By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin
Sometimes what is most profound is in the details.
A beautiful Advent worship had been planned. A young girl, beloved by our congregation, with severe physical disabilities was invited to light the Advent candle. As she rolled to the front of our circle in her wheel chair, Gail (our pastor) realized she would not be able to bend to the table where the candles were displayed.
Gail lifted two candles from the Advent cluster, one already lit and one waiting for flame. Handing the unlit candle to the young girl, she held the other one in her own hand, catching hot wax as it dripped down the side. Arms reached toward one another as one light became two.
The service continued, but as Gail sat back down beside me, I saw the wax already cooling on her fingertips. This sight became to me a symbol of the presence I also felt– God with us. I deeply admired Gail’s compassionate leadership, her impulse for inclusion, her sacrificial act to bear light for and with another.
Bearing light is not easy. It may result in hot wax on your fingertips, or other forms of discomfort and inconvenience as we make a way for the peaceable kin-dom to flourish among us. Being a witness to this light-bearing restored hope in me, and a renewed conviction about the light I am called to bear in places darkened by fear or despair.
However we hold the light and in whatever place, what was clear to me in that moment was the incomprehensible width of invitation. It is a light for all people, within all people, carried by each one. As we move toward Christmas, may we reach toward flame and heat held by others brave enough to guide the way, that one light may become many.
By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin
“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. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” –Luke 1: 40-45, NRSV
I love the image at the heart of this Advent text. Mary and Elizabeth, both unexpected carriers of this new life gift, greet in joy as they recognize the divine life within each other. Elizabeth proclaims that the child in her womb moves, leaps, in recognition of the child in Mary’s. The sacred life forming within us pulls us toward awareness of the sacred life forming in others.
This text describes our hope for relationship– that we might find ourselves expectant of the divine life present in every person we encounter. My own ministry has been shaped by Margaret Guenther’s simple wisdom, “when in doubt, I always assume that God is at work.” What if I adopted that attitude toward every person I greet? How might my relationships, expectations, and behaviors change if I assumed God’s presence and activity in everyone?
In my culture, we find ourselves in a tense time of suspicion, division, and increasing fear. As I ponder the meaning of Advent into these realities, the story of Mary and Elizabeth offers hope for what can be. Two women offer a sacred yes, bear an impossible promise, and delight in the presence of the sacred in each other.
May it be also with us. May we have the courage to see the sacred coming to life in each one, even in unexpected people and places. May we nurture that life as together we bring to birth a world of justice and love.