Swept Up In Christmas

Luke 1:39-55

From the opening of this gospel story, we see that Luke has apparently learned a very significant truth. Women are smarter and more perceptive than men.

How many of you would agree with that?

Of course I do, Carrie, dear. Luke seems to think so, too.

Look at Zechariah. the priest. He is visited by an angel, told that he is going to have a son and that he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. Does he believe the angel? No.

Then comes Mary, a young, unwed girl, who had not yet known any man. An angel comes to her and tells her that she will give birth to the Son of God. What does she say? “Here I am, Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

Then, in our story this morning, comes Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah. She was once barren, but now she is pregnant with John the Baptist. She opens the door of her home to see her young relation Mary, pregnant and unmarried. In their world, this would be a shameful situation for those to whom angels have not spoken.

But Elizabeth is not filled with shame for Mary, she is filled with the Holy Spirit as John does somersaults in her stomach. She knows, she understands, she sees, that shame is not the order of the day; it is joy and wonder. This is the coming of the Lord.

What an embrace that must have been between those two women, each chosen for a special honor by God. Each was chosen to play a critical part in the unfolding plan of the Lord. (So much for the men. But don’t worry, we eventually get it…kind of ;)

Mary and Elizabeth discover in the Spirit that there is something real, something wonderful, something world changing being born inside of them. After Elizabeth greets her not with judgment but with joy, Mary begins to sing. She begins to sing a song that tells the rest of us who don’t get it at first, exactly what God is up to. Oh, and what an audacious song it is! Listen to what Mary sings!

Whoever we may be, God has not forgotten us. God has not left us to sway with the wind or to be swallowed up by the world. God is sending a son, in human form, with hands to work, a mouth to preach, a mind and a spirit to discern, and a courage to take on the very powers that keep all of us subdued.

This Child, as he grows, will have something to offer all of us. For our moments when we are too proud, and when we relish in or pursue our own power, he will relieve us of our swelled heads. When we are overfilled with our own riches, God will take care of that too, so that we can make room for that which money cannot buy.

When the world or our circumstances beat us into submission, overwhelm us with more than we can handle, or present us with puzzles that we cannot solve, God lifts us up, and sends us his son, and loves us like a mother. When we are hungry, hungry for food, for love, for hope, for joy, for peace, for healing, this baby who is born, and who will grow, and who will give himself up, this one will fill us with good things.

What has your Christmas season been like so far? Perhaps you have been able to feet the joy, and the celebration of the season-enjoyed the concerts, and the parties, and the family get-togethers.

Or, maybe your Christmas season has been something less than ideal? You have felt overwhelmed by the hustle and the bustle? Or perhaps family gatherings are not necessarily occasions of joy? Or maybe you carry a burden, or a question, or a belief that the trees and lights cannot remove.

Perhaps you have felt despair as we have watched the opportunity for real health care reform slip away in the midst of all the political wrangling? Or lost hope as world leaders fail to look beyond their own interests to do something significant about climate change? The lights, the decorations, the cookies, the gifts under the tree seem powerless in the face of all this.

But Mary’s song, and the season of Advent, reminds us that Christmas is, finally, not about all of that stuff that we do this time of year. Christmas is about God coming to us in the middle of life, going through it with us, and inviting us to let Emmanuel guide us, comfort us, heal us, and empower us. Christmas is about giving us a song to sing, a song of life.

I know its a busy season that can have a lot of stress. Take a moment right now…take a breath…and listen for the song. Whatever your circumstances. Christmas is about empowering us to live faithfully, meaningfully, and joyfully, proclaiming that the current issues and problems of our lives and world, overwhelming as they may seem, will not have the final say.

About a month or so before Carrie and I got married that we had a chance to see Bruce in concert.  I like my music, and since I am a member of the rock and roll generation, I tend to like it loud.  That concert was one I will never forget.

