maternal longing…

I cannot escape pregnancy these days.
As blogger Traci Bianchi reminds us: The Christmas story is dripping with estrogen.
And not only that… but the Advent story as well.  As we wait for the coming of Christ once again, we are pregnant with hope and anticipation… we hear rumors of wars and feel the earth shaking and everything in turmoil and yet we are reminded in Mark 13:8 that all of these troubles are but the birth pangs of the new creation.
Pregnant, waiting, in pain, fleshy, joyful, anxious.
In our Wednesday evening Advent services we have been using a number of materials from The Work of the People.  The first two video reflections have both reminded us of just how incarnate God became.  As we heard the announcement to Mary of the child in her womb… we watched a woman in delivery, having contractions.  We watched her heavy breathing and her labored movements.  We saw the pained look on her face as the angel’s words came through… “Do not be afraid, Mary.”  “I am your servant” was her response .
I have seen sonogram images of friends who are newly expecting.  I received with immense joy the news that I would get to be an aunt again next summer.  As the holiday season has progressed I have held babies and changed diapers and comforted those who were crying.
And inside of me is stirred up a deep, deep longing.  The longing to be a mother, myself.
Sometimes Advent and Christmas come and go and we don’t feel any different, but I have found this year that my experience of the season has been deep and holy this year.  I have found that this longing to be a mother parallels my waiting for the coming Christ.
Maybe it brings the season into a sharper view, because I feel it so intensely.  So personally.  We’ve been waiting forever for the Messiah to come again and sometimes we let it slip into the background.  We get busy with our day to day lives and figure it will come when it comes.
But when another longing takes hold… we are reminded of what it feels like to truly wait.  To desire something so much. We are reminded that there are some things that we seek so much that it does consume our thoughts… it takes over those day to day activities.  It changes how we see the world.

I see babies everywhere these days.  I cannot help it.  My entire perspective has shifted.  I notice the glow on an expecting mothers face.  I watched those images of the woman in labor and heard the words of the angel speaking to Mary and I began to tear up.

But in the midst of my very personal, very selfish, biological clock going haywire… I also have looked around with eyes that see the pain in this world.  The hurt that so many experience.  And my inward longing has turned outward as I want so much for this whole creation to be set right, to be restored, to be made new.
On Twitter, the hashtag #waiting2010 has helped me to share those longings.  I join others in prayer as we waiting for the day when violence will end and disease will be no more.  We wait for the day when understanding will be the norm and when the Prince of Peace will rule.

My husband is not yet ready for kids.  He may never be. And if I am honest with myself, perhaps I’m not yet ready for the dramatic ways my life will be different when/if we bring someone into this world.  The simple fact is: for us, right now, the answer to the children question is, “no.”  That answer brings me great sadness.

And yet, in this season of longing and emptiness, in this season of waiting… I am turning towards those things that I can say yes to.  I can say yes to hope.  I can say yes to peace.  I can say yes to joy.  I can say yes to love.  I can reach out to others with my life and my actions and give all I have to them.

Maybe God has something in store for us.  Maybe being childless will help me minister in different ways.  Maybe my hopes and longings will be fulfilled.  All I know is that I wait. And I trust that God will be with me.  I am not afraid.

Quiet Christmas Morning

This has been a really difficult Advent and Christmas season for me.  It is the time of light and hope and joy and peace, but I’m not quite there yet.

I want to be there.  I long for the coming of true light and true hope-filled promises and true joy and true peace.  I guess I did much better in the Advent time of waiting and preparation than I am on this Christmas morning.   It’s quiet here, except for the wind rushing through the trees.  And it seems a little lonely and sad.  But for some reason, that suits how my spirit is.  I am immensely grateful that I’m not surrounded at this moment by the chaos of presents being opened and sqeals of joy.  That doesn’t exactly fit with my picture of the first Christmas anyways.

