Tag Archives: Mary

A Sermon for Christmas Eve – Holding God in her Arms

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

As Mary watched the rocky road pass by underneath her, she noticed that she could no longer  see her feet over her growing belly. Despite having having known lots of pregnant women in her short life, and seeing how big they got, it was different, very different when it was your body. She put her hand down to feel the baby within her.

And then she bounced. She was sitting in back of a fabric merchant’s donkey cart.  The folded cloths and furs she was sitting on provided some cushion, but the road was rough and the cart was stiff.

She looked over at her husband Joseph walking beside the cart. Joseph used some of the little money he had to pay for Mary’s seat, she had only been able to walk for a couple of hours before it became clear that she would not be making the trip on her own power.

Mary watched Joseph as he walked. He was tired but he easily kept pace with the cart. The days of travel behind them hadn’t slowed him down. Jospeh was preoccupied… he had a lot on his mind. This long journey, their recent wedding, Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. Mary knew that her new husband was still sorting it all out.

She was too. This was not how she thought her life would turn out. Well, the pregnancy part. She knew that she was destined for marriage and motherhood… that was her lot in life. But despite her unplanned pregnancy, announced to her in an extraordinary way, things could have been much worse. Joseph could have walked away from her, but he didn’t. But they still had this child between them… and neither knew what that was going to mean for their future.

Mary looked past Jospeh and around her. The highway that they traveled down was busy. The two of them were among the many pilgrims criss-crossing the Judean country side going to their home cities and towns to be registered. The Roman occupiers had order it, and now the whole world seemed to be in chaos with people having to travel all over.

Joseph had to return to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Af first, he wanted to make the trip alone, but Mary had insisted on coming along, despite being very pregnant. She didn’t want to have her baby without him… he was the only one who knew the whole story.

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Bethlehem was bustling full of people returning home for the census. It was a small town outside of Jerusalem, and it was here that the mighty King David had grown up. His battle with Goliath had been not too far from here. Joseph was born into the prestigious tribe of David, not that it seemed to help him much, as he still had to work as hard as any other carpenter.

Joseph and Mary were hoping to stay with Joseph’s relatives. He still had cousins here. But even as he stopped at each home of relatives that he could remember from his childhood, he could see that this plan wouldn’t work for they were already full of family coming home for the census. Joseph seemed lost. Mary suggested they try the local Inn. It wasn’t much more than someone’s home. The owner told them he was full too.

Then he saw Mary’s large belly and told the couple to wait.

He took them around back… behind this section of the city was large outcropping of rocks. There was a cave just behind the Inn, some livestock milled about the cave entrance. Joseph stopped and proudly shook his head, he wasn’t going to sleep with the animals. But Mary waddled over to a spot that looked comfortable enough in the straw and sat down, her feet hurt. She wasn’t going any further, so Joseph swallowed his pride. They would have to make due here.

It wasn’t long after falling asleep that Mary woke up to the pain of a contraction. Her clothes were wet, as her water had broken. She shook Joseph awake, he wanted to go and get the Innkeeper’s wife, but Mary wouldn’t let go of him.

So throughout the night, the two stayed together. Mary leaned against her husband for what felt like days and days. The contractions came regularly and often. Early in the morning, when the Innkeepr came to water the animals he found the two in the midst of Mary’s end stages of labour. He ran and got his wife.

She came with swaddling cloths and hot stones. The Innkeeper’s wife checked to see if Mary was ready, she told Mary it was soon time to begin pushing.

Mary was exhausted, but like so many woman before her, she found the strength when she needed it. She held on to Joseph, his body serving as pillow, arm rests and head board.

The Innkeeper’s wife told Mary that one more big push was needed.

And then, just like that a newborn baby’s cries pierced the dark night.

The squirming wiggling crying newborn came gushing into the world. The Innkeepr picked up the baby boy, looked into his eyes and smiled. She handed the baby to Mary, who was overwhelmed with joy. She received her little boy against her body, who snuggled up to her knowing right away that this was his mother.

