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  • Mariah Martin

Baby Fever—Christmas Sunday

Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:39-55

Luke 2:1-21


Right after Nick and I got back from our honeymoon, I was moving some of my stuff into Hope House when someone next door started talking to me about the wedding and our honeymoon. And then she asked, “So when are you going to have kids?”


I had just gotten back from my wedding and someone was already asking about kids.

This seems to be a pattern as we go through the stages of life.


For example, before we were engaged the big question was, “When are you going to get married?” Then after you get married then it is, “When are you going to have kids?” And if you have one kid they want to know when you are going to have a second kid.

If you are single, people try to set you up with other single people they know. If you say you don’t want to have kids then people argue with you, trying to convince you otherwise.


It’s like people want to force you into the next life stage or something. Maybe people are just curious, or maybe people are most comfortable with you if you resemble the status quo: Mom-and-Dad-with 2.5 kids-picket fence-maybe have a dog or cat.


It is as if our culture has come down with a permanent case of baby fever.

Yet at the same time, the church doesn’t really talk about babies. Or childbirth. What would it take for the church to have a real conversation that acknowledges the very vulnerable, very human, very messy reality of not just babies, but pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.


Where are the sermons that celebrate the life of a baby??

Or sermons that address the heartbreak that comes with being barren, having a miscarriage, or grieving the loss of a baby??


The church tends to do this when it comes to Christmastime.

In talking about the birth of Jesus, we skip right past Mary, we certainly don’t talking about what it would be like for her to be pregnant at age 14.

We ignore the messy details that surely accompanied giving birth where animals slept and ate, moving right on to the clean-easier conversation of what Jesus’ birth means for the birth of Christianity.


We don’t even talk about his birth; just look ahead to what is to come—his healing, teaching, preaching, his redemption of the world through his death and resurrection.

We push the narrative forward, forcing the next stage of the story, without appreciating the depth and beautifully human reality that Mary faced. It’s like Mary is in the middle of her contractions and we start asking her how she feels about Jesus getting crucified on the cross.


But for one Sunday out of the year we have a chance to talk about what exactly it means for Mary to be pregnant. For young Mary to visit the old-and-also-pregnant Elizabeth. For Mary to give birth to a very human Jesus.


So lets savor this moment in time. Let’s peek into the untouched wild world of a very young woman who faced an unconventional conception and said yes to an unconventional call to help serve an unconventional God. A God who would use the lowest of the low to bring about the light of the world.


But to do this we have to face our fears as a church to bring up, in the pulpit, taboo topics that surround our humanity—like our mortal bodies, and the carnal realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing.


What if the church refused to deny the fact that Jesus was born to a young girl who had a body? A girl whose water broke, a girl who endured all that takes place during childbirth—a sacred experience that happens to involve a variety of bodily fluids. A woman who nourished Jesus through breastfeeding.


And we can’t forget what a risk Mary was taking when she agreed to this pregnancy. When Mary said yes to her call, she said yes to potentially getting killed--punished for her “adultery”. She also said yes to the ways in which a body changes during pregnancy. She said yes to morning sickness, to back pain, to hormonal changes, to a birth with no pain medicine. To raising a child, to now wearing her heart outside of her body.


These changes were not just happening to Mary, they were also happening to Elizabeth. As Phyllis Tribble puts it, “Elizabeth is old, long married and barren; Mary is young, only betrothed, and virgin. For Elizabeth pregnancy removes disgrace, for Mary pregnancy hints at disgrace.”[1]


The theme of the very bodily reality of pregnancy or barrenness runs throughout the entire Bible. The Bible does not shy away from talking about such a human and huge part of our existence. Making barren women fertile has been repeated miracle. This miracle is particularly important for it shows that God can work even in the most desolate, seemingly impossible situations. Unfortunately, throughout history, women’s’ worth has been tied to whether they have babies or not—or how many babies they can have.


During the time of Jesus, and throughout history, a woman could gain honor by being the mother of a great son.

If a woman could not bear children then her lack of faithfulness was blamed as the source of her infertility. Can you imagine how painful that would be? This is something these women can’t control. And the women in the Bible who were barren were some of the greatest examples of faithfulness there are.


Thankfully we no longer, or should no longer, determine the worth of a woman based on whether or not she can have children. However I have a suspicion that some of this belief system lingers on when we constantly ask a married woman if she is going to have a child or not. Some women can have children, but that in no way means that she is obligated to. OR that she is somehow more of a woman if she does. Plus this question only twists the knife into the searing pain a woman might feel if she cannot have children, or if she has suffered from miscarriages.


To treat or think about women this way limits what it means to be a woman and it limits how God can choose to work through women. God’s call on women’s lives takes many forms.


When Elizabeth met with Mary, they were not alone when they marveled over the changes that were happening in their bodies and the lives that were growing within them. They brought with them the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Deborah, Jael, Sampson’s mother, Hannah, and Judith.