No, on that first Christmas… that first time that we celebrated the birth of this holy child… the first time God was worshipped in human form… was (to translate a little)… was in a dirty barn.  At least that’s how the story goes in Luke.  And it was just Mary and Joseph and the sheep and goats and cattle and birds in the rafters.  It probably smelled like shit… not evergreen. 

In the middle of the night, some shepherds rushed in.  They came from the fields and were dusty – but hey they fit right in.  And they walked in with their lanterns and sat down and told their story.  I imagine Mary and Joseph were terrified at first and though they were about to be robbed…. and then were amazed… and comforted that they weren’t crazy… that God really did have a purpose for this special child. 

And then the shepherds left. And it was quiet again.  Just Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child…. and the sheep and goats and cattle.

We don’t hear about angels visiting the holy family that first night.  We don’t hear about any other guests.  The wisemen probably didn’t appear until a year or two later.  It was on this night that the star appeared and they first started their quest. 

No, it was quiet, and dark, and probably cold and still.  Worship was a story of glorious revelation and quiet adoration of an infant.  Maybe some bread was shared. And when morning came – when the hustle and bustle of the world began again and that village woke up… I bet no one had any idea what had taken place. 

Mary and Joseph started over in Bethlehem… found a place to stay… and after some time had passed and the child started crawling and then teetering around some crazy dudes from the east showed up…. but that’s a story for another day.

My prayers are with all of you who are busy and chaotic this morning.  My prayers are with all of you who are alone for the first time in many years.  My prayers are with you who are always alone on this morning.  May we each find peace and joy and hope and love and light in some quiet corner of this morning.  And may we remember that first Christmas.

Praying for Peace

I’ve been thinking a lot about peace lately.

I’ve been praying a lot FOR peace lately.

While this isn’t a family that is facing conflict – many of you know that there is conflict in my family. I am wrestling with the distractions that it brings and must admit that there are days it is all I think about. I wish that there could be some kind of reconciliation or forgiveness between family members, but at the same time I deal with my own hurts and betrayals and wonder if I can forgive. My desire for my grace and healing and yet my holding of grudges and pain are incompatible. They war within me. And all I can do right now is pray for peace.
And then there is another struggle between war and peace that is a reality for us all.

A couple of weeks ago, our president spoke before the nation and an audience at West Point to announce a surge in military personnel in Afghanistan. This on the heels of being named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

The two are in so many ways incompatible. From his acceptance speech in Oslo, Obama himself stated:

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
Some in this congregation have relatives who are serving our country right now in other nations. Others of you have friends and neighbors that they have said goodbye to far too many times. Many of you have lived through wars and have the memories of sacrifice and bloodshed ingrained deep within your souls.

The reflections of Steve Goodier have been very helpful to me this week and he includes the letter of a man who was serving on a ship anchored in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. Navy chief radioman Walter G. Germann was writing to his son to tell him that the formal surrender of Japan would soon be signed. “When you get a little older you may think war to be a great adventure take it from me, its the most horrible thing ever done by (humans),” he wrote. “Ill be home this Christmas…”

That man knew – as so many of you do – that peace is hard to come by. And even though he would be coming home for Christmas to a world at peace – he wasn’t at all sure if the ends justified the means. He, like many who serve our nation, probably came home broken on the inside – at war with himself as he tried to justify his actions in battle and the horrors he had seen.

I think of the letter of that man, who saw the day of peace dimming brightly in his future, and then I think of the faces of all of the young men and women who were in the audience for President Obama’s speech at West Point – men and women for whom the future is cloudy.

There is not one among us who doesn’t long for peace. And we are unsure whether what we are doing as a nation will get us there. We pray it will. We hope that peace and stability will come quickly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We want our sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and fathers and mothers and neighbors to come home. We watch another Christmas come and go without peace.

As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote at Christmas in 1942, “I could no more say to you a Merry Christmas without feeling a catch in my throat than I could fly to the moon!” We look around us at families with a loved one missing and we recognize that as long as there is war – there will not be peace.