Mary gazed at her son, this child that had part of her body for the past 9 months who was now out in the real world. She was amazed at this sight, this child now here with them. Joseph looked down over her shoulder. He was transfixed. The uncertain look on his face from their long journey was gone. Joseph looked like a proud father. The new family of three sat together, finally having a moment to relax for the first time in days.

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Joseph woke up to the sounds of voices come from over the hills. Mary and the baby slept snuggled together, the baby was now wrapped in swaddling cloths. The Innkeeper’s wife must have cleaned and wrap the baby while Mary and Joseph slept.

The voices were shepherds coming in from the fields to the animals pens. Joseph stood up to watch the shepherd and flocks in the early dawn. As the sheep crowded into the pen, a few of the shepherds came right to the cave.

Joseph wasn’t sure what they would want… maybe he and Mary would have to move. He got set to plead their case, but the shepherds stopped before coming into the cave. They simply knelt at the cave entrance… almost as if they were praying.

Joseph stood there in wonder, how did these shepherds know?

As the baby squirmed against her body, Mary woke to the voices coming near to the cave. She slowly and carefully pulled herself off of the ground. The voices were coming closer. Carefully and deliberately she made her way to the entrance… there she could see a group of shepherds kneeling in prayer. She brushed past Joseph.

As she carried the baby, out into the open night, a few of the shepherd’s gasped.

“Its true! They child is here.”

One by one the shepherds came and knelt before her and the baby. And then without another word they quietly left and following the night sky back into the fields.

As Mary watched them go, Joseph finally came out of the cave. He came and wrapped Mary and the baby in his arms. As the first signs of sun light danced across the sky, he could see the face of this little baby that his and Mary’s life had been centred around for months now.

Their son looked like any other baby they had known… even though it wasn’t his, Jospeh knew that he would be this child’s father.

But as Mary gazed into the eyes of her newborn son, she whispered his name for the first time.

“Jesus”

She looked at Jospeh,

“His name is Jesus.”

And somewhere in this wiggling gurgling creature, in those newborn eyes and ears, in his wrinkly nose and soft newborn skin… the divine was present. Just as the Angel had promised.

A baby who carried the divine in flesh. A baby who bridged the gap between creator and creation. A baby who united a world longing for salvation with the one who was sent to save. A baby who was the promise of God embodied, the promise of God fulfilled.

It was hard to fathom. When Mary looked at her son she saw just a baby in one moment, and in the next it felt like she could see all things, all creation contained in flesh.

She remembered the stories the Torah, that usually when human beings gazed upon God they died because they could not stand something so holy. And yet here she was, holding God in her arms. God who had grown and been born of her body.

A little helpless child containing God in a human body. The God of Israel, the God of all creation. The Messiah promised for generations upon generations. Here in Mary’s arms. Here in this forgotten place that hardly anyone knew was the one who had come to save the world.

Here was Jesus – God with us.

Glory to God in the highest indeed.

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Mary’s story is our story

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (Read the whole passage)

Stir up your power Lord Christ and come.

Four Candles are finally lit today, and it isn’t long until that central Christ Candle is lit. Advent, as it always, starts by talking about the end, and then giving us two weeks to hear John the Baptists’s preaching about the coming of Messiah. But isn’t until Advent 4 that we get a story the feels like it belongs to the season… or least it isn’t until this Sunday that we hear a story seems to move forward our desire to roll the calendar over to Christmas.

And with the unusual experience of Advent concluding this morning and Christmas beginning this evening, we get a true mixed experience today.

But before we can bust out the carols and presents, Advent needs to give us our last reminder of what it means to wait for Messiah, a qualifier for our celebration of Christmas.

Just in case we think the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary is a Christmas story, we are reminded today that it is an Advent story. And quite the Advent story it is. We hear this story of Gabriel and Mary and it is easy to imagine a young grade schooler wrapped in a bath robe and shawl, woodenly reading lines as she receives the news that she is pregnant. The pageant version of this story is the one we easily imagine, but certainly unlike the moment when most women find out they are pregnant.