You see, it was a special time in our life.  Carrie and I were about to tie the knot.  I had just moved down from Portland to So. California for the wedding.  Carrie’s family was still just getting to know me and well, let’s just say that the jury was still out.  Carrie was feverishly working on her own wedding dress with her mother, all the preparations were proceeding at a feverish pace, and everyone was in a light, joyous mood.  So when we had the chance to go to a concert, we took it.

As we walked up to the LA Sports arena for the concert, I have to say that I looked marvelous.  I had taken a job on the receiving dock at Nordstrom’s department store, starting at 2:30 in the morning…that’s am. I had loaned my beloved 1970 maverick to my brother, so I was riding a bike to work.  The morning before the concert, I had a little mishap on the way, taking a spill. My face, as I walked into the concert hall, told everyone of my up close encounter with the asphalt.

So we were all in a good mood. I was stiff. Carrie was rejoicing now that our wedding pictures would have a unique road rash theme.  But then, Bruce walked out on stage, and for three and a half hours we were transported to another place.  The outside world did not exist for that period of time. I let go of everything that was on my mind and spirit. My brother, who was there with his partner, had never quite seen me that way before. I was nuts! I was singing. I was dancing. If had had a lighter, I would have held it up high. I was swept up by the music.  It was like a tonic.  It felt good.

I pray that somewhere along the line you are able to let go of everything that weighs you down, and that you are able to celebrate the message of Christmas. It is simple, yet so profound. It is the song of Emmanuel– God with us. May Mary’s song sweep you up this Christmas, and bring you joy.

Amen.

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  • Sabbatical

    Well my friends, this is my last point of contact with you for the next three months, barring unforeseen circumstances. I am taking a sabbatical this summer, granted to me by you (through a congregational meeting some time ago). Clergy sabbaticals are designed for rest, recovery, and restoration. It’s a healthy thing to do, of course, and the Presbytery of Utah recommends that congregations grant their pastors a sabbatical every seven years (serving the same church, that is). It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been here in Logan for eight and a half years.

    The end goal for such a time is to provide pastors with opportunity for spiritual and mental rest and restoration, to help re-energize pastors, and to prevent burnout. Pastors have a fairly high rate of burnout, but providing time for spiritual, mental, and physical self-care is one of the best ways to prevent such things.

    It’s not only about rest, however. I’ll be studying and engaging in some healthy spiritual practices too. I will be worshiping at other churches each Sunday to experience the ways that other congregations praise the Lord, so that I might observe and consider new things for the ministry life of FPC Logan. I have a small collection of books I plan to read, including Canoeing the Mountains (a book about Christian leadership in uncharted territory) and One Long River of Song (recommended by someone at FPC), and a few others that I hope will inspire good preaching and pastoral leadership when I return. These readings will go along with daily scripture study. Due to the Covid pandemic I didn’t attend any continuing education conferences last year, but I plan to use part of this sabbatical time to so some individual continuing education. There is always something more for me to learn about my role as your pastor. I look forward to sharing some of this with you upon my return to First Presbyterian Church in September.

    Summer Worship—

    A reminder to you all that during the months of June, July, and August worship will be at 9am and 10:30am. If you show up at 11 you’ll miss half of the sermon!Masks will be required until Session determines otherwise, and worship will be in Bruner Hall for both services (this allows us to space out our seating). I have carefully chosen guest preachers for you on the Sundays that Pastor Meg won’t be preaching. They range from experienced pastors to seminary graduates, but I fell they will all bring a wonderful message to you each Sunday. Please give them the warmest welcome when they help lead worship.

    We have a system in place to live stream worship to YouTube, but there are a few technical challenges with this that I’ve been trying to work out over the last month (with audio and live streaming the video). If you choose to worship from home and the live stream is not available on Sunday mornings (because of some technical difficulty), we will try to post the recording for your viewing on Monday morning when the office is open. Please extend us some grace with this. I think it will all work out, but it’s not always a simple process and complications arise.

    Praying that you all have a wonderful, Spirit-filled summer. I’ll see you soon.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all, —Derek

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