This week, I read from Luke’s gospel the story of Mary going to greet her cousin. I was amazed with how Elizabeth recognized that the child in her cousin’s womb was the longing of all Israel. She was absolutely overjoyed…. and in her joy and in Mary’s song they recognized that the promise from Micah – the promise of the one of peace – was being fulfilled.

Our hearts in contrast… are jaded and worn and disappointed.

The strange counterpoint of the Nobel Peace Prize and our current wars that tells us we cannot look for peace to come from any national leader.

There was no triumphant singing after Obama’s West Point speech… and while there may have been music in Oslo at the Nobel ceremonies, Obama’s own speech tempered any bit of joy and celebration. It has been a sobering reminder that they are not our saviors and that true peace only comes through Christ. No matter the obeisance paid to our president, he is not the one we are waiting for. He, nor any other leader within our world, is not our savior. He is not the Prince of Peace.

No, We are waiting for another.

The prophet Micah describes this one in this way:

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5:4-5)

Mary and Elizabeth and the child in Elizabeth’s womb cannot contain their joy as they encounter this promise of God – yet unborn. They have been longing and waiting and hoping for so long.

As Elizabeth greets and praises her cousin, she exclaims: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

Blessed is she who not only believed in a miraculous birth… but blessed is she who believes that this child is the fulfillment of what God has promised.

Blessed are we who hope and pray and wait and believe in what God has promised.

I know that it is hard to do. We live in a world of cynicism and violence, a world of confusion and hatred.

And yet, we come together as people of faith and we light the fourth candle on the advent wreath because we dare to believe that the Prince of Peace will reign.

We dare to hope that there will be day when nation will not rise up against nation.

We dare to wait for the day when the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up.

Steve Goodier, also tells the story of a monument in Hiroshimas Peace Park. This particular monument is in memory of a young girl who died from radiation-induced lukemia after the dropping of the bomb. After hearing a legend that a person who makes 1000 cranes will have their wish granted, she tried to fold 1000 paper cranes. As Steve tells it, “with each crane she wished that she would recover from her illness. She folded 644 cranes before she left this life.” The monument in memory of this young girl named Sadako reads: This is our cry, This is our prayer, Peace in the world.

Now as much as ever, our cry is for peace in the world.

That might be peace in Afghanistan, or peace between you and your neighbors. It might be peace among loved ones, or peace between you and your inner thoughts.
In this season of Advent, we stand in the face of war and suffering and distress and we look for the coming of peace. We stand like Elizabeth, pregnant with hope, that God’s promises are real.
The reality that we long for this and every Advent – The miracle that we wait for this and every Christmas – is that we might wake up one morning and run outside to discover that God is with us – Emmanuel – and that the Prince of Peace rules the earth.

the one we are waiting for

A couple of weeks ago, our president spoke before the nation and an audience at West Point to announce a surge in military personnel in Afghanistan.  This on the heels of being named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  And only a week before Barack Obama accepted the prize in Oslo.

The two are in so many ways incompatible. From his speech, Obama himself stated:
Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

Some in my congregation have relatives who are serving our country.  Others have friends that they have said goodbye to far too many times. Many in my congregation have lived through wars and have the memories of sacrifice and bloodshed ingrained deep within their souls.
There is not one among us who doesn’t long for peace. And we are unsure if what we are doing as a nation will get us there.  We pray it will.  We hope that peace and stability will come quickly. We want our sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and fathers and mothers and neighbors to come home.

But I think what the counterpoint of the Nobel Peace Prize and our current wars tells us is that we should not look for peace from a national leader. No matter the obesience paid to our president, he is not the one we are waiting for.  He, nor any other leader within our world today, is our savior.  He is not the Prince of Peace.

We are waiting for another.

The prophet Micah describes him in this way:

And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5:4-5)

Mary and Elizabeth and the child in Elizabeth’s womb cannot contain their joy as they encounter this promise of God – yet unborn.  They have been longing and waiting and hoping for so long.