It is easy to imagine the young virgin, meek and mild, humbly and graciously receiving the angel’s news. It is natural to picture the made for TV Christmas movie version of the story, the version where there is no doubt that whatever tension presents itself in the story everything will turn out in the end. The idyllic nativity sets confirm this. The nostalgia laced Christmas greeting cards confirm this.

And yet, the actual story was anything but idyllic.

The story of Gabriel’s annunciation is a story in the real and messy world. A story that is less made for TV movie or Christmas pageant, and more real life stuff that usually happens in the privacy of our personal lives.

When Gabriel told the young Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, it was likely not welcome news. Mary’s life plan was certainly different than this development.

In Mary’s world, women had few options. Marriage and motherhood was the ideal, a woman’s worth was in the ability of her body to give sons to her husband. Sons to carry on their father’s lineage who would also be the retirement plan for most women, someone to care for them once their husband died.

Yet, if a woman couldn’t provide children, or couldn’t reliably provide children that belong to her husband because she wasn’t virgin before marriage… well that likely meant divorce and being tossed onto the streets. Pregnancy outside of marriage meant becoming a single mother living on the streets in the best case, execution by stoning at worst.

And so as Gabriel announces this news to Mary, she is right to be much perplexed. This just about the worst thing that could happen to a young unmarried woman. Hardly the stuff we think about during the Christmas pageant. This is messy and real life. This is the kind of stuff that many of us had to deal with – life altering changes of course,

This is kind of stuff that we know all too well in life. Things that happen to us beyond our control that change the entire course of our lives. Things like job loss, death of a loved one, separation, diagnosis of an illness or unplanned pregnancy…. The most difficult life altering parts of our lives that require all we have just to keep it together.

Mary’s story is a real life story, a story about the messiness of life.

But it also the story of God finding us in the mess, in the struggle, in the realness.

Long before the angel interrupts Mary’s life plan with news of her pregnancy, Mary lived in a world where she was less of a human and more of a piece of property or livestock, where her marriage was likely arranged by her family as they were making a business deal. And of course there was the messiness of her own people and culture that was compounded by the fact that they all lived under Roman occupation.

Yet, when the Angel first greets Mary, the Angel says, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

Right from the very beginning, God does something new and unexpected with Mary. God determines her worth and value before anything else. Mary is favoured by God. Not because she is a fertile body waiting to be impregnated. Not because she will bear the Messiah. But simply because she is herself.

Greetings favoured one!

And then God gives Mary a purpose, she will be the one who will bear Messiah to the world. In a twist of irony, by choosing Mary to do the one thing that her world values her for, bear children, God takes away her cultural and social value. And instead, God imbues her with divine value. She is favoured because God has said so, and God then gives her a purpose in bearing the Messiah. God establishes her value and then gives her a purpose, opposite of the way her world works – where value is only given if one produces something considered valuable.

Right from the beginning of the story, God is at work doing something new, transforming Mary’s life in unexpected ways.

God is at work in Mary’s real story, her messy, struggled filled story.
And remarkable as Mary’s real life story is, it is not special.
Because Mary’s story is a universal story, it is our story.

God has a way of finding us in the midst of our messy, struggled filled and very real lives too.

God finds us in the middle of real life, and breaks through all the things around us that would tell us our value is based on what we can do in the world…

God breaks through all the things that would tell us we are barely more than things that can be owned and that which is less than human.
God breaks through to us, and declares that we too are favoured.
God breaks through and says that the Lord is with us.

As we gather round the font of baptism, God sends a message to us, given through divine messengers – Angels, you could say – but truly the Church, the body of Christ.

The church, through whom God speaks, to each new member among us:

You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

And as we welcome the newly baptized among us we say:

We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share:
join us in giving thanks and praise to God
and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.

Join us in bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world, just as Mary, Mary the God bearer did.

Just as the Angel, the divine Messenger, tells Mary that she will bear a son, the son of God – that she will bear the Christ, the Christ who is the Word…

God tells us the same.

God declares that we are favoured, that we are marked with the cross.

