Share the Light
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
The Rt. Rev. Diana Akiyama, Bishop of the Diocese of Oregon
Scripture: Luke 1:39-45-55
When I was in seminary decades ago, I described my discernment as a subtle process - it was nothing like Moses with the burning bush. I was learning how to talk about my experiences with God … my conversations, my arguments, my desires.
One of the things I liked about seminary was the easy conversations we could have about our “God-experiences.” For most of us, God-experiences were pretty undramatic. They were moments of clarity that felt expansive and a little beyond one’s normal range of thinking.
God-experiences are not unique to seminarians or to clergy or monks. They are uncommon moments that are available to common people. People like you and me.
We heard, in today’s gospel reading, about Elizabeth and Mary spending time together and sharing their experiences of their pregnancies. They both had experiences with God. Mary’s experience was to learn that she would become pregnant. Elizabeth’s experience was to affirm that the baby Mary was carrying was the Christ-child.
For both women, God’s voice and activity and spirit confirmed something very real in their lives. And this experience of God gave them a deep and powerful assurance that all would be well, even if they might wonder why God chose them.
One of the themes in all of our readings this Advent is the way God moves in us, through us and out ahead of us. Our preparations are about a life changing event, the birth of Jesus, and how we get ourselves ready for God to be in our lives every day and every night. The image of Mary and Elizabeth, two pregnant women, experiencing God through their bodies is meant to help us prepare too.
We are being called to prepare ourselves to receive God into our lives - into our hearts and minds. This preparation is symbolized by getting our homes ready to receive guests: we vacuum, dust, decorate, prepare food, expand the dinner table. We do all this to welcome others by extending our hospitality.
We are also called, in Advent, to spiritually prepare to receive God. Depending on where each of us is in our journey, we might start with praying regularly. Or we might add meditating on Scripture. Or we might sit quietly in Centering Prayer and wait on God. Or we might sing a canticle or hymn as a form of prayer. Or we might dream dreams.
These are all ways that we begin to prepare ourselves to experience God. And it’s a very good way to start. But there is something more in Elizabeth and Mary’s time together: they talked about their experiences of God. They shared what they heard, felt, sensed, knew to be true in their hearts. And in their sharing, they increased the reach of God’s wisdom and the movement of the Spirit.
They magnified God in sharing their experiences of God.
The very first line in the Magnificat describes the depth of Elizabeth’s and Mary’s understanding of God: “My soul magnifies the Lord”. Mary knew that, through her, God would be known in new and transformative ways. This was true for her. And it is also true for us. For you and me.
One of the challenges of truly understanding Mary is the way in which our tradition has taught us that she is entirely different from us. We have been taught we can only relate to her by putting her on a pedestal and admiring her as an ideal - someone we will never be like.
Yet when we read the Magnificat, we hear about people who are powerless, who are down trodden, who are suffering. These are Mary’s people. She is one of them. The power of Mary’s story is not as an idealized perfect woman; the power of Mary’s story is that she is exactly like us. And God chose her in the same way that God chooses you and me to receive God’s Spirit.
To prepare ourselves to receive God is to open ourselves to the way that God will enter into our lives and speak to us and through us. Just like Mary, our souls are meant to magnify God. We are called to make God known by talking about the ways that we experience God.
In what ways do you experience God’s wisdom and love? Is it through dreams? Is it in prayer? Is it through scripture or serving food to the hungry? Is it in times of loneliness or fear? However God speaks to you, however God works through you, you are meant to magnify God - to share with others the source of your faithfulness and compassion.
When we say the Baptismal Covenant this morning, let’s imagine how and in what ways we are meant to magnify God in this world. And then, and this is key: tell somebody - share the good news of your experience of God.