As Elizabeth greets and praises her cousin, she exclaims: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

Blessed is she who not only believed in a miraculous birth… but blessed is she who believes that this child is the fulfillment of what God has promised. Blessed are we who hope and pray and wait and believe in what God has promised.

In a world of cynicism and violence, a world of confusion and hatred, we still dare to believe that the Prince of Peace will reign. We dare to hope that nation will not rise up against nation.  We dare to wait for the day when the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up.

Steve Goodier tells the story of a monument in Hiroshimas Peace Park. It is in memory of a young girl who died from radiation-induced lukemia after the dropping of the bomb and who tried to fold 1000 paper cranes before her death.  The monument reads:  This is our cry, This is our prayer, Peace in the world.

Now as much as ever, our cry is for peace in the world.  And in this season of Advent, we stand in the face of war and suffering and we look for the coming of peace.  We accept nothing short of peace.  And we firmly believe that one is coming that will make our prayers a reality.

Good Tidings of Great Joy!

While the Advent journey takes us through an emotional rollercoaster of joy, fear, humility, and anticipation, there is no other emotion to guide the days after Christmas than pure celebration. Each of the readings for this Sunday call us to take a deep breath of relief, to look around at the beauty of what God has done, and to simply enjoy it.

We have waited patiently for four weeks in this season of Advent and in these fast paced days, a month may seem like an eternity.

But our scriptures from Luke for this Sunday tell us of two people who had been waiting their whole lifetimes for the birth of Christ and then who absolutely couldn’t keep silent when they encountered the Christ-child.

First of all, a little background about why Mary and Joseph and the newly born Jesus find themselves in Jerusalem in our gospel reading this morning. This probably would have been the second trip that the trio would have made into the holy city – first in order to name their child and to have him circumcised eight days after his birth, and then this second trip – in order for Mary to be purified after the birth according to the law. In the book of Leviticus, the law proclaims that any woman who has given birth would be ceremonially unclean – or unable to worship at the temple or to touch holy things, for 33 days if the child born was a boy, or 66 days if the newly born baby was a girl. While this may seem to be strange – it was actually probably a welcome time of rest and a chance for the new mother and child to bond in peace and quiet.

But then after that time, the family would come to the temple to make the required offering. Families who could afford to do so would bring a lamb, but Mary and Joseph were only able to bring a pair of small birds as their gift to God.

These trips back and forth, all of this pomp and ceremony, were actually very normal, really, expected parts of what it meant to have a baby. Mothers and fathers and infants would have been a common sight around the temple as they marked this important time of their lives in God’s presence.

But in the midst of other mothers and fathers and babies – Luke tells us that two wise old saints- Anna and Simeon – picked this unlikely trio out of the crowd and knew that they were something special.

Perhaps it was the fact that Anna and Simeon had been waiting for such a long time to see the Messiah. Perhaps they were just more in tune with the power of the Holy Spirit after lifetimes of faithful service to God. Or maybe they just allowed themselves to be overcome by the joy of the moment and couldn’t help but be silent. In any case, both Anna and Simeon rushed to the new parents and their infant son, God-in-the-flesh, and gave praise to God.

Simeon was a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit, and long ago a promise was made to him that he would not see death until the Messiah had come. Most people were looking for a leader to rise above the people – a powerful and spiritual figure. But when this infant child crossed his path, Simeon knew that the promise had been fulfilled. He understood that this child would grow to become not just a light of revelation to his Jewish brothers and sisters, but would be the light of salvation to all the world. And the Holy Spirit helped him to understand that this path to salvation would be a heart-breaking journey for Mary and Joseph, but also for God. Now that he had seen the Messiah, he could pass from this world in peace.

Anna was a prophetess, a woman of God who spent her life worshipping God through fasting and prayer in the temple. It is likely that she had served God in this capacity for nearly sixty years of her lifetime! In those sixty years, surely many babies had passed before her eyes. And while we don’t know of anything particularly special about the way the infant Christ looked, something about this month old child caught Anna’s eye. Her heart was filled with joy and Luke writes that she began to tell the story of this amazing child to everyone that was looking for redemption and hope in the city of Jerusalem. Hope has come! Light has entered our midst! was likely her cry.