And that God us will use to bear the word, Christ who is the word, to the whole world.

So you see, Mary’s story is not truly a pageant story or made for TV Christmas story.

It is a real story.

It is our story.

Today, as Advent takes us through the final parts of the story, the ones that lead us to Christmas, we are reminded that this is a real story. A messy story. A story more like our lives than the nostalgia so prevalent this time of year.

And it is real because it is the story of God’s breaking into our lives. Breaking into our mess in order to bring Messiah, the Word, the Son.

In order for Christ to come and take flesh among us.

So, stir up your power Lord Christ and come.

Anointing Jesus’ Feet – The Smell of Death

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

It must have been almost hard to breathe.

The smell of the perfume as it filled the room. It would have overwhelmed the noses of all present at the celebratory meal. We all know someone who wears too much perfume, whether its that strange aunt in the family, or lately it seems to be teenage boys wearing too much body spray cologne. Smells can overpower us like no other sense can. And certain scents can trigger memories like nothing else. They can remind us more powerfully than a picture of past events, places or persons. The smell of chlorine can take you right back to that first time swimming in an indoor pool. Or the smell of pine trees can take you back to beloved Christmas memories.

The smell today, the perfume that anoints Jesus’ feet cannot be taken lightly or be overlooked. A pound of perfume is not a delicate scent, and that seems to be Mary’s point. On this day, Jesus, his good friend Lazarus, and the disciples are being treated to a celebratory meal. Lazarus has been raised from the dead and this is the first time that Mary, Martha and Lazarus have seen Jesus since the miracle. Martha, as usual, is serving the dinner. She is giving thanks in her way. But Mary decides to give thanks in a different way. She wants to express her deep gratitude and her love for Jesus. Its the kind of emotional display that makes most of us uncomfortable, like two lovers passionately kissing in public. As Mary anoints Jesus feet, and then wipes them with her own hair, the rest of the guests at the party were probably feeling awkward. Washing feet was something that servants do. And using one’s hair as the cloth… well, that was just strange. Mary’s act is as extravagant and wild and passionate as it seems. Probably something that should have been saved for a private moment with Jesus.

In the midst of this beautiful moment, this act of love and gratitude that Mary is giving to Jesus, Judas pipes up. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”. The moment is ruined. Judas has re-interpreted this lovely scene to his own ends. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the display of affection, or perhaps as John suggests, he has other intentions for the money. Whatever Judas’ reasons, he wants to disconnect from the intimate and personal moment. He tries to make it about the impersonal and distant and abstract idea of how money should be used. Judas tries to make the moment about practicality and he almost steals away Mary’s extravagant love, diminishing her by rebuking her feelings. Judas tries to dismiss Mary’s love and gratefulness with his distant and impersonal righteous indignation.

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We often attempt to distance ourselves from being too close or invested like Mary is today. Like Judas who seems to be using money or good intentions to create distance between himself and this powerful display of affection. Our fear of getting too close like Mary does, can prevent us from seeing and experiencing the love and beauty of the world.

And at the heart of our distancing, is our self-centred desire for control. We want to be control where we begin and end, to protect our feelings from risk and hurt. And we use whatever power we can. Money, judgement, shame. Mary’s act is not safe, its wild and untamed. Its extravagant and passionate. This is not the way we think the world should work. “Don’t waste the money” we declare because we are uncomfortable with risk. “Don’t be so emotional” we cry out because we know loving so deeply can lead us to getting hurt.

Our fear of being close, our need for control, can get in the way of seeing the beauty of faith. Our discomfort puts practicality or pragmatism before others, before people. Judas only sees dollars being poured on Jesus feet. We often get bogged down by the resources being expended on our family, on our neighbours, on the church, on ourselves. Judas doesn’t see that what Mary is doing for Jesus is worth more than any amount of money. Often we find it hard to see that the families, friends, neighbours and ministries that we give our time and passion to are worth more than any amount of money. It can be hard for us to see that risking being close can bring us the greatest reward, and staying distant will never bring real satisfaction or meaning.

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For five weeks we have been immersed in the season of Lent. Immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells. The feel and smell of Ashes marked our heads. We have kept from singing Alleluias, we have sung Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy instead. And on this final Sunday before Palm Sunday, the smell of death enters into our sanctuary.

There is a pound of pure nard on Jesus feet. This perfume is one meant to keep the smell of death at bay. It is suppose to disguise the smell of a decaying body while it waits to be buried.

Yet, so often the thing meant to distance and disguise, to protect us from reality comes to symbolize the very thing it is trying to hide. The perfume becomes the smell of death.

Jesus does not miss the symbol. Mary has anointed his feet with the smell of Good Friday, the scent that is slowly building in our nostrils as we get closer to Holy Week.

Jesus does not see waste, Jesus doesn’t need to distance himself from Mary. Jesus sees love, lavish, wild and untamed love. Jesus sees the future. “Leave her alone” he says, ”She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”. Mary is not anointing a king, or prophet. Mary is anointing a friend, teacher and son, who will be soon prepared for burial on Friday evening, and Jesus is reminding his disciples and friends one more time of all of this. The ministry, the parables, the miracles, the teaching in synagogues, the traveling the countryside. None of it is about the bottom line, none of it has been about being practical with money, none of it was about God staying distant and safe from creation. This moment is a foretaste of God’s imminent future.

When the time comes for Jesus the corpse to be put in the ground, God will be accomplishing something new, something never seen. Something glimpsed as Lazarus stepped out of his tomb. God is accomplishing something new before the women even have the chance to anoint Jesus’s body on that Easter morning. God is about to turn the world upside, to bring new meaning to creation. Preparing for burial will no longer be preparing for death, but preparing for New Life.

Here in this perfume filled room, where passionate and impulsive Mary has shown her love and given thanks in her way, Jesus gives the whole world a new sign. God’s future is now about us. Jesus burial is about us. On Good Friday Jesus will be anointing the world with New Life. And God is doing it all by coming as close and near as God possibly can.

What a contrast to our attempt to remain distant and safe. We try to protect ourselves by staying far away, by being uncomfortable with love. God risks it all, even death, to come close, to take on and wear our flesh, so that we will know love.

Judas is uncomfortable with the perfume filled house, he wants to step back and distance himself. Make things about money, or poor people, or whatever else that is safe to feel. But Jesus stays present and near for Mary’s gesture of love, and then Jesus tells us that God is only coming closer. Coming in the familiar smells of Holy Week.

Like any powerful perfume, there is no distancing ourselves from God’s love after this. Today God’s Love comes near to us in perfume that anoints Jesus feet, it will come on palms branches next week, come in the bread and wine of Maundy Thursday. And it will comes so close on Good Friday, we will nail it to the cross to distance ourselves from it.

But after three days, God’s love will burst forth, uncontrolled, untamed, wild, passionate, extravagant. And it will be love that we can see, touch, taste and of course, love that we can smell.

Amen.

Our version of Christmas is NOT God’s

Luke 1:39-45(46-55)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…

[And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

(Read the whole passage)

 

Sermon

We have come to the end of Advent. Advent has been rough this year. We have endured talk of the end times and John the Baptist’s fiery preaching from the river banks.

Finally today, on this last Sunday of Advent things start to sound a little more Christmasy. Elizabeth, a woman thought to be too old to conceive and barren, is pregnant with John. Mary, a virgin still only engaged to be married, is pregnant with the Messiah.

Today’s story sounds beautiful and picturesque. It is easy for us to imagine two delightfully pregnant women greeting one another lovingly; a scene that makes us smile.

But we forget to consider the struggles these two women are facing. Elizabeth is older than a pregnant woman should be. She and Zechariah will be raising a child in their old age, more like grandparents who have unexpectedly found themselves raising children again. While Mary is a young unmarried teen girl, and her fiancé is not the father of her child. Joseph could call the marriage off at best… maybe forcing Mary to a life of begging on streets, with a child to care for. At worst, both she and her unborn child could be stoned for adultery. For both women in their day, child birth was dangerous and all too often women would not survive the birth experience without some luck. There is probably more relief than joy while the women greet one another, as Mary has gone with haste to see her cousin, to avoid the judgement of her hometown family and friends.

The story of Mary and Elizabeth is not one of those Christmas movies. Rather it is story full of fear and danger, one that stands in contrast to the Christmas image we generally try to present. Mary and Elizabeth challenge the notion that Christmas is about shopping, baking, decorating and hosting. Mary and Elizabeth introduce things we don’t want to talk about this time of year. Fear, danger, shame and uncertainty.

(Pause)

In the middle of Advent, St. David’s church was having an extraordinary congregational meeting. It was a busy time of year. The actors for the annual pageant were having regular rehearsals. Father Angelo and Father Michael were frantic with preparations, sermon writing, and pre-Christmas visits. Everyone was busy with all the usual Christmas stuff at home – office parties, school concerts, family visits – it was not a good time for a congregational meeting.

Yet, the basement of the church was packed full of people.

The meeting was extraordinary because it had not been called by the parish board or the priests. It had been called by special petition. Simon, the building committee chair, had gotten the 35 signatures required to call a special meeting of the congregation.

The president of the congregation stood up to the mic and called the meeting to order. She asked Father Angelo to lead the congregation in prayer. Then the president asked Simon to read the one motion that the congregation was to vote on.

Simon came to the mic, “I move that our congregation cancel our plans to sponsor the refugees. Bill seconds the motion.”

When Simon finished, people began to murmur and talk.

The president had to ask for quiet. She then open the floor to debate, with Simon getting to speak first as the mover of the motion.

“Our parish board went ahead a decided to sponsor those people without asking us. Because they know what we would have said. They know that Father Angelo and the tour group was over there when it happened. They stuck in that church only a few blocks from the bombs. We don’t think bringing people who could be terrorists to our church is right. We need to vote no, before they get here next week.”

(Pause)

The real story of Mary discovering that she is pregnant unravels and upsets our vision of the Christmas story. We don’t want Christmas to be like real life, it supposed to something different, or least that is what we hope to create. The perfect and ideal vision of the perfect family preparing for a new baby. This is the Christmas we try to tirelessly create each year, a diversion from the messiness and struggle of real life. We want to imagine Mary and Elizabeth as calm and peaceful expectant mothers, as if they this is the way the planned to have children all along.

But our version of Christmas is NOT God’s.

God is telling a different story at this time of year. God is telling a real story, about real people. About people who have big problems, and no easy way out. It is about poverty, about unmarried parents, about unwanted babies, about couples too old to raise a child, about judgment and the threat of death. And it is about how God’s people respond to fear and danger.

(Pause)

After Simon’s speech, people started shouting, some in support, others against Simon’s motion. The president had to call for order again.

June stood up to the mic, June was like everyone’s favourite surrogate grandma at St. David’s. “Now Simon, you are just being silly. Syrian Refugees need our help. We have to welcome them.”

Again people started shouting, again the president called for order.

This time Nelly, the director of the Christmas Pageant was at the mic. “I don’t know what to think. I watch the news and all these people are leaving their homes, but then it feels like every week some new act of terrorism happens. I don’t know what the answer is.”

The debate went on like this for 30 minutes. People speaking passionately for one side or the other, with many stuck in the middle.

Jim was standing in line at the mic behind 5 people. His 11 year old daughter Lizzie beside him. Finally it was his turn to speak.

“I don’t actually have anything to say” he said. “Lizzie does. Can she speak Mme. President.” There was more murmuring from the crowd. The president nodded.

(Pause)

Sometimes the real world can get in the way of Christmas. While we try to create perfect memories with seemingly perfect families, God is discarding the rules about pregnancy before marriage in order to send us a messiah. As we stress and worry and prepare for the perfect Christmas, God is sending divine messengers to an old woman and unwed teen mom living in poverty.

