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Practicing what she preaches

The Rev. Bronwen Boswell, Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), spent three Advents commiserating with Mary and Elizabeth

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Suhyeon Choi via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Bronwen Boswell knows something about what Mary and Elizabeth experienced together two millennia ago.

Preaching during an online worship service Wednesday attended by about 240 members of the PC(USA) national staff, Boswell, the Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, recalled that for three Advents not so long ago, “I was a walking visual aid in imagining Mary, pregnant and preaching. I know I shared my thoughts about what Mary might be going through: swollen ankles and not looking forward to riding on a donkey.”

But Boswell “also thought of Mary’s reaction when visited by the angel Gabriel. Like many when finding out they were expecting, Mary wondered if it was true and, in her case, how it could be true.” Gabriel assures Mary of “the how and the why,” and shares with her that her cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant.

“That which was thought to be impossible becomes possible, and more so because these women do not shy away from what’s being asked of them,” Boswell said. Mary’s response is a testament to her belief: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

“Oh, that we could answer God’s call as easily and with such certainty,” Boswell said. “But we often find it hard to step out in faith, don’t we, let alone to accept unexpected life-changing news, challenging our assumptions and pulling us to new ways of being and doing.” But Mary “answers without hesitation, firm in her belief of what she has seen and heard.”

“I can’t help but wonder if she knew how hard it might be to fulfill what she had said ‘yes’ to,” Boswell said, “not only an unexpected pregnancy, but the mother of an unexpected messiah.”

The Rev. Bronwen Boswell

Boswell likes to remind folks that “Jesus came into the world as we did — squished face and with a cry. While we sing of silent nights and cattle lowing, I think Mary would have asked Joseph to tell the little drummer boy to move farther out so Jesus could sleep.”

“Diapers would have to be changed and spit cleaned from shoulders, in the midst of visiting shepherds and the rest — not to mention escaping as a refugee from death,” she said. “Did Mary know all of that when she said yes? I imagine not, and that is part of the learning, isn’t it? To hear the call and to say ‘yes’ even if we don’t know the whole plan, the ending, the challenges and even the pain.”

Later in Luke’s account, Mary visits Elizabeth, who confirms “all the incredible things Mary had heard from the angel and believed in her,” Boswell said. “There is something powerful in being heard, seen and believed.”

“In this time of preparation, waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus and for his coming again, let us take time to listen for how God is speaking to us, individually and together,” she said. “Let us step into the challenges and the opportunities set before us, seeing, hearing and believing — a ‘yes’ founded in our faith, in our hope in Jesus Christ and in the everlasting love from God.”

“May we like Mary say, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Amen.”

The hour-long service featured thoughtful liturgy and extraordinary music. Here’s a prayer by the Rev. Mark Koenig, delivered by Anisha Hackney:

A Prayer When Advent Is Challenging

God of our journey,

we enter Advent once again —

a time of waiting,

a time of anticipating,

a time of preparing.

We move toward Christmas —

a time of excitement,

a time of celebration,

a time of joy.

But God,

we do so in a broken and fearful world,

we do so carrying heavy burdens.

This can be a challenging season,

We weep for the

violence and harm

your children do to

one another and to your Creation.

We chafe at

systemic injustice and oppression

that deny full life to all.

We grieve the deaths

of family members,

of friends,

of colleagues.

We cope with illness

in our bodies and minds

and in the bodies and minds

of those we love.

We struggle

to cope with challenges of life

known only to ourselves

and shared with many.

Remind us, God,

that it is OK not to be OK,

it is OK not to have the “holiday spirit.”

Remind us of your love for us

just as we are.

Remind us of your presence with us

however painful and challenging life may become.

Remind us that we can care for others

and allow others to care for us

and together make our way through this season and all seasons.

Grant us strength and grace

and all we need for the living of these days.

We pray in the name of Jesus

who came among us as a tiny babe

to share our life

in joy and sorrow,

despair and promise,

death and new birth.


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