Family Support: Thoughts on where you go when you feel alone.

Luke 1: 39-56

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’

56 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

In 2017, we celebrate just about every pregnancy we hear about.

The “baby bump” is out front (pun intended) and proudly displayed, whatever the circumstances!

It is hard to believe there was a time when pregnancy was a private matter that folks were reticent to discuss.

I remember my mother whispering in my ear that our married neighbor was “going to have a baby”.

Like it was some secret we weren’t supposed to know about.

Teachers were required to quit their jobs when they started to “show”.

What if the kids start asking questions?

Pregnant teens abruptly disappeared from school.

They were “visiting sick relatives”.

Older women, like my friend’s mom who was pregnant when we were high school seniors.

Her daughter told me, “She’s soooooooooo embarrassed! She won’t come out of the house. She’s not even coming to commencement!”

Back in those days, if you were pregnant at an inconvenient or embarrassing time, what did you do?

You went into seclusion.

Or you just went away for a “while”.

That is what Mary and Elizabeth faced when they found themselves pregnant at inconvenient and embarrassing times.

Elizabeth in her old age and Mary … well … unmarried.

They wanted to get away!

Let’s look at the story.

Mary goes to Elizabeth immediately after her visit with Gabriel.

She has traveled ten days to see Elizabeth for reasons Luke does not share.

Maybe she wants proof of Gabriel’s assertion that Elizabeth is pregnant.

Maybe she just wants to get away!

After all, in those days, an out of wedlock pregnancy was more than embarrassing.

It was life threatening.

What about Elizabeth’s pregnancy?

I heard a line the other night that I think describes it well.

Elizabeth is in the “Autumnal” stage of life when pregnancy is … let’s say … unusual.

And her pregnancy, too, has been the subject of an angelic announcement.

It goes back six months to when Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah is offering incense in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Zechariah gets his own visit from Gabriel who tells him that Autumnal Elizabeth is to become pregnant.

And that the child will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.

The boy will be like Elijah, a prophet from God.

And the child will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.

The Lord the boy will prepare the people for is the messiah.

And while Zechariah is prevented from speaking about it, he somehow communicates all this to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is soon pregnant.

She goes into seclusion for several months.

Why?

Maybe Elizabeth was a bit embarrassed.

Like my friend’s mom who did not even come to commencement.

Elizabeth might be afraid she will lose the baby.

That had probably happened before.

So why become the subject of wagging tongues, only to lose another child?

Like Mary, Elizabeth just wanted to get away.

But where do they want to get away to?

Where could they go?

Elizabeth withdraws into seclusion.

Mary goes away; to see Elizabeth.

What they are looking for is a place where they feel protected from the storm surrounding their lives.

A safe place.

A place we might call “home”.

Marianne Meye Thompson describes “home” this way:

Home is place that grounds us: where we find ourselves at rest, where we are reminded of who we are and, more importantly, whose we are. For at its best, “home” conveys a sense of well-being, contentment and belonging: I belong to this place, these people.

Home might be a place, but most often it is particular people.

The ones who don’t judge.

Who just listen.

Who encourage.

Who are safe.

Which is what both Mary and Elizabeth got in our scripture reading.

Let’s take a look at the meeting as if we are in the room.

When I was practicing law, my paralegal for many years, Susan, was pregnant.

She was closing in on her due date and we had to get someone to take her place during her maternity leave.

I called Chris, an old secretary who had left a few years before to go to law school.

I asked her if she wanted to sit in for Susan and she got real excited when she found out why.

She came right over and rushed through the reception area, right past me, and into Susan’s office.

Chris looked immediately at Susan’s belly.

Susan smiled, leaned back in her chair and pointed with both index fingers at her large waistline.

Susan got up and they hugged and laughed.

That is the way I imagine Mary and Elizabeth acted when Mary rushed in.

Can you hear Mary?

ELIZABETH!

Mary’s eyes are on Elizabeth’s waistline.

Elizabeth leans back and points at her own belly and laughs!

Elizabeth … it’s true!

You are pregnant!

And guess what?

So am I!!!

That’s why I’m here!

You won’t believe what happened!

And Mary gushes out the story about Gabriel.

Any skepticism Mary had is gone.

