their role as God’s main actors when doing so brought not only ridicule but also danger – their actions go beyond simply giving birth for sure.
They signal to the world, to us, that God’s reign means voices in the margins will be lifted up and be heard and valued; God’s kingdom means the humble will rise to righteous power; God’s power means giving hope to the despaired; joy to the bereaved; healing to the sick; food and shelter to the hungry and the homeless; peace to the war-torn places; kindness and love to the friendless and the loveless. That is why Jesus was sent to this world, to be born through an unwed, poor, teenaged girl named Mary.
God continues to send miracle babies among us – metaphorically speaking. We all have the capacity to nurture in us, a seed of miracles that will blossom into unexpected messages of love. Those of you that possess the gift of musical talents, know that you hold within you a miracle to move and stir people’s soul in a way that words cannot. If you are an individual with the gift of caring for others, know that your expressions of care gives birth to the miracle of healing. Encouraging words received at the right time can do wonders in healing both physical and emotional wounds. There are many among you with the gift of teaching, and teachers can give birth to future leaders, movers, and shakers. There are variety of teachers, teaching a variety of subjects, but there are those teachers who possess the ability to give birth to the miracle of self-esteem, self-confidence, curiosity that leads to exploration of ideas, and ultimately to growth.
Those of you who have passion for social justice issues, you give birth to the miracles of hope and reconciliation in our communities. I was very pleased to read VOICE’s (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement) sharing their 2015 victories. VOICE won 448 units of affordable housing in Fairfax City and Fairfax County. In Fairfax City, VOICE leaders won their first ever affordable housing policy- the policy to set aside 6% of units as affordable housing units in new apartment complexes to be built in the future. This was the fruit of congregational leaders and tenants working together for 2 years. Some miracle babies take that long to give birth too!
As we enter into this last week of Advent, let us reflect upon Elizabeth and Mary’s miracle babies and how these women took risks and made sacrifices for these miracle babies to be born for us. Most things in life that are valuable and meaningful tend to be that way. Shortly, we will ordain and install new officers as deacons and elders. They accepted this call, not because they have everything figured out, but simply because they heard God’s call and decided to see what God would do through them when they said “Yes.”
So, what if all of us, each in our own way, said “Yes”to different ways God is calling us? There are many ways to serve God, not just as officers of the church. What if all of us would say “Yes”to the next miracle God wants to bring forth in this community? Even with real challenges, risks, and or sacrifices we may face, what if we were to listen carefully and say “Yes”to the Holy Spirit’s nudging? Are you open to the possibilities?
G. Steve Sallee, pastor from Chattanooga, Tennessee, told thisstory of Karen. When Karen was pregnant with her second child, a seemingly normal pregnancy, her 3-year-old son Michael began a relationship with his unborn sister by singing to her every night. Night after night, he would sing a song.
When it came time for Karen to give birth to the baby, there was trouble during the delivery. Michael’s baby sister was in serious condition by the time she was finally born. The infant was immediately rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee. As the days crawled by, the infant grew weaker. The pediatric specialist told the family that it looked very grave for the little girl and told them to prepare for her death.
During the stay in the intensive care unit, Michael asked continually about seeing his little sister. He wanted to “sing” to her. At the beginning of the second week, they dressed Michael in an oversized scrub suit and took him into the unit to see his sister against the NICU policy. The medical personnel got angry because the 3-year-old was in the unit and was asked to leave immediately. His mom said, “He is not leaving until he sings to his sister.” Michael made his way over to the bassinet that held his sick little sister. He began to sing this song:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you…”
“Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
The next day, when they thought they might be planning a funeral, they took Michael’s sister home. She had responded immediately to the familiar voice of her bother. Michael’s song saved his little sister’s life. A Miracle was brought through a 3 year old’s love of his sister.
Christmas is all about miracles – not only the miracle of a Virgin’s conception, but also the miracle of Joseph’s acceptance of Mary, and the miracle of Jesus’birth in a manger – the miracle of incarnate Emmanuel, God with us, God for us. Perhaps, we have forgotten that we are a people of miracles – the miracle of birth and the miracle of forgiveness and the miracle of transformation and resurrection! It is easy to forget in the midst of all the distractions this season has to offer us. I invite you to reflect upon the simplicity of this season…the simplicity of the manger birth. It is possible for all of us – men, women, young and old to become bearers of miracles, for miracles are God’s specialities. I am excited – like baby John going kaboom in the womb, but there is something going kaboom in my heart as I imagine what valuable and meaningful experience God desires for this community. In our particular context, with who we are, what we believe and what we desire to do, God can birth miracles through us. Will you let God bring miracles through you?