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Pregnant with Anticipation
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on December 15, 2013
Advent 3A 2013
 
 
Thirty-seven years ago I lived in Stockton, CA in the diocese of San Joaquin. In that diocese at that time, girls could not be acolytes, and women could not be lay readers, Eucharistic minsters, and of course not priests or deacons -- even though the rest of the church was beginning to ordain women and certainly including girls and women in many ways besides the Women’s Guilds and serving men at pot luck suppers.  So you can realize how momentous it was when the church I attended decided to allow women to be lay readers. We grudgingly received the Bishop’s permission, but he still believed that God did not intend for women to serve as clergy in any form.  His daughter much later became the priest who sponsored me for ordination and the bishop who celebrated my marriage to Ernie -- but that is a story for another day!
 
I was the first woman in the diocese to be trained as a Eucharistic Minister, and I purchased my own alb and cassock, and, with the otherwise all male readers, set up a schedule to read Evening Prayer each night in the church during Lent.  I was scheduled twice that Lent, both times on a Sunday evening when virtually no one else would come. Pretty safe to hide me away there!
 
And as if it were not difficult enough to deal with a female reader, I was pregnant -- very pregnant.  So there I was that first time I read, standing next to the altar in a small church -- it only held about 60 people -- I stood and I read evening prayer. The canticle appointed for Sundays is the one we just sang (read). The song was the one Mary sang about her unborn child.
 
I cannot tell you how holy a moment it was for me, certainly a deep sense of God in my life, a holy moment, alone with God and the words of this beautiful hymn to the hope and promise of the child that is coming. Alone in the flickering candlelight, I wept.  Alone, I sang God’s praises from the depth of my soul. And, alone, I felt the movement of that child within me, and I knew I was not really alone, not only because my son was making himself known, but because God was in the tiny chapel with us, along with the communion of saints who had worshipped in that place and others like it for centuries.
 
How appropriate it feels to me, and I hope to you, that we sing this canticle today when I have been with you for about a year, and the new rector will arrive before we get to Advent again, like I was that night so long ago, I feel as though we are all pregnant with the weight of possibility of what is to come. We are growing heavier and time is getting closer to when the rector will come and you will be entering into an exciting new phase of life in this parish. We are, I hope, acutely aware of the holiness of this time “before” -- this time of dreams and possibilities.
 
The gospel lesson, it seems to me, is heavy with the questions a mother asks her child as she feels its presence within her and wonders what her child will be. (In the olden days we didn't know even what gender our children were going to be -- and still no one knows for certain much about the child they carry, not simple things like hair color nor more complicated things like character traits!) The people asked John, are you the one who is to come? It’s a question akin to what every mother wonders about her unborn child: Who are you? What will you be like? What color eyes will you have? Will you bring good news to us, to those who are poor or need help? Who will you be as a person?
 
And more introspectively, what grand expectations do I have for you that are impossible? Expectations mirrored by those faithful who traveled to the river to find John in hopes of finding the answers to their problems? A promise? A Hope?
 
For me, pregnancy was filled with questions and embedded in such hope -- and the answers I imagined were based not on fiction, but on educated observations and things I had read or studied. The questions of pregnancy, all that “knowing” as I felt the movement within me and the “not knowing” really any of the answers about what the future held for my children. We mothers have an idea of what we hope for -- there are hours and weeks and reflection put into figuring that out -- but still we do not know anything of our child until the person is here and we get to know them. 
 
Many parallels with the rector’s search and arrival, you will note. This week as I thought about that night singing Mary’s song in the chapel, and I thought about you, I thought about how close we all are to knowing the answers to those kinds of questions about your new rector. Who will it be that is coming here to serve as the rector? Who will it be and what will they be like? Will they be a prophet? Will they be a pastor? What will their character traits be?
 
And so our advent goes. We anticipate and hope, we imagine and dream. Sadly, I would observe, in Advent the tradition has become to dream material dreams instead of holy dreams. Dreams have gone even beyond sugarplums dancing in children’s heads to IPads and Iphones and Xboxes and PS4’s. But it's never too late for holy dreams. After knowing you for a year, I believe there are many of you who dare to dream them.
 
Holy dreams do not revolve around power or things or success or net worth or fixing all that ails us magically. Holy dreams begin and end with Love. There is no “wishing” in Holy Dreams because Holy dreams are circled with humility and serving others. Holy dreams never seek vengeance or revenge, but struggle with forgiveness and standing aside so that another may shine. Holy dreams are the dreams of pregnancy, when the mother holds out possibilities for her child, hopes for health and happiness and wholeness for the one she carries within her.  Yes, in Advent we can all be pregnant, along with Mary, and live into those holy dreams together and in anticipation of what is coming.
 
While this year for me such preparation for the one who is coming is particularly poignant and appropriate, as I prepare to let go of you, it is also Advent when we anticipate not only the anticipated new leader in our own community, but the coming of God among us again.  We often in liturgy say “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again”, and I wonder how often we stop to imagine what that means, “Christ will come again.” Do you think Christ will come again as Jesus did before? I mean other than in our worship and pageants and music? 
 
I have to admit I have over the years since that evening in the candlelight thought about this question. I thought about it each time i was carrying my own child. I have thought about it theologically and psychologically and philosophically. And I have wondered when or how or why God might come again and wondered how it might be the same or different than the story we know about the first time God came among us.
 
I have pretty very much decided that it won't be anything like it was before. And it will be pretty much the same, in much the same way the newborn child is like the one the mother has come to know as she carries it. Christ will come again to remind us of all that we have failed to hear and to live and to know. Christ will once again show us how much God loves us. And Christ will once again remind us that we are already redeemed by God. But...but...I haven't a clue how all that will take place.
 
One thing I hope, though, is that you will never confuse your new rector with Jesus -- or even John the Baptist! That as a new mother gets to know her living breathing child with all its little challenges and strengths, that you will delight and relish the humanity of your rector, allowing him/her to be one of God’s own among you. Happy Advent. Happy preparation. Happy new life within.  Amen.
Last Published: January 3, 2014 9:40 PM