It's hard enough getting old, dealing with daily aches and pains, having less energy and more doctor's appointments, managing the additional worry that comes with wisdom, knowing too much and controlling too little.
The body sags and creaks from carrying around grief and regrets and the abandoned scaffolding of dreams that never came true.
The mind, meanwhile, bounces around like a new puppy, as youthful and distracted and undisciplined as ever, like a V-8 engine trapped in a VW bus.
Then you get pregnant.
Your husband hasn't spoken to you for months.
What started as welcome relief has now gotten old.
He's unable to talk because he was unable to trust God; did we mention that he's a priest?
Her belly is growing and growling as her body does weird, wild things; sleep is not one of them.
There is no muscle memory to draw upon; this will be her first child.
All she has to go on are the secondhand horror stories from much younger, stronger women.
There's a knock at the door.
A lightning bolt of pain rattles through her; her baby kicks like he's trying to escape.
She hardly recognizes the face—one of a distant relative's daughters?
Why is she traveling alone?—this can't be good.
The girl has a glow about her that makes it impossible for her to hide the panic in her eyes: she's pregnant too.
Meanwhile, the baby inside is now lighting and setting off bottle rockets.
There are no words to describe the tornado of chaos and peril and pain now tearing through the kitchen.
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.
Why am I so fortunate, that the mother of my God is my house guest?
My child leaps for joy at the sound of your voice."
And finally, loud enough for her half-deaf husband across the house to hear it, And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.
Of all the miracles in the gospel, are there any more stunning than Elizabeth's welcome?
When the unwed, pregnant, teenage girl showed up at her door with no parents, no man,
and no future, Elizabeth lavished her with honor.
The story is too familiar to us if it doesn't level us with shock; Disney rejected it for being too outrageous, too impossible to believe.
But belief in the impossible is what God's people do, and it leads us to welcome trouble.
Read again the statement on the front of your bulletin, which this congregation adopted almost two years ago.
It's beautiful...I hope it is also true.
If you are a knocked up teenager in trouble, we welcome you.
If you are a clergyman who has lost his faith and his voice, we welcome you.
If you are a pregnant old woman who has lost her mind, we welcome you.
We welcome you because you are a child of God, our statement says, but Elizabeth ratchets that up.
I welcome you because God is your child.
I welcome you because you are carrying the holy into this unholy mess of a world.
I welcome you because God arrives to me through you.
That is our witness, church.
Too often for too long we have fancied ourselves God's managing agent, bringing God to others, and maybe that's true sometimes.
But when a stranger arrives at our door in trouble, do we recognize them carrying God to us?
Do the cheap wafer and juice get through to us that life is a sacrament, that God can be anywhere and everywhere?
Does Elizabeth get through to us that every troubled face, every distant acquaintance, every
desperate stranger, every problematic interruption is the mother of our Lord and we are honored and blessed that they showed up?
When you hear a voice on the brink and immediately feel a stab of pain inside you, do you think,"the future is leaping for joy?"
Does the welcome statement on the bulletin translate to our eyes and our words at the door?
When God arrives unannounced, hidden inside what appears to be a hot mess, into our church or into our lives, what does our welcome look like?