(Homily delivered on 12-11-07 at St. Michael’s Church)
Scripture: Luke 1:5-38
Motherhood. What does this word bring to mind for you? For many women, this word, this idea dominates much of our lives. I’m not sure that many men truly grasp how essential this concept is to a woman.
As young girls many of us spent hours upon hours practicing our skills of nurture with dolls, or stuffed animals, or even younger siblings. We developed these caregiving skills through play and through friendships and by observing and then mimicking our own mothers.
As we matured into young women, the reality of motherhood may have taken a back seat for a time as our other life goals and plans emerged, but the idea remained inside of us somewhere—either in the form of a desire to become a mother or in the fear of becoming one.
With marriage the desire to become a mother may have moved to the forefront of our plans. For some this desire is satisfied very quickly and perhaps even multiple times. For some it comes unexpectedly changing the direction of life in ways you never imagined. Yet for others, motherhood is elusive—this deep-seated desire remains unfulfilled perhaps to be buried permanently.
For most women, motherhood (or the lack of it) is without doubt an issue of great importance. It is one that shapes our lives so significantly.
I am so encouraged to know that the Lord understands the significance of motherhood to us today just as He did over two thousand years ago. When I read about the events leading up to the birth of Christ in the Gospel of Luke, I realize that things aren’t so different today as they were for Elizabeth and for Mary. What is so touching to me is that the Lord involves two very emotional and precarious aspects of motherhood—the unfulfilled desire to become a mother and the unexpected, seemingly inconvenient timing of motherhood—in revealing the Savior to us.
Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, were childless. As a woman reaching her mature years, she apparently had come to terms with the fact that she was past child-bearing age and would never have that deep-seated, precious desire for a child fulfilled. She had buried this desire deeply within herself. Yet she did not allow bitterness or anger or sadness to overtake her love for the Lord. In Luke 1:6 we are told that “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.”
Mary, her cousin, was quite young—just a teenager—and engaged to be married. She had probably dreamed of becoming a mother at some point, but most likely her plans were to get married, set up housekeeping and then begin a family. But we learn in Luke 1:28 that she too loved the Lord and was “highly favored.”
Two women at very different places in their lives learn that the Lord is going to do the seemingly impossible in their lives. Elizabeth will give birth to a child though she is well-advanced in years. Mary, who had never been with a man, would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Incredible! And they both recognized that these situations would leave them open to ridicule, doubt, gossip and, for Mary, possibly death.
The angel Gabrielle tells each women that not only will these impossible things take place, but that these are no ordinary children—they each have a vitally important role to play in saving the world. Listen to what Luke tells us in verses 14 through 17 about John:
“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
And then in verses 30-33, he comes to Mary to tell her about the child she will birth:
“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
I don’t know about you, but I have great dreams for my child—who she will be as an adult, what she will do, etc. and I can’t wait to see her grow into the woman that the Lord has planned. But I can’t even imagine what Elizabeth or Mary must have felt when Gabrielle told them about God’s plans for their children.
What was their response? Was it fear? Doubt? I suspect my response would have been “Okay, but the timing of this isn’t really very good…” No. Elizabeth simply rejoiced and worshipped the Lord. She knew without a doubt that the Lord was doing the impossible in her life. And Mary…well, after her initial confusion about the logistics of how this miracle would happen, she simply offered herself willingly to the Lord: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
What can we learn from these women about motherhood? Well, I think the thing that really strikes me is that it’s not about motherhood, after all. Whether we are blessed to have one child, many, or none at all; whether the timing is convenient or not….It’s about offering ourselves willingly to the Lord—all of who we are—our condition of motherhood, our plans, our choice of profession, our spouses ,children, finances, etc. All of it. Period. He will use it. He will use us. In ways that we never dreamed possible.
As the Angel Gabrielle tells these women in what seemed impossible situations—“nothing is impossible with God.” Thanks be to God.