Isaiah 11: 1–10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18–21; Romans 15: 4– 13; Matthew 3: 1 - 12

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

When did you last have a pregnancy test? It might seem an unusual question, and for most people pregnancy is just a nine-month wonder. But if we attend to the scriptures we’re introduced to quite a different paradigm, because the scriptures are seeking to bring us, to bring our consciousness, to bring our sight, into the place and space of eternity. The purpose of pregnancy testing is to discern if we are with child and is that not what most Christians seek to discern? Are we with child, with the child of Bethlehem? Is that the place and space in which we live and breathe and have our being?

Pregnancy provides a good metaphor for understanding today’s readings, and it also gives us a process to reflect on in the season of Advent. We are, in terms of the church’s liturgical year, in the liturgical space of pregnancy. Pregnancy testing is usually viewed and understood as outcome-based, but it’s actually more correctly a discernment of process. The test does not look, it doesn’t peer in to see if there is a whole person waiting to burst out of the prospective mother, but rather it tests to see if there is a movement, a repentance, a change, leading toward a new creation. That’s what it’s about. Advent provides us with a heightened sense of movement and change; so do Coles and Myers – they’re calling us to invest in something new, they’re calling us to find things that we can give. That’s the season that we’re in – it is the season before birth and so it is an opportunity for us to test ourselves and discern, ‘are we with child?’

The words of Isaiah are words of hope, and hope itself is an orientation towards a new tomorrow: ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight’. The hopes take us toward a new possibility; quite often the fears hold us in a place of unrealised possibility. Isaiah speaks of a people who are facing invasion, defeat and eventual exile. Israel has been conquered and Judah is now under the same threat, now in a threatening place, the place that looks as if it might lead to destruction, to defeat. But Isaiah looks beyond the present – his pregnancy testing shows that there is something gestating and so for the Hebrew peoples he gives hope, hope in the form of a messianic vision: ‘A new king will come from the family of David.’ The vision of Isaiah is dated to around 700–740 BC, so 2710 to 2750 years ago. Still today, that same hope, that same vision is being clung to by the Jewish people. It still remains unrealised.

The movement into fulfilment that we hear today proclaimed by John the Baptist comes from the place of gestation. There is an awareness, a pointing towards creation to a change in the present order. ‘This is the one,’ says John, ‘of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke.’ That should wake the Jewish people up, shouldn’t it! They’ve been hanging around waiting, now John appears on the scene and says, ‘Now’s the time, it’s going to happen.’ Christians understand that Isaiah pointed to Christ. We understand that Christ is the fulfilment, the realisation of the messianic promise that Isaiah spoke of. Both Jews and Christians seem to have the same idea; it’s as if they’ve got the same notion of God’s promise, and that is that it will be realised in one person. ‘A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse’, one whom the spirit of the Lord shall rest on, the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke. He will baptise with the Holy Spirit.

That thread of understanding very much reflects the cultural context that the reader, the religious leaders and theologians lived in. Let’s just go back to the whole premise of the society. The king in days past was the only catalyst for change; change was only ever brought about by a new king. The king was the almighty power of society, the giver, the taker and the sustainer of life in the community. So all hope, every hope, every expectation was invested in the king, and if you had a poxy king, life was bad and you just spent your time hoping and hoping that there would be a new king. If you had a good king and another king invaded you would be sad, because if your good king was defeated, the other king might not be as good. That was the way of the world, and we still adopt the same thought processes today; we live still in that same cultural paradigm. It’s as if there's a residue of times past that hold us in that same worldly framework. We still invest our hopes in a new government; we go through the game-playing of elections, hoping that the new king, the new government will bring about the realisation of our hopes. Are we that stupid, are we that naïve?

The culture of Nepal, the political structure, is different from ours, and yet stunningly the same. We have so much in common, yet we are worlds apart. Nepal is known as an LDC, a Less-Developed Country; it’s known by that by people like us who must then be an MDC, a More-Developed Country. Clearly you can see differences in development, yet some things remain the same. Reading through the political history is like reading a Shakespearean tragedy; it’s almost unbelievable to think that this country’s political development grew in the way it did. You’d think someone had written it for entertaining an audience. Not so long ago there was a massacre in the royal palace, of Shakespearean proportions. The king and eleven members if the royal family were all killed. Questions still remain about the brother who for some reason wasn’t at that event.

One day I was talking to an old Nepalese man over a cup of coffee and he was speaking of the hope of the Nepalese people, of the changes and the movement taking place in the country. He spoke as if he could see beyond the obvious mess the place was in and he spoke with a confidence about something that was emerging. He knew he was pregnant. I talked to him for a while and he went back over some of the history and how much of it was dependent on the king. Nepal was fairly closed off from the world: the king ran the television station, newspapers and every future was seen through the king’s eyes. And this old man said, ‘The king is dead. We are now the king.’

If we read today’s readings, if we realign our faith, our theology, our view of the world, if we reread and rethink every familiar Bible story in the light of that old man’s understanding, then we will find a new and different orientation and a completely different birthing process. The king is dead. We, we are now the king.

The gestation of the Jewish peoples has not been realised. Read again Isaiah’s vision and then walk out and have a look at the world. None of it has come to pass, or brought to birth. The Jews wait for Isaiah’s vision to be realised; they wait for a new king from the house of David, from the root of Jesse, they wait for one to come and bring that vision about.

The gestation of Christianity, brought to birth in Christ remains no more than an echo of one voice crying out in the wilderness, for it too waits. Both wait for a king. I don’t think that John the Baptist was just pointing to one, because we are the king. Isaiah gives us a pregnancy test. John the Baptist talks about our pregnancy, what we will bring to birth. What will come to birth if you read the vision is something completely new. It will bring about a changed world and a new creation. It will require and be creative of cultural shift, political shift, economic shift and a shift in our very faith. All of what we know we can let go of. Or we can with Jews and Christians around the world, sit and wait and hope that a new king will come and sort it out.

Advent is a time for pregnancy testing. Reread the readings as if they are talking about what we can participate in and bring to birth. And then ask of ourselves, are we pregnant? Are we pregnant or are we barren? Is there nothing in us seeking to be birthed? The whole movement of creation is our gestation, is what we will bring about. We choose our creation of tomorrow. We choose all that we participate in bringing to birth. Now is the time for us to test that for ourselves. And it’s a delightful thing to realise: all those old familiar stories don’t talk about Jesus at all, they talk about us.

In the manger at Christmas time see yourself. There is no little child from long ago and there is no little child to come. There is no king; we are the king, see ourselves in it. And suddenly the promise of Isaiah we find in our hands. It’s a much more empowering place to put it than to place it on a shelf and hope it will come to life one day.

Just one little thing, when you look for your pregnancy test kit, please don’t be embarrassed. Some people get so embarrassed they get them off the Net so no one will know. You can do it at home in the toilet, so not even the family know you’re engaged in it, and they’re now small enough that you can dispose of them so no one knows you have done it. Please don’t do it that way, for the danger is even if you discover you’re pregnant you won’t tell anyone. The way to discover your pregnancy is to ask others – I mean it does show, and if it’s not showing at the moment it will show. So just look around and please compliment each other on the size of the bump.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris<