Now is the end of Advent.
We wait in the darkness for the break of day; we wait for the light of Christ to flicker again. And sometimes, when we wait in poverty of spirit, we can be surprised by joy.
This is the theme for today – unexpected growth.
Today we hear of a meeting of two pregnant women, Elizabeth, the mother of John, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. They are each of them great with child—but unexpectedly. We know about Mary, of course. Elizabeth is a very old woman, her womb dried up. But, the story goes, she was filled with the Holy Spirit; and, a strange thing, her husband Zechariah was unable to speak until the birth of this child. Words themselves are put on hold while something new is coming to birth.
These are stories of a kind well-known in Israel. You will remember that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, conceived unexpectedly in her old age—the mother of Isaac, the grandmother of Jacob—the mother, we might say, of the whole people Israel, their number as many as the sands of the seashore or the stars in the night sky. Or think of Hannah, a woman deeply distressed at her inability to conceive. She prays deeply, leaving off language itself—and simply opening herself to the Spirit of Life.
As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.
And the story goes, she two conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joy comes to her suddenly, and she breaks into song. From the silence of her heart singing breaks forth:
“The Lord … raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.”
It is a song something like Mary’s. She sings, of course, a song of joyous rebellion: God has put down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble and meek.
These stories tell us that Spirit of Life breaks into darkness, despair, and the barrenness of our lives to give us new life. God overturns expectations. God is the God of surprises.
But notice, before the joy of childbirth we wait. We wait through a long gestation, a long pregnancy. We wait on God.
We must be patient.
What is growing within us? It is hard to say; language fails us. Like old Zechariah we find ourselves unable to speak. But we know that, deep within, life is stirring.
Timothy Radcliffe, the English Dominican writer, says this:
“God comes from within, inside our deepest interiority. God comes to us as a child comes to a mother, in the depth of her being, through a slow transformation of who she is. … Just as it takes nine months for a pregnancy, so it takes time for broken bones to reknit, for fevers to be overcome.” (What is the Point of Being a Christian? 78)
What is new comes out of the depths; it comes from the dark waters, the Spirit of Life leading it. It comes out of the unconscious, out of our dreams. It comes to light slowly. Language comes slowly.
That is how it is whenever something new comes into the world; it arrives only after a gestation, after a time of waiting.
God comes from within, inside our deepest interiority.
We often forget this depth-dimension. We live on the surface of things, where reality is just what we can see and hear and grasp. See, the status quo. We often absolutize the present moment. Those shining megaliths, the skyscrapers, seem eternal.
It seems to me that this is just the modern delusion, too.
We have forgotten that reality is much more organic, much more dynamic. We do not account for time. Something is indeed coming to birth within us. Something is stirring in the deep place of the unconscious. God is working hiddenly to bring new life and language – and soon enough, everything will be different, often radically so.
History always lies open.
God enters in. God comes to overturn expectations—to raise the poor from the dust and lift the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.
God comes to put down the mighty from their seats, and exalt the humble and meek.
No matter how dark, how lifeless the present might seem, the Spirit of Life is moving. So we live into the dynamism of history.
This age passes away; we live in the new age of the Spirit.
And we look to the end of history itself when, in the words of the prophet, “your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old people shall dream dreams, and your young people see visions.”
Yes, God’s future is coming to birth, unexpectedly, even now.