She may have been eighty-four years old, but she wasn’t going to let anything stop her from sharing what she had experienced. Maybe she thought in the back of her mind of our text from Isaiah today: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.” Her years of prayerful anticipation had been answered, and now she simply couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

My question for all of you this morning is simple. If an eighty-four year old woman and a dying old man can share the joy of this birth with all of those around her—why aren’t we?

This morning, I want to give us all the opportunity to share, to announce, to celebrate, how God has entered our midst in this Christmas season. You can do this through sharing a story of something that has happened to you or your family this Christmas, through calling out a favorite Christmas carol that helps you to celebrate the good news of God, or even just by saying something that you are thankful for, or something that you are still praying for this Christmas season….

But on this Christmas Sunday – let each one of us open our mouths to proclaim good tidings of great joy…

Let it Be with Me…

This is our fourth week of waiting for that coming of Christ – and we are so close we can almost taste it! We are ready for the heavenly choirs of angels mingling with the smelly shepherds in the field, for the time when wise men led by celestial signs witness the fragility of an infant of a manger. It is a season of holy anticipation – not for experiences beyond this world, but ones that are embodied in things that we can touch and feel, live and breathe. We are getting ready for God to take on human flesh in our midst!

This morning, we get to hear the beautiful telling of the annunciation – the announcement ! – in Luke’s gospel this morning. The angel Gabriel appears and proclaims Mary to be favored in God’s eyes – blessed among all woman – for she will bear a child who will be called the Son of God. And Mary, for her part, asks but one question: How will this happen? And then responds with that very familiar statement: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Maybe this is because for over half of my life I have heard this story as a child – but Mary has always been in my mind a wise and beautiful woman, full of the grace of God and ready to face any challenge that might come her way. She is filled with a maturity that to me has always belied her age. She seems so much older than me, so much more ready to accept God’s joyful burden, and yet- Mary was probably no more than fourteen or fifteen years old when the angel Gabriel stood before her.

Fourteen or Fifteen years old! For nearly half of my life I have been OLDER that this amazing young woman who said yes to the impossible.

Now, granted, Mary was living in a world of prearranged marriages and was likely promised to her husband-to-be, Joseph, for many years. Young women would have been married and having children by the age of eighteen to be sure. But it was also a world where a woman’s only education would have been in the home, a world of Jewish faithful living under a Roman occupation, a time of darkness and poverty, disappointment and despair.

We witness her willingness to accept the burden that God is bestowing upon her. We hear her song of praise to the God who has come to her, a lowly servant. “Let it be with me according to your word.” And we forget how difficult it must have been to not only accept this joyful burden with those words, but to carry that joyful burden in her life.

Because of the nature of Christmas, we hear the annunciation on Sunday, and by Wednesday evening we have a beautiful, bouncing, baby boy in a manger. There is so much we skip in these precious few days before Christmas… and in part, we skip this part of the story because we do not know what happened. The scriptures leave us to fill in the blanks.

We are told in the gospel of Matthew that Joseph probably would have quietly broken off the engagement had not an angel of the Lord intervened. Thank God for angels.

Mary would have still been living with her parents at this time, but we don’t know how they responded. I can tell you that it was customary to send an unwed mother off to live with distant relatives, so as not to shame the family… perhaps this is the cause of Mary’s hasty trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth after the angel Gabriel appeared. Elizabeth, herself, was overjoyed to greet Mary and her unborn child – yet Elizabeth was also in on the secret of this divine birth and was in the middle of her own miraculous pregnancy. Her husband Zechariah wasn’t so sure… at least not at first.

With the exception of these two, we don’t know how the rest of the family responded, or how her community responded. A young woman, still unmarried, becomes pregnant and the people are supposed to…what? Celebrate? Extol her virtues? Even if Mary told everyone that it was the Son of God in her womb, who would have believed her?

