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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Womb Was Dark - 12/20/2020

If you’ve been following along this Advent season in worship with Eden Lutheran, you’ll remember that a few weeks ago I said I’d made a list of “Some of the reasons darkness is good.”

As a culture, we have overwhelmed words like “darkness” or “blackness” with negative connotations. Negative connotations which have extended, sometimes intentionally, often not, to people who are dark-skinned, or people living in darkness somehow, literally or figuratively.

And so, I’ve tried to focus on this idea of reclaiming darkness as God made space celebrated and occupied by God no less, though perhaps more mysteriously, than God celebrates and occupies lightness. Led by our Advent texts, for instance, we considered how darkness requires us to focus. When we do, we realize God is at work mightily, in unusual ways, in ways we’ll miss if we don’t look into the darkness for a while, long enough for our eyes adjust anyway. We focus and then we see it, the goodness – of the manger, the cross, the tomb – the goodness of the darkness.

We thought about how God is there in those times and experiences that feel so dark, where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to see exactly what is ahead because it is too dark. But like our ancestors in the Babylonian exile, we can trust that it will be okay. Because God is there. Right there in any darkness, accompanying us, going ahead of us, keeping an eye on those bringing up the rear and making sure no one falls behind.

Last week we heard John the Baptist– “Make straight the way of the Lord!” (John 1.23) – John and his always-relevant proclamation showed us how to see matters of lightness and darkness in scripture more accurately as what is revealed and what is hidden.

In John’s baptism we are exhorted to recognize where our laws, our institutions, our churches, our national identity, well-meaning as they all may be, end up putting mountains between people and everything God created them to be. Where our prejudices and biases create deep gullies between others and the light Jesus brings into the world at his birth. Where we need to control things so much that we end up creating winding paths and switchback trails for people to traverse so we can be sure they deserve decent healthcare; a safe place to live; nutritious food in their bellies and a warm coat in the cold. Where we behave as though we are giant trees, obstructing others’ view of the Savior come into the world.

This week, I went back to my trusty list, which has grown a little through these weeks, by the way. I added that light vs. dark, or black vs white are false choices. When it comes to God is it always both/and … so much more.

I am drawn however, to the second item on my list: “the womb is darkness.”

The cosmic and breathtaking certainty of what is taking place in Mary’s womb is where these readings draw me into images of darkness this week.

In my mind’s eye, I see the very young Mary, in simple, spare and humble surroundings. It has already been agreed that she would marry Joseph. Her work for that day is done and she is ready to put out her lamp and sleep when suddenly everything swirls into activity all around her and she finds herself in an otherworldly conversation. The experience with and what God’s messenger said must have felt impossible, enormous, especially for a young, inexperienced and vulnerable woman such as Mary. “The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 130-33)

I love that Mary, overwhelmed as she must have been by the immensity of this revelation, gathers her wits and asks such a practical question, as if to say, “Hold up Gabriel, I know a thing or two and I know it is not possible that I am pregnant.” And so, the immense and mysterious conversation continues, until we come to Mary’s covenantal words with her God. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

It’s an intense and vivid scene. It’s theologically rich, that little room filled to the brim with Mary and Gabriel and the well-being of the whole of creation. You can feel the mystery and sacred activity swirling and building. And amid it all, in the darkness of Mary’s womb, Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, began to take shape.

It’s amazing, that darkness. Quite purposeful, don’t you think?

Thank God for that darkness. From it the Savior of the world was born. He would grow and become strong with the presence of God in the shadows of the Roman empire. He would be a courageous and compelling Messiah in message and mission. What was brought into being in the darkness of Mary’s womb would go forth to change the course of our existence with Agape love and Divine certainty. There’s no turning back from what God set in motion within Mary that day. Christ is risen. We are saved.

And although it is not the exact same kind of celebration and occupation when God knit each of us in the darkness of our mothers’ wombs, it is sacred space, nonetheless. Because that is where God first imagined us and the gift each of us would be to creation.

And so, this Advent, as we have contemplated the goodness of the darkness, I invited you to hear this love poem about God by Rilke. Hear it as a prayer for that sacred dark space that brings forth the Savior of the world and also brought each of us into being, in the same image as Jesus, the image of Love.

God speaks to each of us as God makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

 Give me your hand. (Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours, Love Poems to God, 2005, Berkeley Publishing Group, 2005, p119)

Love, God.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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