So, the trip was worth it.

Mary is in a safe place … home with Elizabeth.

But wait …

Then something happens to Elizabeth that changes everything for her.

Her baby jumps!

Something she was waiting for?

Movement.

Life.

The baby will live.

And there is more!

She and her baby are filled with the Holy Spirit and she knows.

Her baby knows.

Mary is telling the truth about her baby!

The baby Elizabeth’s son will prepare the world for.

And Elizabeth cries out:

‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

And this communicates to Mary that Elizabeth believes her unbelievable story!

Now Mary cries out.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

I see the two of them holding hands and twirling around, maybe laughing, maybe crying tears of joy.

They are no longer alone.

They have someone with whom they can share their fears, their joy, their secrets, their utter amazement.

Their pregnancies.

They are at home with each other.

After the joyful dance, like at all homecomings, things settle down and the conversation turns serious.

These children are going to turn the world upside down.

The proud will be scattered.

The powerful will be knocked off their thrones.

The rich will be sent away empty.

And the lowly will be lifted up.

The hungry will be filled with good things.

This was going to be dangerous work for these two boys.

Maybe lonely work.

They would certainly need some family support.

Someone to be at home with.

And that is what they sought out.

Just like their mothers.

John is baptizing people in the Jordan River and causing trouble.

Telling folks to prepare the way of the Lord.

He is probably wondering when exactly the Lord is going to come.

Back in Nazareth, it is time for Jesus to start his ministry.

Where does Jesus go first?

To his cousin John.

They have known each other their whole lives, but have lost touch in the last few years since John has been preaching.

Jesus approaches and sees John in the river.

John turns and sees Jesus.

For a brief moment, they don’t know what to do.

They are not Mary and Elizabeth, so a mid-river song and dance aren’t going to happen.

So, Jesus asks John to baptize him.

Wait … what?

Jesus is the Lord John has been waiting for.

A baptism?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Jesus says, “No, I just need to be with someone who understands what is happening. What better way than this.”

To look in each other’s eyes, go through a bit of a ritual, and understand each other at a time no one else did.

A homecoming of sorts.

They both knew what was going to come soon for both.

Execution.

And while we get no report of angels, we do hear that the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and God called Jesus a son with whom God was well pleased.

Jesus and John were, for a moment, in a place that grounded them: where they were reminded who they were and, more importantly, whose they were.

They belonged to that place, to each other.

They were home.

Like the dance Mary and Elizabeth had, it was Jesus’ and John’s instant of family support.

The encouragement that would get them through the hard times to come.

And while it was much shorter than the three months Mary and Elizabeth had, it would be enough.

That is the lesson of this story.

When the going gets tough, it’s time to go where you are at home.

Parents, siblings, kids, relatives, close friends, a particular place where you are known and feel protected and encouraged.

What do you do when you get there?

Do a little dance.

Sing a little song.

Take a breath and talk of serious things.

Important things.

Private things.

Go there.

Be there.

Its where you wanna get away to.

That is what we should be doing here at JMPC.

We want JMPC to be a place where people come for protection, for understanding, for safety, for encouragement.

A place to go when your life has taken a detour and you are disconcerted, embarrassed, confused or afraid.

Where there will be no judgment.

Where you can be heard and helped.

Where you can be safe.

Where you can get some family support.

Where you feel at home.

Some years ago, there was a woman who confided to a friend that her husband had left her and she was humiliated.

She had nowhere to turn.

The friend told her that the friend found great peace in church.

So, the woman came.

She was just welcomed.

No one asked her questions.

No one judged.

Everyone just listened.

And everyone told her to come back.

And she did come back.

She felt safe.

At home.

When she was ready to open up, she asked to talk to me.

We talked every week.

And that ended up going on for years.

I encouraged her.

The congregation encouraged her.

And she found her home.

That is what this place must be.

A place that is home to many.

Where Marys can come.

Where Elizabeths are waiting.

Where we all can get family support when we need it most.

We don’t necessarily break into song and dance when we see each other, certainly not me, but we are glad to see each other and talk to each other, and when necessary, get serious about our lives and our home – JMPC!

That is how we survive in a world where we so often just “wanna get away”.

Where can we go?

Right here.

AMEN

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