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.


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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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