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Where Do You Look For Hope?

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: Luke 1:46-55

Windsock Visitation painting by Michael O'Neil McGrath, OSFS

When the last bell of the day rings, Maria gathers up her math book and stuffs it into her backpack. Then she sits, waiting for all her classmates to leave before she gets up. She puts a hand on her stomach. Since she’s started showing, school has gotten harder. She wears baggier shirts and does her best to slump over to hide the bump on her belly. But even still, her classmates have noticed.


Slut, one boy had called out to her before first period. The kids around him had just laughed.

After third period, a pack of girls had surrounded her at her locker.


“Do you even know who the father is?” one of them asked. Maria pushed through them and ducked into the bathroom to hide. To cry. She waited until the bell rang to come out and showed up to class late. Her teacher gave her a warning. It was her third warning that week. Detention would be next. Then in-school suspension.


“Maria?” her math teacher asks. “Are you okay?” It’s been a few minutes since the last bell rang, and she’s still at her desk.


She nods and scoots out of the classroom. She looks up and down the hallway. It’s mostly clear. She rushes to her locker to grab her homework. She puts on a coat three sizes too big for her, and then she leaves.


Maria walks from Gresham High to the MAX station a few blocks away. She buys a ticket and catches the next train towards Portland. She keeps the ticket in her hand. She’s heard rumors of MAX police turning people who don’t have tickets in to ICE. She’s not sure if it’s true, but she doesn’t want to take any chances.


Her parents brought her over from Mexico when she was three. They’d crossed the border on foot and eventually made their way to Oregon where they had some family. Her dad works as a day laborer and makes decent money, while her mom cleans office buildings downtown. They live quietly and have never had problems with the government, but with everything going on in the country lately...


Her heart pounds when she sees some MAX police on the platform at Gresham Station. Finally, the doors close. She lets out a long breath of relief when they don’t get on.


The people on the train notice her big belly. They give her sideways looks. Looks that ask, “How old are you?” They shake their heads. She can’t tell if it’s pity or judgment.


She can’t get off the train fast enough when it stops 172nd Avenue. She walks as fast as she can to her cousin’s apartment. Isabel is more aunt than cousin to Maria. She’s much older, but she and Maria now have something surprising in common. Isabel had tried to have children for years, but it didn’t happen until she had finally given up. Until she was 43 and never expected it.


When Isabel opens the door, her eyes are bright and her smile is huge. She looks down at Maria’s belly.


“The baby inside of me just leaped for joy,” she exclaims as she invites her cousin in. “That baby inside of you, Maria, he’s special. You are so, so blessed. We are all so blessed.”


Maria closes her eyes for a moment. Then she takes off her big coat, shedding the weariness of the day. She draws her shoulders back, showing off the fullness of her baby bump. A smile spreads across her face, and then she sings:


My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

for God has looked with favor on this lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:

the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is God’s Name.

God has mercy on those who fear God in every generation.

God has shown the strength of God’s arm,

God has scattered the proud in their conceit.

God has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich God has sent away empty.

God has come to the help of Israel,

for God has remembered God’s promise of mercy,

The promise God made to our mothers and fathers,

to Abraham and his children for ever.


---


This is the canticle we sang today. The Song of Mary. The Magnificat. She sang it when she went to visit Isabel, or Elizabeth. The lectionary didn’t give us that part of the story, so I decided to retell it myself.


It’s not so far fetched.


Mary was a teenager. Maybe 16, maybe even younger. Her pregnancy out of wedlock was a shame to her family and to her fiancé. Her community looked down on her, a community that was oppressed themselves. Mary and Elizabeth were Jews, a people dominated by the Roman Empire, a people whose presence, culture, and religion were tolerated, at best, and heavily regulated. They were women and so their only power came from the men they were attached to. If Joseph had chosen to abandon Mary, which is what everyone was expecting, she would have been at the bottom of society, shamed, maybe homeless and begging. Powerless.


But it was through Mary, through Maria, a powerless, oppressed woman, that God decided to reveal God’s glory.


But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s still Advent. Jesus is still in the womb. We’re still waiting.


---


So my questions for you today is: Where do you look for hope?


Not where do you find hope, but where do you look for it? Because, if we’re being honest, I think we sometimes limit ourselves. I think that often we look for hope in what is familiar or easy. At this time of year, we might look to family or songs or traditions or feel-good stories.


Which makes sense. I get it. But I wonder what we miss when we don’t look beyond that. What hope do we miss when we avoid the hard things in our lives, in the world? What hope do we miss when we avert our eyes from the suffering around us?


Maria could have looked at her swollen belly and thought it a curse. She was ridiculed and shamed for it. But instead she sang.


Mary’s Song is a song of hope in the midst of struggle. Jesus has not come. Things are hard. But Mary looks for hope within her difficult situation, within her uncertainty. And what does hope look like to her?


God has scattered the proud in their conceit.

God has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich God has sent away empty.


I think we often think of hope as some feel-good, warm and fuzzy thing. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it looks like the raw rage of a mother whose unarmed black son was shot by police. Sometimes it looks like people flooding the streets in protest, blocking bridges and traffic, shouting truths that make a lot of us uncomfortable. Sometimes it looks like a teenage girl trying to hide her pregnant belly on the train.


---


American writer Finley Peter Dunne once wrote that a newspaper’s job is to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In all honesty, he was writing a bit tongue in cheek, but I’m going to take the preacher’s liberty of taking it to heart.


Because I think “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” was Jesus’ mission statement while he walked this earth. In one breath he was healing the sick and in the next he was calling people out, making a lot of people uncomfortable.


We are all, each of us, both afflicted and comfortable, so we are are all, each of us, in need of both comfort and affliction.


Even as we struggle with our own afflictions, do we see the afflicted among us? Do we see that mother who has lost her son? Do we see those protesters? Do we see the Marias on the MAX? Do we see the hope that is in them, not yet born but ready to reveal God’s glory? Do we make room for them? Do we allow ourselves to be afflicted by their hope?


The apostle Paul wrote: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”


Amen.

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