The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s151g15  Advent 4  20/12/2015

‘the child leaped in her womb’  Luke 1:41

The quickening.   ‘A woman pregnant for the first time .. typically feels foetal movements at about 18 – 20 weeks’.  (1)  That time when pregnancy becomes real, that new life is actually about to emerge, that the promise might indeed have its fulfilment.   Of course, after some more weeks a mother to be might tire of the constant turmoil ..   ‘Go back to sleep’ she might wish :-)

A footnote to Luke 1:46 tells us: ‘Other ancient authorities read Elizabeth’.  (2)  It would not be difficult to see the reason an ancient transcriber might substitute ‘Mary’ in place of ‘Elizabeth’, she being the far more important person.   But logically the words seem more appropriate coming from Elizabeth, the one finally delivered of her barrenness, from which the quickening was a sure sign; than from Mary the young teenager carrying a child of questionable legitimacy.   The Song of Hannah on which the words of the Magnificat bear striking resemblance are spoken by the older woman, finally delivered of a child after years of barrenness and rivalry. (3)

Barrenness and years of yearning precede the fulfilment.   Grief over the loss of a loved one is but the obverse of the love for the deceased.   While no one would want others they love to be locked in grief, it would not be human to be able to walk away from any relationship unaffected.

There is nothing like another person to bring life.   I am blessed by regular aphorisms sent to me and one recently was: "It isn't possible for all of us to be loners.”   Thanks Grady!

I work in a hospital and the places I see quickening and fulfilment happen (so regularly) are in the delivery room in Maternity, in the operating theatres and in the chemo and radio-therapy suites in the Cancer Care Centre.   Here as a result of the dedication and expertise, from cleaners, nurses, doctors, specialists, administrators - a whole host of people - others find new life.

And these are the fulfilment of a very long pregnancy, a pregnancy of striving for modern standard of cleanliness and infection control, of striving to understand illness in order to treat it, of experimentation with new materials for hip and knee joints, antibiotics, drugs and radiation, of technology that can remove cataracts and insert cochlear ear implants.

It is also the fulfilment of a very long pregnancy for society as people are welcomed and given the best of treatment, whoever they are and whatever their faith or lack thereof.   Within the constraints of budgets we strive to extend this care and expertise to as many people as possible, in the hope that people will return to society, to resume making their contribution, perhaps to be changed to embrace this egalitarian and inclusive movement, and so to make a world less wracked by division and turmoil.

And it is the hospital where this happens rather than church - though the hospital where I work was founded by Anglicans and philanthropists of the early settlement of Christchurch.

The spirit of wanting to make a difference in the world and wanting to find ways to relieve the suffering others are experiencing is what motivates so many people, some of whom may profess a faith, but I suspect only a minuscule proportion (if any at all) of whom replicate my own personal expression of faith.

Does not this perception make the spirit in us leap?   Are we not quickened by this?   Is this not real and does this not bode well for individuals and society?   This is what the medical profession and the health system offer all.   And it is a demonstration of collaboration that surely models Jesus’ command to love rather more accurately than the devotional life of the solitary worshipper, congregation, diocese, even denomination and faith, in communion with his or her own god?

And when we are quickened in this way, are we not moved to be thankful - to those who have strived for so long, for the individuals involved in our recovery - and to the divine - for life itself?  Surely we are!

I  am reminded of a time last century across the ditch, at a time when the sexual abuse scandals were beginning to come to light.   I was walking across the road from the Cathedral going to a meeting at the Church Office and wearing a clerical collar.   A young man was walking in the opposite direction and came up to me, saying: ‘Are you one of them?’ indicating the Cathedral opposite.  Gulp!   I thought perhaps I might have had to duck quickly if he had a gripe with the church, or that he wanted money for drugs.   When I said, ‘yes’; he said that he’d just been told he didn’t have testicular cancer, and he needed to tell someone, and share his joy.   I was glad to be the one he shared it with.   He had been given new life, and hopefully he has used that gift for the good of others and society.   Hopefully it didn’t result in him going to an exclusive church who criticise others who don’t.

Recently I heard someone comment that the radicalised are excited when they hear of another act of terrorism and I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true - another form of quickening.   In a world where the church so often offers advice rather than unconditional love, people are striving for recognition, for their voice to be heard, to make a mark in the world.   Sadly sometimes it is easier to be destructive rather than constructive, like taggers.   And while we are justly horrified by the regular atrocities around the world, when the church finds it impossible to reach out across her boundaries in unconditional love, we should not be too quick to criticise.

I finish with some words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.’  (4)  That will be a quickening with certain fulfilment.

3.  1 Samuel 2:1-10
4.  Isaiah 58:9 -10