I think that this is an important part of the story that we miss, because if she wasn’t believed, and if she wasn’t protected, Mary would likely have been stoned for adultery. And yet, it is precisely in this vulnerable and difficult experience that we come to understand that Christmas as the celebration of God entering the world, not to condemn it, but to redeem it.

Christ comes into this world not to condemn it, but to redeem it.

Two thousand some years ago, a young woman, a girl really, said “yes” to God’s invitation – and just look at how the world has changed. But then, if you think about it, that is how God has been working all along. It is how God has always changed the world.

From the very beginning, the people of God were transformed and moved along and inspired by ordinary nobodies who hesitantly said “yes” to God. Think of the poor nomad Abram, think of the murderer Moses, think of the shepherd boy David.

Each of them, in their own way, said “let it be with me according to your word.” And they opened themselves up to God’s will in their lives. They followed his call. They tried to live obediently. And God accomplished amazing things through them. That is how God works.

Does that mean it was easy? No. Does it mean that they faced straight paths with no obstacles? No. Does it mean that they found perfect happiness? No.

Think again of our young Mary. She would have to struggle to protect her child from the slaughter of infants by fleeing to the foreign land of Egypt. And then she would live to see her own son crucified by the Romans. There was no way of knowing when she said “yes” to God that this would be the course her life would take. But still she said, “let it be with me according to your word.”

We look back, and perhaps we are thankful that we have not been faced with such a momentous decision. We are thankful that we do not face persecution because of our faith. We are glad that God did all of that work a long time ago, so that we can now enjoy this life that we have in Christ.

The Gospel of John reminds us that:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word came and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

The Word came and lived among us. God took on flesh – God worked through human lives, God’s will was embodied in the small “yeses” of many insignificant people. And the world was changed.

But you know, right now, in this season of Advent, we are not only preparing to celebrate what happened in the birth of Christ 2000 years ago, we are also preparing for Christ to come again – we are getting ready for the new thing that God is about to do in our midst.

And the question I want us to really ponder today, is what would it mean for the call of God to ring out again? How would we respond, if we, as ordinary people not unlike Mary or Joseph, or Moses or David, we asked to say yes. Not as some kind of temporary commitment, like a new years resolution that we make today and forget about tomorrow, but in a real and powerful way?

What would it mean for us to stand here, fully and openly before our God and say, “let it be with us according to your word.”?

Are you ready, are you prepared for something new to be born within your spirit? Within this community? Are we ready for Christ to enter our midst, our hearts? Does that idea terrify you?

You know what. It terrifies me a little bit. Because I hear that call of God all the time. I hear that call of God challenging me and challenging us to really and truly take the plunge, to hand our lives over to God’s will.

I hear God calling us to stop being simply Sunday Christians, or even, every other Sunday Christians, and to fully let the Word of God dwell in our hearts every single day.

I hear God challenging us to take risks and to put ourselves on the line as we go out into the world to be the hands and feet of Christ. I hear God urging us to say yes, because God doesn’t want to change the world without us.

And what is so hard, what is so scary, is that saying yes means everything will change. The kind of transformation that God wants to see in this world – the kind of redemption that God is continuing to bring about is only possible if we leave behind everything that we know and follow.

The reason that we haven’t fully said yes in the past is because we keep assuming the path will be easy. We keep hoping that whatever comes our way won’t involve some kind of radical change. We want to believe that we are already living the way we are supposed to and that not too much more will be required.

I can guarantee you – that is not the case.

Everything changed for Abram. Everything changed for Moses. Everything changed for David. Everything changed for Mary. Everything changed for every single one of those disciples who put down their nets and their tax bags and decided to follow Christ.

But you know what… they didn’t have to do it alone. And when someday, we find the courage to say yes to God, we will not be left on our own either.

As the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, one of the first things that he whispered in her ear was: “Do not be afraid.”

The words of that hymn we have used quite often – “You are Mine,” seem to express the words of encouragement that might have helped Mary find the strength to accept this blessing in her life, in spite of the difficulty, in spite of the whispers behind her back, in spite of the long hard road ahead. “Do not be afraid, I am with you… I love you and you are mine.”