God does not wait for the everything to be perfect or to fall into place in order to begin the work of the incarnation. God does not come only when it is safe and there is nothing to fear. God’s activity of taking on our flesh and becoming like us starts now. God comes to us, whether we want God to or not.

Mary’s and Elizabeth’s real life shoves aside our idyllic nativity scenes, visions of perfect Christmases. Mary and Elizabeth show us a real story about real people. A story about shame, and danger and betrayal. But also a story about mercy, and compassion and grace.

(pause)

Jim lowered the mic for his daughter.  Lizzie stepped up, she looked around the room, pulled out a piece of paper to read.

“I am not afraid” she said. “I am not afraid because I would want a church like this to let my family come if we had to run from home or war. The refugees might be terrorists but they might be kids too. Kids like the boy on the beach. Kids like me. Kids who need homes and schools and safe places to live. St. David’s is a safe place. I know that because my parents always tell me that if I am lost, I can come here and people will take care of me. Father Angelo, Father Michael, June, Nelly, Simon. They tell me that you are safe people and you can take care of me. They tell that I am safe here because this is God’s house, and God makes it safe.”

Lizzie stepped back from the mic and grabbed for father’s hand. The two went and sat down together.

(pause)

For when Mary gets past the shame of pregnancy before marriage, when she get past the fear of death for adultery, she with her husband to be Joseph, with her elderly cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah, they all become guardians of God’s promise, bearers of the Good News made flesh.

And it is the same for us, when our fears and worries get out in the way, when we can’t see what God is up to. God comes anyways.  And God bears grace and mercy for the world in us. God makes us the messengers of the Good News of God’s love and compassion for all. God sends Messiah to frightened world.

And because of what God is doing, with Mary, we can sing:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Amen. 

*Part 2 of this series is found here.

Joseph and Mary shouldn’t have been parents

angel_appears_to_josephMatthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Sermon

It is the last Sunday of Advent, and we still have the blues of the season up, the Advent wreath still has one candle unlit. But the signs are showing up that Christmas is close. The trees are up. The church has been adorned with wreaths and lights. And, after weeks of hearing bible readings about the end of the world, or about John the Baptist, we get to finally hear about some central Christmas figures.

The experience of Christmas seems to come, with more and more pressure, each year. Often, many of us spend a month or more preparing for just a few hours of gift giving, a few meals with family and friends, a few days that are supposed to fill us with enough joy to last an entire year. We work very hard to make the Christmas experience perfect.

And so when we hear Joseph’s story today, the contrast he and Mary present does not match the ubiquitous manger scenes we see this time of year.

In fact, Joseph’s story is much more like all the other parts of life that we pretend don’t exist at Christmas time. The parts we don’t like or that we struggle with. The parts that are hard and frustrating, that are disappointing and painful.

Joseph isn’t the first boyfriend to find out that his girlfriend is having a baby, and Mary isn’t the first woman to find out that she is pregnant when she has no plans to be. And they will not be the last unmarried couple that will have to deal with this problem. This story is much more like real life than it is one of those Christmas movies. In fact, this story really is inconvenient for our Christmas image. Christmas should be about the cutest couple you have ever seen giving birth to most beautiful baby in the most suitable of barn stalls. It is not about poor unwed mothers, and potentially adulterous unplanned pregnancies.

And only to add to the disconnect between what we imagine Christmas to be and what Joseph’s story actually says, when Joseph finds out that Mary was pregnant, his options included stoning his wife, because she was like damaged property which must be destroyed. Another option to stay with Mary was not possible either. Joseph would either be known as the guy who got his wife pregnant before they married, or the guy whose son is not really his.

But Joseph did not choose to go that route, instead choose a more humane option. He would dismiss her quietly, which probably meant that Mary would be returned to her father, and hopefully he could get the father of Mary’s baby to pay her dowry and marry her if possible. If not, than Mary’s father would have the option to stoning Mary himself, selling her into slavery, selling her baby into slavery or if he was rich enough –which he probably wasn’t — pay for her upkeep for the rest of her life.

Not the sweet Christmas story we remember.

