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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  • A Season of Resurrection

    Resurrection day has arrived. And with it the reminder of eternal hope because of Jesus Christ. Spring has also arrived here in Cache Valley, and while it’s not over, the end of our year-long pandemic seems to be approaching, thanks be to God. I hope this day finds you well in spirit and body, and also vaccinated (or soon-to be). I saw a sign the other day that reminded me while we’ve all been through the same storm in this last year, we haven’t all been in the same boat. Some people have weathered this storm fairly well, others have struggled mightily in one way or another. In spiritual terms, economic terms, emotional terms, and in health. And of course, not everyone has made it through the storm. I am worried that recent progress in this pandemic could be lost, but I’m thankful so many vaccinations are underway. As I’m sure it has been for you, this has been an emotionally challenging year for me as well. It seems to have contained more “downs” than “ups.” But my belief in God keeps me hopeful. Having spoken to many of you, I am thankful that a large portion of our congregation has received Covid-19 vaccinations or are in process of doing that now. The better our state and local community are doing, the sooner we’ll be able to worship in the building together.

    We’re beginning to worship together (outdoors, for the moment) for the first time in over a year. Your elders and Worship Committee have been hard at work making plans for us to transition from online worship back to in-person worship. I’d like to share with you how this process will work. To begin, we will continue to have online worship in some form, even as we get back to in-person outdoor worship (and eventually indoor). This allows anyone who wishes to continue worshiping from home to do so. We will be purchasing a special camera that allows us to livestream a worship service (which means what we do in worship goes straight to YouTube, with no long hours of editing required).

    Details for May are not yet determined, although we are making preparations and plans for indoor worship, for when Session feels it is safe. Session and the Worship Committee have approved the following plans for April:

    April 4th (Easter Sunday!)—we will worship together outdoors, in the Peace Garden and along the East side of the sanctuary, at 11 a.m.  We will hold this outdoor service (with members of our choir leading us in song) no matter the weather, so bring an umbrella or rain jacket if necessary. Masks will be required. YouTube worship will also be available.

    April 11th—we will worship via YouTube on April 11th, with a sermon delivered by an outstanding preacher named Rev. Brian Ellison. Brian is the Executive Director of the Covenant Network, a national group of church leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole, that seeks to support the mission and unity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to articulate and act on the church’s historic, progressive vision and to work for a fully inclusive church (particularly concerning the LGBTQIA+ community). FPC Logan is a member of the Covenant Network. Meg and I will lead the service, but Brian will be our preacher.

    April 18th—we will worship together outdoors at Trapper Park in southwest Logan, at 11 a.m. This Sunday is dedicated to Earth Day, and after a service (with music from our Praise Band) you are invited to walk the wonderful Logan River Trail with us. Materials will be provided to collect trash along the trail. There is a pavilion at Trapper’s Park. We will hold this service rain or shine (come dressed for the weather). Masks will be required for the service in the park. A YouTube service will be available for those who wish to stay home.

    April 25th—we will worship via YouTube on April 25th. Going back to YouTube this Sunday allows us to evaluate the recent outdoor services and make plans for future services, which may be outdoor, or if we are fortunate, perhaps indoor.

    I thank you for your grace and patience during this long year, and in coming months. It’s been a difficult one for your pastors and church staff too. I am thankful that we’ve had YouTube worship, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to seeing each other in person and worshiping the Lord together.

    In this season of resurrection, may your hearts be filled with grace, peace, and joy.

    —Pastor Derek

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