No, we will not be left to our own devices when the time comes and the call is given. Because while God freely chooses to use ordinary people to accomplish his will – God also gives us everything that we need.

That is what grace is all about. That is what love is all about.

During this time of year, there are goodies everywhere. My sister-in-law loves to bake, but she also really wants to involve her children in the process. Now, Cami and Xander are 3 and 7 respectively, and so there is only so much that they can do as children in the kitchen, but Bevin tries hard to include them nonetheless. She calls them each into the kitchen, gives them various small tasks to do, and pretty soon, before they know it, they have made a beautiful and delicious masterpiece.

In many ways, that is how God works. God wants so much for this world to be transformed, but he also loves us so much that he lets us in on the secret, wants to teach us the recipe, and hopes that we will want to help out where we can. So little by little, we are charged with the task of redeeming this creation. Little by little, we do what we can. Little by little, God helps us along. Like a loving parent, God will not leave us on our own to burn ourselves, or let us be with a sharp knife, but carefully, painstakingly, helps us to navigate through the dangers. God molds us, supports us, guides us and leads us.

Don’t be afraid. I love you. I will see you through this. You are mine and I am never letting you go.

Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and say yes? Have we spent enough time preparing? Have we put off the call long enough?

In three days, we will come together again in celebration and joy for the birth of the Christ child. May these days of waiting and anticipation help us to get ready for Christ to be born in our hearts. May these days help us to be able to say, “Yes, Lord, Let it be with us according to your will.”

Lectionary Leanings – Let It Be With Me

cozzolino: madonna del magnificat
Here is the fourth installment of my article for the Circuit Rider online:

December 21
II Sam. 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:47-55 or Ps. 89:1-4, 19-26 , Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

We read the beautiful telling of the annunciation in Luke’s gospel and imagine Mary as a mature, wise young woman, full of the grace of God and ready to face any challenge that might come her way. We witness her willingness to accept the burden (or joy) that God is bestowing upon her. We hear her song of praise to the God who has come to her, a lowly servant. And perhaps in light of our contemporary visions of teen pregnancy through such movies as “Juno,” “Saved,” and television shows like “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” we are ready for the happy ending and to find out how it all works out in the end.

In doing so, we skip over the part about what a struggle it must have been for Mary in her pregnancy. How was she treated by her family? We are told in the gospel of Matthew that Joseph probably would have quietly broken off the engagement had not an angel of the Lord intervened. Her kinswoman Elizabeth was overjoyed to greet Mary and her unborn child – yet Elizabeth was also in on the secret of this divine birth and was in the middle of her own miraculous pregnancy. With the exception of these two, we don’t know how the rest of the family responded, or how her community responded. A young woman, still unmarried, becomes pregnant and the people are supposed to…what? Celebrate? Extol her virtues? Even if Mary told everyone that it was the Son of God in her womb, who would have believed her?

Luke gives us Mary’s song, commonly known as the Magnificat, precisely because it is the cry of a woman, or a people, waiting for liberation. It is the song of someone who has nothing left to lean on but God alone and whose sole trust lies in the promises of the scriptures. She sings as if the promise has already been fulfilled, “He has scattered the proud… He has brought down the powerful… he has filled the hungry.” Yet in her reality, life was still hard and the promise was still waiting. Mary’s joy is not the happy emotion of someone leading a perfect life, but the true joy that comes only from communion with the most holy God. It is the outpouring of emotion that comes only from surviving oppression and affliction and adversity.

As the angel appeared to Mary, he offered her comfort: “Do not be afraid,” the angel whispered in her ear. The words of the hymn, “You are Mine,” seem to express the words of encouragement that might have helped Mary find the strength to accept this blessing in her life, in spite of the difficulty, in spite of the whispers behind her back, in spite of the stigmas that would be attached. “Do not be afraid, I am with you… I love you and you are mine.”