Magnifying the Flutters

photo-652In Wee Worship this morning, our service for children, I handed out magnifying glasses. I did this to help us all think about what it means when Mary sings: “My soul magnifies the Lord. My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” My soul magnifies the Lord.

It’s easy to magnify other things– problems, disappointments, failed efforts, evil and hatred. These things often loom large and claim our full attention while the promises and words of God can recede to the peripheral edges of our awareness.

This happened to our Biblical sisters Mary and Elizabeth too. When the angel came to Mary to announce that she is favored by God and she is going to give birth to the son of God, Mary’s first response is “But how can this be?” How can she be favored when every day it is thrown in her face that she is unfavored. She is poor. She lives under the oppressive and violent Roman empire– an empire that does everything to show her that she is NOT favored at all. She is a nobody.

“Do not fear,” says the angel, “the holy spirit will come upon you.” Mary could have lain awake focusing on all the negative things– things that, if Mary was like me (and like many of us I imagine), grow bigger and bigger as the night wears on. I mean really, there are few people awake at 3 or 4 in the morning who are magnifying the Lord. Maybe a few monks, but that’s about it. Yet Mary, long before her belly stretched the make room for the child within her, allowed the angel’s words to grow larger and larger, swelling and stretching her soul– do not be afraid…God is with you. I imagine that Mary’s worries and fears were still there, because as Luther put it, Mary was not a stone, but her worries and fears no longer dominated her. There was something greater. Something bigger–“Do not be afraid …God is with you.”

Luther points out that this is just as great a miracle as the virgin birth, the miracle of faith. That miracle that Mary was able to trust that inspite of the way things appear, she is favored by God and God is forming new life within her.

Then Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth: “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.'”

Elizabeth was Mary’s much older cousin. Elizabeth had passed menopause. It was now too late to find herself with child. She had tried her best to be faithful, to live a good life. She just didn’t see the fruits she wanted to see. She didn’t see life taking shape the way she hoped it would. The results she longed for have not come. And now, it was too late. This can happen to us at any age really. We can feel that it’s too late for hope. Too late for new life. Discomfort and hot flashes of disappointment loom large. But like Mary, Elizabeth find an embryonic promise making itself known. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.”

And now Elizabeth allows this tiny kicking foot to be magnified larger, to become a prophetic witness: “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

It’s often easy to dismiss or overlook the little, embryonic signs of God’s work and promise in our midst and so this morning I’d like to invite you to consider the flutters. Consider the flutters.

When I was pregnant with our daughter Ana, I remember the first time I felt her move. Some people describe that small but unmistakable movement as a flutter. A little flutter because it’s so slight. At first, you’re not even sure you felt it but then it comes again and you know and everything shifts. The day I first felt that flutter was what one might call a bad day. Things weren’t going the way I wanted, I couldn’t see the results I anticipated. And suddenly, I felt the flutter and everything changed. I knew that, while on one level things seemed to be falling apart, on another level new life was taking shape: tear ducts, fingernails, heart valves, brain cells were all forming and growing–invisible miracles that had nothing to do with my own futile busyness. It would continue to happen, I’d be in the middle of something, sometimes dealing with terrible things, injustices, loss, death and then, I’d feel a FLUTTER, a poke, a tiny kick, and somehow, it gave me hope.

Childless or not, young or old, male or female, during this Advent season, we are all pregnant. Advent reminds us that God is at work to give birth in us and through us. To bring love and light and goodness of the Christ child into the world in us and through us. So, ready or not, we are all pregnant. Have you felt the flutter?

I felt it this week as person after person came in and climbed upstairs to fill the stockings for those who have been kicked out in the cold just for being who they are. I felt the flutter of kindness as gifts fell into the stockings. I felt it when last year’s Vicar Emily, soon to be pastor Emily, brought 10 gorgeous, soft and fluffy blankets made by Lutheran college students. A flutter of warmth in the cold.

I felt it when I watched youth from our shelter working late in the kitchen to prepare baked ziti for the next evening’s Advent Dinner Church. I felt it when I watched a little boy who came to his first communion class and asked, “What’s a Jesus?” now two months later, coloring an invitation to his first communion and telling me that the cross on the bread reminded him of God.

Some movements of change and new life are huge and magnified for all the world. The falling of the Berlin Wall. The freeing and election of Nelson Mandela. The opening of Cuba. These things remind us of possibilities that have seemed impossible.

But these large moments are rare. Advent reminds us to be alert for the small flutters. Like Mary. She refuses to magnify the oppression. She refuses to magnify the terror and loss of those living under the Roman regime. Mary sings of a future too small to see, taking shape in her womb, Mary lifts up truth in a world that magnifies so many lies. Mary’s Magnificat reminds us that every small voice of truth, every embryonic hope, every holy vision towards which we work without yet arriving is more important than it may seem. And it’s all magnified in Mary’s song. She sings as if God’s dream is already born and flourishing. Even when it’s only a flutter.

The poet Emily Dickinson put it like this

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all.

Hope is the thing with feathers. A flutter of feathers.

The Brazilian theologian Ruben Alves describes such hope like this: “….Hope is that presentiment that the imagination is more real, and reality less real, than we had thought. It is the sensation that the last word does not belong to the brutality of facts with their oppression and repression. It is the suspicion that reality is far more complex than realism would have us believe, that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the present, and that miraculously and surprisingly, life is readying the creative event that will open the way to freedom and resurrection.”

I witnessed such a creative event this past week, probably my favorite flutter moment. Last week, we had an Advent Crafts night for children to come and eat pizza and make Christmas ornaments. In preparation, we spread newspapers over the tables to catch the glitter and glue and make clean up easier. As the newspapers went down, I noticed the news they bore. News of systematic torture by our own government, news of slaughtered school children in Pakistan, news of brutal racism and poverty. News not fit for children. I hoped none of the children coming would notice and of course they didn’t. They focused on making angels and decorating cookies and turning candy canes into reindeer and glitter-bombing snowflakes. Together children from very different backgrounds defied the fatalistic news of division and hate spread out before them.

It’s also true that they would then go out to live in a world unfit for children, On Christmas Eve, we will sing the beloved carol, Joy to the World, that includes this verse: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.”

The thorn-infested ground was spread out in front of our children by way of those grim newspapers and they would go out to face it directly. So…did those few hours of loving favor and glittery happiness matter?

We each have to answer that question for ourselves. For my part, I’m with Mary. I choose yes. I choose to magnify the flutters.