In my margin notes I wrote, “How comforting to hear an incarnation every week.” And comfort it was until all of the sudden it was my responsibility to be the preacher picking out the human words to clothe the word of God.
Last semester I was “in class” cozying up in my recliner chair with a warm cup of coffee when I was presented with, for the first time, the theology of preaching. My professor at Western Theological Seminary, Dr. Sue Rozeboom, had assigned a reading by Dr. Leann Van Dyk in which she explained that in the preaching of the Word we witness a little incarnation moment. Dr. Van Dyk articulated: “the preacher receives God’s word, clothes it in human words, and proclaims to the world God’s eternal Word.” In my margin notes I wrote, “How comforting to hear an incarnation every week.” And comfort it was until all of the sudden it was my responsibility to be the preacher picking out the human words to clothe the word of God.
As I prepared to fulfill the seminary’s requirement to preach that semester, I felt equipped by my studies, comforted in knowing my calling, and encouraged that I would get to preach for the first time in a congregation that knows and loves me well. The mechanics of preparing the sermon came as naturally as making a favorite recipe for my family.
But as the first Sunday of Advent approached, the weight of incarnation responsibility began to pound in my heart. I agonized over every word that I had written and spent a whole week practicing the delivery. Fittingly, I was preaching on Mary’s labor with Christ our Lord (the first in a sermon series from Reformed Worship). I too was laboring in a way, over speaking Christ to the people of God. Saturday night I went to the sanctuary for one final rehearsal. I called out to God: “Please, just please, empty any hint of me in these words!” And then I was at rest. The following morning, I knew the Spirit was with me as I danced through the choreography that I had practiced all week. I shared grace, and grace was shared with me.
So it came as a surprise to my husband, an ordained minister and phenomenal preacher himself, when I crumpled into tears as he gave me a hug in our kitchen after we got home from church. I was ugly crying all over the room. “Why me?” were the only words that I could manage to get out. Part of my reaction was the Spirit-incited humility: how and why would our good God use me, broken and flawed, as a mouthpiece? The other part of my reaction was historical: It was not until my college years that I discovered God could even call women to be preachers and pastors. How far from my confining childhood faith had the Spirit brought me? I cried for an hour and then collapsed for the obligatory Sunday afternoon nap.
The Reformed tradition historically gives the preaching of the Word a central place in worship; those who do the preaching then should treat it with reverence, birthing into a holy space the word of the Lord. And after that labor let us exhale: “Thanks be to God”.