(Pause)

Nelly had volunteered to direct the Christmas pageant at St. David’s, or rather she was the only one who hadn’t immediately said no when asked by Father Angelo. Nelly was busy enough this Christmas, but she decided that if she was going to do it, she would do the pageant right and put forward her best effort.

On the day of the first practice, she only had half the number of people she hoped for. But she decided to make due.

To the men she gave the roles of shepherds and magi. The women would be the angels. The little kids would be the animals. But for Mary and Joseph she only had one option for each. There was gangly teenage boy named Josh who simply didn’t seem like a magi or shepherd and quiet teenage girl named Grace who was dressed like an emo goth punk. The two could not look more out of place and uncomfortable in a church.

“This will not do at all” Nelly told herself. “Maybe I can find a better looking Mary and Joseph before next week”. For that first day however, Nelly dressed up these two out of place teens, and put them next to the manger. Josh could hardly see his lines because his hair was in his eyes, and Grace’s black eyeliner was so distracting, that the angels and shepherds giggled and whispered with each other every time she spoke.

At the end of the practice, Nelly was determined that she was not going to let these unsuitable kids ruin her pageant.

(Pause)

In many ways, the story of Joseph that we hear today, unravels and upsets our vision of the Christmas story. We don’t want Christmas to be like real life, it supposed to something different, or least that is what we are told to buy each December. All the commercials and ads promise the perfect Christmas, and each year, the world opens up their wallets in the hopes that if we buy enough and work enough, this Christmas will be perfect.

But our version of Christmas is NOT God’s.

God is telling a different story at this time of year. God is telling a real story, about real people. About people who have big problems, and no easy way out. It is about poverty, about unmarried parents, about unwanted babies, about judgment and the threat of death.

(Pause)

After four weeks of practices, and lots of begging and hoping and nagging, Nelly just couldn’t get anyone else to be Mary and Joseph. Josh and Grace were going to have to be it.

The night of the pageant came, and all the cast was gathered together after the dress rehearsal. The pageant was as polished as it was going to get. The little kids were running around pretending to be the animals they were dressed as. The shepherds and Angels were drinking coffee. Josh and Grace were standing by themselves, looking a little lonely… lost even. Nelly was still frustrated about them, they read their lines woodenly, and never loud enough. And Grace refused to off her black eye liner, and Josh’s hair still covered his eyes.

It was soon showtime. Nelly announced that there was five minutes until curtain up. As Nelly stood up to go and check on the crowd, she glanced over at Josh and Grace. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Josh reached down and grabbed Grace’s hand just for a moment, he squeezed it once and let it go. Grace looked at him and smiled. They were in this together. Josh and Grace against the world.

Nelly almost dropped her stage notes. She began to realize, that Josh and Grace were just like the real Mary and Joseph. All they had was each other, they weren’t perfect, or well suited for the role they were to play in God’s mission in the world, but they were all that God needed to work miracles.

(Pause)

Our perfect version of Christmas has never existed. As we stress and worry and prepare for the perfect Christmas, God is sending divine messengers to unmarried teens living in poverty. While we try to create perfect memories with seemingly perfect families, God is discarding the rules about pregnancy before marriage in order to send us a messiah.

God does not wait for the perfect moment to begin the work of the incarnation, the work of taking on our flesh and becoming like us. God starts in the most unexpected of places, with the most unexpected of people. With Mary and Joseph, with Josh and Grace, with you and me.

The story of Joseph shoves aside our idyllic nativity scenes, and our perfect Christmas pageant visions, in favour of a real story about real people. A story about shame, and danger and betrayal. But also a story about mercy, and compassion and grace.

For when Mary and Joseph get past the shame of pregnancy before marriage, when they get past the possibility of death for adultery, they become guardians of God’s promise.

God’s promise that cannot be re-created no matter how much shopping or baking or decorating or cheesy Christmas movie watching we do. It is God’s promise given to imperfect people, to imperfect us.

A promise whose name is God with us — Emmanuel. A promise whose name is God Saves — Jesus.

Amen.