Thia Reggio, December 2011 Advent 2 Gabriel left as quickly as he had come. The very moment that Mary accepted God’s plan, the angel was out of there. Mary was left to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, whatever that might look like! And to reconcile what she had just been told with the realities of her life. But even before Gabriel showed up, Mary was already waiting—not for an angel to appear. She was waiting to start her new life. She had been promised by her family to Joseph, but she was not yet fully under his care. Mary was already living in an unsafe, in-between space, waiting to belong fully in her new life. To be a wife and hopefully a mother—presumably in that order!
What are you waiting for? You’d be unique indeed if you sit here this morning completely content and waiting for nothing. But, I understand if you don’t like to admit you’re waiting. New Yorkers are not known for our love of waiting. On the contrary, we are famously known for the New York minute, which I estimate to be about 5 seconds long—the amount of time it takes for the second car at the light to honk when the light changes to green—in Brooklyn, 3 seconds. Yet here we are in the season of waiting: Advent.
Advent may not loom very large in your life. Whether or not it does, I’m proposing that chances are, you, like Mary, were already waiting for something when Advent began. You may be waiting for something to end or for something to start, for an answer, a change, something you can’t put our finger on. Maybe you’re waiting for other people to come to their senses or for some change within yourself. What are you waiting for? The answer to that question is different for each of us. We’re waiting for the things that will make us feel complete…fully ourselves. And as different as our individual answers might be to this question, as human beings, at the core of our being, science and psychology tell us we share a few basic motivating needs. We all want to feel safe and secure, knowing that we have food and water and somewhere to find shelter, and we all want to feel that we belong. Whatever we’re waiting for, we share these basic needs. And we believe that what we’re waiting for will bring us closer to fulfilling them.
On the day the angel came, Mary’s security and sense of belonging were in limbo—her future rested on Joseph going through with their marriage contract. It was out of her control. Now comes this angel to say that God, in God’s inimitable way, has chosen Mary for a remarkable blessing: she will become the mother of a savior whose leadership will have no end—picking up the thread from David’s story that we heard earlier this morning. The enormity of this promise is not lost on young Mary, but neither is the timing or the risk. “How can this be?” she asks. This was not what Mary was waiting for. This does nothing to make her feel more secure, to ensure her basic needs—and instead of giving her that sense of belonging we all crave, it makes her even more of an outsider.
We read Mary’s story every year and we wait with Mary once again for the birth of her child, whom we love. We live vicariously through Mary in anticipation of something life-changing. She’s the poster girl for wise choices and patient waiting.
But just like all of God’s role models, if we really consider her, she’s the last person we would think to look to for advice—the outsider’s outsider—a woman-child caught powerlessly in mid-transaction between a father and a husband, a peasant from a region outside Jerusalem at a time when Judea was occupied by the Romans.
Mary-- who listens to God’s crazy, messy plan to complicate her already marginal life and says, “Let it be.”
In the moment of Mary’s response we are reminded of the great Israelite stories of faithful response from Abraham to the prophets. Although something new is happening, Mary is another in a long line of, shall we say, queer choices God makes among human beings. God’s favor continually falls on the outsider. From the beginning God favors those who are too old, too young, too small, too weak, too flawed, too marginalized to gain society’s favor on the face of things. When we are outsiders (and we have all been outsiders in some way)— God favors us all the more.
For this reason, because God favors the outsiders, the Church is called to look to the needs of those who are farthest from feeling safe or secure: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, and all the outcasts, the unlovable, untouchable, scandalous people God knows it is sometimes hard for people to love, even the least of these is favored by God.
Outsider Mary, God’s favored one, models waiting with wisdom and patience. But we can’t forget she is pregnant. And that adds a whole other dimension: pregnancy is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting; one that requires complete involvement, nurturing the hoped-for life within, by caring for oneself. And when her time was fulfilled and the moment to deliver arrived, Mary had to push as well as wait. Mary gave birth to the child of salvation, nursed him, nurtured him in the ways of his people, set him free and encouraged him to use his gifts, endured his rejection, followed him to the foot of the cross and became a great disciple whose unique story inspires us still.
But we also tell this story because of all the ways in which it is not unique, for all the ways in which we can find ourselves in the story. When I hear Mary’s story this Advent season, I hear it as Presbyterian Welcome’s story. Back in the 90s, the Holy Spirit moved among members of the LGBT community in New York City, calling them to do the impossible. The Presbyterian Church had slammed its doors in the face of the LGBT community. There was no room at the Presbyterian Inn for anyone in that community who felt called to ministry or even to ordained service in the church. But God did not remove that call from the hearts of the people. Instead, God placed a call within that call for people like Mieke and her predecessor at PresWelcome, Clif and member congregations starting with Jan Hus and Rutgers. God called this community to give birth to a new era of full inclusion in the church—to become the mother of a movement. Although it meant giving up the assurance of their own security and exposed them to the potential loss of belonging in the Church they were called to serve, the leaders of Presbyterian Welcome have always said, “Here I am, God’s servant…”
And so there is cause for celebration as we approach this Christmas, the first Christmas that the Church is able to freely and openly receive the many myriad gifts of LGBTQ candidates for ministry, and those clergy members who have not been able to be fully themselves, who now can be. And the first Christmas that same sex couples will be celebrating as legally married spouses under the state law of New York.
Like Mary, these LGBTQ brothers and sisters have waited with wisdom and patience, nurturing hope against hope, in the assurance that God was present in their struggles. They have learned both to wait and to push. They have given birth to a dynamic new dimension of our salvation that proves once again that we do know how to love one another as God has called us to do—by an act of will in obedience to the Holy Spirit. They have known rejection and persisted in discipleship. And their continuing journey toward full participation inspires us still.
Who is better equipped to minister to those who are outsiders, those whom God has called the Church to serve, than those who have been outsiders themselves? Who is better equipped to remind us with Mary that in the midst of our own waiting, we need to ask, “What are you waiting for, God?” God has come into this Advent season to interrupt our waiting, with the possibility of a new kind of waiting—a risky, life-changing, world-moving kind of waiting that may take us off the path toward security and belonging in the short run, but that promises perfect security and belonging for all Creation in the long run. When we ask what God is waiting for this Advent, our guide is in the scriptures:
The Peaceable Kin-dom of Isaiah 11 where mortal enemies coexist in harmony: wolf and lamb, cow and bear, human child and venomous snake sharing in Creation peacefully for the common good.
The Kin-dom of the Sheep, from Matthew 25, those who tend the sick, visit the prisoners, lift up the poor, feed the hungry, and show hospitality to the stranger.
The Kin-dom of equality in Galatians 3 where there are no boundaries of religion, nation, class or gender that divide us, but all are recognized as Children of God: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, all the same in God’s eyes.
The Kin-dom that is ruled by the commandment of love.
God has shown us what God is waiting for this Advent. And God has shown us who God favors to lead us there: a little child, an unwed Mom from an occupied country, our LGBT brothers and sisters, all those whom society seeks to place outside, at a disadvantage. May we learn from them and with them to listen for God’s call and receive God’s favor, embracing the outsider within ourselves and the one beside us. God’s message to us is that while we are all waiting, we are already complete in Christ, we are blessed, and favored, just as we are, outsiders all of us, yet belonging to each other and to God. Together we will learn to wait and to push and to give birth to God’s Kin-dom where loving the other as ourselves means that all are secure, every need is fulfilled in abundance, and all may come to belong. For nothing we are waiting for will be impossible with God.