• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pregnant Unwed Teenage Mother

Lessons of Luke, a four-week Advent sermon series on Luke 1

Week 3 of 4, preached December 13, 2020 for the 9:30am Worship


Context

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, the season that starts the Christian year right before Christmas. The word Advent means coming to or coming toward, and in this season we are waiting and preparing for God to come to us… as a babe born in a manger, as a teacher, brother, and friend, and as Lord of God’s eternal holy community.


For this Season of Advent, we are listening to the Lessons of Luke chapter 1. Rev. Caitlan read and preached the often overlooked start of Luke 1, where Zechariah and Elizabeth are promised a child, John, in their old age. Caitlan helped us hear that old story in a new way and asked if we could open our ears and minds to hear the Christmas story in a new way this year.


Last week, the angel Gabriel visited Mary, and she was afraid. However, Mary did not respond in fear. She did not fight, resist, or run away from God’s message. She listened, trusted, and responded in faith. God-moments will create fear, awe in us, and God-moments will call us to speak and act in faith, not fear.


Today, we continue into Luke 1. Let’s pray, then listen for the word of the Lord…


Pray

Scripture Luke 1:39-56

39 In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry,


“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb lept for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”


46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name. 50 God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.


51 God has shown strength with God’s arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.


54 God has helped God’s servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, 55 according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham, and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her (own) home.


Sermon Pregnant Unwed Teenage Mother

I can still remember when Jill was pregnant for the first time. She and I were excited. We had lots of support and encouragement from our friends and family. We spent time nesting, getting everything ready at our home for the arrival of our first child.


Mary is pregnant for the first time. She’s not as excited as much as perplexed, confused, afraid. She’s resolved to what is happening, but surely there was some awkwardness even as she obeyed and accepted what was happening to her, through her.


I assume we could say she probably would not have had the full support of her family or friends. Our culture is still pretty hard on unwed teenage mothers. Just imagine the culture of Mary’s time! Who would believe the Holy Spirit idea? There was a law to stone women caught in adultery, and a teenage girl engaged but not yet married and pregnant was obviously an adulterer.


We can also say she wasn’t allowed to nest. She goes, or was perhaps sent with haste, to Elizabeth, to keep Mary safe, to let her have some privacy and dignity in the moment of her and her family’s greatest disgrace.


I wonder what that trip was like for her. There’s no mention of anyone traveling with her. Just imagine, a teenage girl, expecting, wandering days, weeks, a significant distance, camping at night, carrying or gathering her own food and water, sometimes leaning on the hospitality of caring non-judgmental strangers as she made her way to Elizabeth.


What was going on in her head and heart as she traveled? She must have wondered, why was this happening to her? Would anyone believe her? How would Zechariah, a priest, and Elizabeth greet her? They had wanted and tried for a child for so long and never had one. Mary didn’t want one, hadn’t even tried, but now she had one anyway.


Would they be ashamed of her and not allow her to come in? Would they be embarrassed for her, and make her hideaway for months then give the baby away? Would Zechariah call the temple guard to have her stoned?


I can’t imagine how hard that journey must have been for her, carrying the babe inside her as a growing physical and emotional weight, having to hide from friends and family, having to escape to a distant place where she may not even be welcomed? Would she ever have the life she had imagined with Joseph, that she had been promised when they were engaged to one another?


I also remember how Jill was greeted as she started to show. Everybody talked about her glow, and wanted to know all how she felt, and friends and strangers alike wanted to touch her belly.


With one of our sons, Jill and her older sister Calli were pregnant at the same time, with Calli about 6 months ahead. That spring was a special bonding between the two of them. They both already had children of their own, but this time, they were doing it together.


As Mary entered the house, she braced for impact. Elizabeth would greet her, then notice, then react God knows how. Elizabeth appears from the kitchen and is obviously with child as well. That’s what the angel said!


Then Elizabeth not only welcomes her but calls Mary blessed because her own child lept in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice.


This is not going to be about hiding away a stupid young girl who made a mistake and has brought disgrace on the family. Elizabeth responds with grace even before there is an explanation. Elizabeth doesn’t think of Mary’s arrival as a burden, but a blessing.


If Mary had been worried, scared, anxious about how others would respond to her, she now had someone greeting her with mercy and grace. Even in the terrible social setting of an unmarried girl pregnant out of marriage, Elizabeth’s first reaction was to show hospitality, welcome, joy, to make room, and to celebrate the potential of the unberthed future ahead of them.


I doubt everyone would have greeted Mary like that, but Elizabeth did. Maybe you’ve met that kind of people, open-hearted people who seem to see things as they are, then see through them with visions of hope and better days ahead. Those kind of folk are special, and Elizabeth is one of them.


Maybe Mary’s family sent her to Elizabeth. They knew Elizabeth and trusted her to have that hospitable, gracious welcome no matter what. People who see what’s really happening, then say, of course, you’re welcome here. You are loved. Come in. Rest. That kind of people makes a place good for the spirit, good for the blood pressure, good for growing children.


I think it was the love and welcome and support of Elizabeth that inspires Mary to sing her song. Everything about this situation is extremely unorthodox, but Elizabeth gives thanks for the arrival of a house guest, a new mouth to feed, a pregnant teenager.


Mary’s soul expands inside her. She blooms and sees her new life. Despite the surprises, despite the hardships and ridicule she surely suffered from others, and the outcast nature of her situation, she sees it anew through a lens of hope and trust in what God is doing.


It’s not a hollow optimism. It's not a dismissive, “God has a plan” moment. This is a joy that radiates from inside her and cannot be contained. She isn’t feeling cursed or feeling alone. She is feeling welcomed, and because of that, she can imagine blessing, even a sense of being special.


Is she still pregnant? Yes. Is she still having to hide out with Elizabeth? Yes. Is she still at risk of being stoned by zealots who think they have God’s law so figured out they can insult or even kill in God’s name? Yes. Her social situation hasn’t changed. But what does change in Mary is she finds a welcoming friend, and that friend’s gracious, welcoming, roll with it way changes Mary’s way of seeing her own situation.


This is what it’s felt like throughout time and history whenever scared, broken people saw the world through the eyes of a great and loving God. Anyone lifting themselves up gets brought back down. Anyone being pushed down, God lifts up. God is setting the world right, and all she could do was sing!


As a church, let’s promise one another to be more and more like Elizabeth. Let’s not react to each other or person’s we meet based on what society or culture or even religion tells us about them. Instead, can we be so clearly trusting of God’s goodwill for us and for them, that we enter the most awkward or uncomfortable social situations with open minds, open hearts, open arms, with hope and confidence in the greatness of God’s mercy and the depth of God’s promises?


And as a church, let’s promise to be more and more like Mary. Can we let the welcoming gracious energies of church infect us, override any of our own sullen or fearful or bitter ways of seeing our past, present, or future, and inspire us to look ahead with hope?


I’m sure those two ladies shared some deep conversations over the next few months. They told each other secrets, fears, and worries, and somehow that honest welcoming relationship rubbed off on both of them in such a positive way, they both became stronger in their trust of God’s mercy and promises, and they raised children who changed the world for the better.


May we be a church of radical welcome and grace. May we be fed by this church’s open minds, open hearts, and open arms to share that hope, mercy, and promise into all our relationships, old and new.


To this God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.


Benediction

Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown


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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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