There used to be a saying: Please be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet. It appeared on bumpers, tee-shirts, and church signs across the country. It seems a little disingenuous to blame God for what is often just bad behavior, but there is truth in the saying too. God is not finished with us, any of us. A world might be created in a day or two — OK, six — but, it takes longer to heal a soul, to woo it to life. It takes a long time to become fully human, and that’s not God’s fault. It just takes time.Time is one of the magic ingredients, you know. It changes things.
This week Mary’s pregnancy is not even visible. She is traveling. Maybe she joined a group of travelers, or maybe she set out on her own believing that the miraculous baby inside her was all the protection she needed. We can’t know what she believed or what motivated her. We just know that she went.
She went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. It was unlikely that either of them would be pregnant, but they were, Both their sons would change the world with their unconventional lives, and both would meet untimely and violent deaths. But, none of that matters today. Today we rejoice with Mary and Elizabeth that God was not finished with them, that they had something yet to give to God and to the world.
A lot will have changed by the time we are polishing our shoes for next week’s services. By next Sunday the word will have already become flesh; Jesus will have been born. We will skip over the nine months of pregnancy and the growing belly, changing body, first kicks in the womb. We will not listen in on Mary and Joseph as they wonder what the future holds, nor will we hear their fears and hopes. It will all be brushed aside in the rush to Christmas Day and Epiphany.
It keeps the liturgical year on track, but it leaves out one of the magic ingredients: Time.
Human beings rush through life. It’s our nature. Elementary school children can’t wait to get to middle school, middle schoolers long for the glamour of high school, the high schoolers can’t wait to try their own wings at college, during college it seems like it will take forever to get out so we can get a job and buy a sports car. We are in a hurry most of the time.
Sometimes we rush through things in our thinking and writing too, We skip over entire centuries, and cultures, dashing past languages, and local customs. It is all too easy to ascribe the characteristics of one time and one people to other times and other peoples. That is why we have to be careful. That is why this week especially, we acknowledge that Jesus wasn’t conceived and born in the span of Advent’s four weeks. It took a full nine months for him to get here, just as it did for his wild cousin John, and for you, and for me. We stop and remember because it reminds us that the things God brings about take time.
As surely as there was something wonderful growing inside of Mary and Elizabeth, there is something wonderful growing inside of you too. It may feel like it’s about to burst forth, if only it could. Or, it may still be hard to discern, invisible to most. Maybe it was just a fleeting thought that things could be different, or a sudden insight about the ways of God. Those things are still in you, and still growing.
It takes time, remember. I know that sometimes it seems like God has abandoned the project and is no longer working in our lives. You are not the first to feel that way. The writers of the Psalms begged God not to abandon them. Job was especially convinced that God would stop working in his life. Even Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?”
But, there’s good news. God is not finished with you yet. Even as we don’t see every progression in Mary’s journey to motherhood, we may not discern the progress in our own lives. Sometimes the work is deep and quiet, maybe we are the only ones who know about it, and maybe we don‘t even know. But we can be confident of this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. That’s right out of the Bible.
If God has started working in your life, God will keep working in your life. God doesn’t get lazy or give up the way we do.
Think about it. What is growing inside of you? Even if it’s hard to know, you can still rejoice with Mary and Elizabeth that God has seen you, God has taken notice, and God is still working to perfect you.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China. God is still working on her.
Some scripture references:
Jn. 1 – And the word became flesh and lived among us
Ps. 22:1 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Ps. 138:8 – Do not abandon the work of your hands
Ps. 42:9 – I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why …
Job 10:3 – Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands
Job 10:8 – Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me?
Mark 15:34 – And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Philippians 1:6 – being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.