Church of Our Saviour

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Tales of Hofmann

by Terry Hofmann, M. Div.

‘How can this be? This is not what I expected.’
     Mary stands at the threshold of her cousin Elizabeth’s house, breathing rapidly, tired from her journey. Glancing down at her belly for any tell-tale sign, she wonders what awaits inside her cousin’s home. The angel’s words still ring in her ears: ‘Nothing will be impossible with God.’ Mary calls out, gently, ‘Elizabeth.’ The old woman turns to Mary, her own belly swollen with new life. Elizabeth embraces Mary and says, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’ How does she know?
‘How can this be? This is not what I expected.’
     Elizabeth slowly rises from her chair by the fire. She pats her belly, feeling the signs of new life. Six months later, she is still amazed that God has blessed her this way, proving that nothing is impossible with God. She bends down awkwardly to pick up a jug to take to the well. Suddenly she hears, ‘Elizabeth.’ She turns. The babe in her belly does somersaults and Elizabeth knows.
     Two women, both unexpectedly bearers of new life, embrace and are blessed. All the fear and uncertainty is gone … and nothing will ever be the same.

Advent is my favorite season of the church year. I am sure that as a child it was because Advent was tied so closely to Christmas–just long enough for delicious anticipation, but not so long that I would lose interest or hope. We would light the candles on our Advent wreath each night at dinner, each of us children taking a week. We would open the windows on our Advent calendars, reading the Bible verses inside. And, gradually, my mother would decorate our house for the Christmas season until finally, during the fourth week, my father would bring home the tree for us to decorate and my mother would set out the creche for us to populate.

As an adult, I still treasure Advent but, now, it is more of a time of waiting and quiet reflection. There is a sadness, too, at times, as I remembere my grandparents, my father, and my younger brother who are no longer here. I find that losses are much more poignant at this time of the year, when the days begin and end in darkness. The hustle and bustle of consumer-driven holiday shopping and partying matter much less to me now. And, instead of eagerly counting the days to December 25, I find myself seeking a much slower pace. Advent is not to be rushed.

Yet, Advent is also a season of expectation–a time when I consciously choose to sit still, to be patient, to gaze at the flickering light of a candle, and to put aside thoughts of what I want or think possible. In the quiet, if I can remain open, I attend to the movement of the Spirit within. I prepare to say ‘yes,’ just as Mary and Elizabeth did, to what is unexpected and to what continues on. but it is not always easy–fears and doubts often emerge from the shadows. I think that is why the Gospel of Luk offers us the beautiful story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, which will be proclaimed on the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year. This story reminds us of the importance of community–both to test new possibilities and to support new dreams.

Imagine how alone Mary must have felt, after she said ‘yes,’ after the angel Gabriel left her. Was it all a figment of her imagination? How could she be pregnant with ‘Son of the Most High?’ But, then, the angel told her that Elizabeth in her old age was pregnant, too. If true, then what the angel proclaimed for Mary must also be true.

Imagine how alone Elizabeth must have felt, becoming pregnant after so many years of childlessness. Luke tells us that her husband Zechariah had previously been silenced by the angel Gabriel because he doubted, and thus, Elizabeth does not yet know of her babe’s prophetic mission. But something special happens to Elizabeth when Mary appears. The ‘child leaped in her womb’ and Elizabeth knows what is true.

Luke tells us that Mary stayed with Eliabeth for three months and then returned home. The familiar events of the Nativity story follow.

But let us not rush. Instead, this Advent, it is my prayer that all of us may find time to sit quietly, open to the Spirit, listening for what we are being asked to affirm in our lives. It is my prayer that we may also find time to reach out to someone else, to embrace them, and to share together how we understand the Spirit’s call. In this way, may we be doubly blessed this Advent season.

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