Monday, December 21, 2015

Waiting with Mary

Painting in the church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador
Advent 4C, December 20, 2015
Luke 1:39-56
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Image result for candlelight christmas eve
Christmas is almost here- we’re down to less than a week. In preparing for our Christmas Eve worship, I’ve been talking with lots of you. For some of us, Christmas Eve traditions include gathering here for worship- some at 5, some at 10. Others of us will be far away, worshipping at other churches with family or friends. And others of us will be gathered with relatives for a Christmas gathering.
In all the conversations, I’ve noticed that there’s a deep joy in seeing loved ones and deep sadness when loved ones won’t be there. This is true all the time, but on Christmas Eve, that most special night, we want all our loved ones nearby, and we feel the joys and sorrows most keenly.
Image result for empty dinner tableOne mom who is happy that her children are coming home, but she’ll miss the one who won’t be there. There’s a widower who loves the sacredness of candlelight worship but can’t bring himself to come on Christmas Eve because it makes him remember his beloved wife. There are families with a sibling who just can’t or won’t show up. Some of us are that sibling who won’t be home. Whatever the circumstances, even if you are with all your loved ones and everyone is healthy, Christmas, like any day, is a mix of joy and sorrow.

See, the Holy Spirit will sprinkle magic peace dust everywhere!
Could we expect anything different from a story that begins with an unwed pregnant teenager? Somehow, we seem to think that the Advent promises of joy, peace, hope, and love will be fulfilled in the arrival of the Baby Jesus- and magically, all will be well. Jesus is born, now there will be peace on earth and goodwill to all. Mourning and crying will be no more, the lion and the lamb will lay down together, all is calm and bright. Oh, and the kids will stop squabbling, too.

Maybe it’s because the beautiful vision of that baby Jesus gives us amnesia about what comes just before that birth and then after, or maybe it’s because we are so desperate for that healing and peace that God promises in Jesus, but in the story, even though there is a little pause where people get the message and have great joy, peace is not often found.

Surrounding that little baby in the manger is a world of chaos: there’s the rocky engagement of Mary and Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem when Mary was big and pregnant, and the birth in less than ideal circumstances. To top it off, there’s a crazy king who feels threatened so he plots to kill a baby before he’s even born.
So if you are thinking of Christmas and realizing that it’s not going to be perfect? Welcome to the club. Yet even in the midst of the chaos, in all the plans gone wrong, in all the less than ideal, the baby is still born, the savior still comes. The angels still proclaim “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.” And Mary still ponders it all in her heart. But all that is yet to come. For now, we listen as Mary and Elizabeth greet each other, two women in less than ideal circumstances, yet filled with joy.

The Visitation, from the stained glass windows at Taize, France
As for us, we are called to rejoice in God’s faithfulness with Mary. We wait with the shepherds for the angels’ call. We wait with the Wise Men, watching the skies for signs of God’s guidance.  With Mary and Elizabeth, we wait for salvation and healing, we wait for joy, knowing that our journey to Christmas will not be easy or perfect, our hearts and feet will ache, and we will not always be joyful- nevertheless, wherever we may be on Christmas Eve, Immanuel will come, God with us. For out of Bethlehem of Ephrathah, the littlest of the clans, the dusty backwater town, a king will be born, birthed by an unwed teenager who was probably scared and uncertain and anything but ready. But the Babe is coming anyway. With Mary, let’s wait with expectant hope for the Prince of Peace. 

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