As Fred B. Craddock says, when Elizabeth and Mary come together, “The sacred past blends into the sacred present…(these are) new stories that are old stories… and (Luke) the writer assumes that the readers would recognize the old in the new…the new continues and fulfills the old.”[2]


Women throughout the ages come together in a sacred moment where two women, one old and one young, wonder how their lives are going to change as their bodies continue to change. One God chose to give birth to John the Baptist. The other God chose to give birth to Jesus, the human embodiment of God. This is the beauty of the incarnation, God in flesh. Through the incarnation we see God affirming our own human, bodily existence. The word “incarnation” comes from the Latin “in carne” which means “in meat.” This is God “revealed in skin and muscle, blood and bone.”[3]


As commentator Robert C. Tannehill points out, the acceptance of the sacred bodily reality is not a new one: “For the Hebrews, a ‘soul’ is not an intangible essence trapped in a physical prison. Instead the soul is a breathing body which gulps oxygen and the breath-spirit of God’s own life,” and he quotes Genesis saying, “‘Then the Lord God formed the human one from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human one became a living soul—a living being.’”[4]


He says further that it is not enough to say that we have bodies, better to say we are bodies. Therefore, “the truest and surest revelation of God is likewise irreducibly embodied.”[5]


We learn about God best through Jesus, the one who walked this earth both fully God and fully Human. However it is easier to ignore the “human” part of Jesus. We tend to sterilize and spiritualize Jesus because for so long we have been taught to fear our own flesh. To, in fact, despise our own bodies, to ignore our own mortality.


But our flesh, our bodies, our mortality, are what make us human. They are what God breathed life into, what God declared Good.


It is easy to spiritualize Jesus, to accept that he is fully Divine because then he is altogether not like us. But Jesus was like us.


If we ignore this then we don’t have to think of humanity, of a dark skinned Palestinian man, as the face of God.


But God’s face can be found in all of humanity. For the face of God was once that of a newborn baby.


One beautiful side-affect of “baby fever” is if we are around babies and children much then we find ourselves viewing the world through their eyes. We see the world as an innocent. We see the world as altogether new and wonderful. We see what it looks like to give in to unbridled joy.


Babies and young children have an endless fascination and curiosity with anything and everything. And, I don’t know if you have noticed but babies and young children absolutely love their bodies!

A baby sucking its toe has found a new toy.


Babies put everything in their mouths because that is the way they learn about their environment. Their mouth is a gateway of sensation: to new flavors and textures. Plus it eases their teething pain.


Have you ever seen a young kid examine something? They don’t merely glance at it. No this is a whole body experience! They go like this (squats down to look closely at the ground).

Their little legs provide them with so much pleasure, especially when they can start crawling, walking, and soon they are running as fast as they can to the next fun thing.


Have you ever taken a diaper off a baby and let them run around in all their naked baby glory? They will run around squealing with the simple delight of experiencing the world through their little body.


Maybe God is also delighted when we delight in our God given, created bodies. When we are kind to our imperfections. When we love our body for what it can do rather than berate if for what it cannot. These bodies are, in fact, a gift from our Maker.


This Christmas, let’s take a break from pretending that we do not have a body. Let’s try to look at Christmas through the eyes of a baby, a young child. There is so much Divine Wisdom wrapped up in the gaze of a toddler looking in wonderment at the Christmas lights, or touching snow for the first time, or finding delight in the ways that our bodies help us experience this world.


Instead of “baby fever” meaning an obsession with cramming the world with more and more children, maybe it can mean the joy that takes over when you experience this life through the wise eyes of a baby.


For if God thinks that the savior of the world ought to begin life experiencing the wonder only a child can own, then we too ought to see the Holy in the form of little ones who can’t help but fully embrace their bodily selves and fully embrace being human. May we also see the Holy in our own bodies and our own humanity this Christmas season.

Amen

[1] Meeting Mary

Phyllis Tribble pg. 6


[2] Interpretation: Luke

Fred B. Craddock pg 23, 24


[3]Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke

Robert C. Tannehill pg. 221


[4]Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke

Robert C. Tannehill pg. 220, 221


[5]Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke

Robert C. Tannehill pg. 220, 221



Works Consulted

Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke

Robert C. Tannehill


“Advent 4 B: Blessed Like Mary | ...In the Meantime.” Accessed December 17, 2018. http://www.davidlose.net/2014/12/advent-4-b-blessed-like-mary/.


“Advent 4 C: Singing as an Act of Resistance | ...In the Meantime.” Accessed December 17, 2018. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/12/advent-4-c-singing-as-an-act-of-resistance/.


“Commentary on Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) by Judith Jones.” Accessed December 17, 2018. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2723.


“Commentary on Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) by Karl Jacobson.” Accessed December 17, 2018. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1500.


“December 23, Advent 4C (Luke 1:39-55).” The Christian Century. Accessed December 20, 2018. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/december-23-advent-4c-luke-139-55.


Interpretation: Luke

Fred B. Craddock


“Mary’s Call Story.” The Christian Century. Accessed December 20, 2018. https://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2015-12/marys-call-story.


Missiology and deep incarnation

Niemandt, Cornelius Johannes Petrus (Nelus)


Meeting Mary

Phyllis Tribble


Rohwer, Lee Orcutt. “Elizabeth and Mary.” Daughters of Sarah 17, no. 5 (October 1991): 35–35.


The Feminist Pilgrim: A column on feminist biblical interpretation

Elizabeth

By Mary Lee Wile



Sunshine Mother And Child is a painting by Shijun Munns https://fineartamerica.com/featured/sunshine-mother-and-child-shijun-munns.html

Wile, Mary Lee. “Elizabeth.” Daughters of Sarah 22, no. 1 (1996): 45–49.

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