Last week we were away at a Ministry Authorization Conference in Texas. The translation for “ministry authorization” is; what is ordination, what is it good for and who ought to be ordained – or not? The conversation has been a long time coming and it will continue, as we church nerds try to figure out what the heck is going on with God inside the Church. Trust me when I tell you, nobody knows for sure. I think that’s just fine because it has always looked like God built more than a little mystery into Creation which we are never going to figure out and that goes for God’s organization run by people which we call church. We will keep trying to figure it all out however, that’s the human nature. It’s like, you wake up in the morning and say two basic things to yourself or maybe to God; what do I have to get done today and what in the heck am I doing this for? Then you get up, have coffee or whatever and you go at it because God has gifted you with the energy and the curiosity to go at it!
Anyway, the Conference we went to in San Antonio was awesome and not just because John got to strut around in his Cowboy boots! We learned more about the workings of our denomination, The United Church of Christ. I feel so blessed to be in such a good, future focused Denomination, which consciously tries to look out for the welfare of all. I believe that is what Jesus would have us do and that is why I am part of the UCC. I’m not trying to sell you on it because I respect the Non Denominationalism of GPC, I’m just sharing the love I have for my tribe.
My husband John came to Texas with me to do some photography and other work and so we had to put our dog Bella into the kennel for four days. To call Bella a dog is scientifically true but it certainly does not define the way we feel about her, nor how she feels about us! To us she is more like a four-pawed child and it is clear she thinks of us as her parents. Bella is a terrific dog, though she had a rocky start in life and it shows. She came to us off a puppy distribution RV which drove up from Arkansas delivering adopted puppies to people in Virginia, Washington D.C., New Jersey and Connecticut. Bella was about five months old the day they dropped her into my arms and we were told by her Foster Parents that she, her Dog Mom and 4-5 other pups had been abandoned and were rescued on the street and spirited away from someone who was shooting at them! Now, I don’t know if this “Rescue Dog Story” is true but it’s clear that Bella went through some kind of traumatic event because she does not want people to put their hands to her face if she doesn’t know them. Also, she squeezes herself behind the toilet, cowering, when she hears a loud noise like gunshot or thunder or even if a door is slammed.
If you have met Bella the church dog in my office or at John’s 1st Baptist Church office you know it takes a little time for her to feel safe with you, but that in a while of watching you in action she will simmer down and is very sweet and affectionate. It never fails that when we pick her back up at the Kennel after returning from a trip she turns inside out ecstatic to see us! We in turn are immensely happy to be reunited with her and it all becomes a big love fest! I have a sense that she may feel we have gone away permanently and that she would be at the kennel forever.
The thing is, Bella is just a little spoiled. She has three Doggy Beds; one in front of the TV, one on the floor at the end of our bed and one outside in the hall upstairs where she can see all the action going on in the house. This does not mean she does not jump up on our bed in the middle of the night or sometimes go into the guest room, which she seems to think is actually her room. Bella is pure joy at this point in our lives because our kids are grown and on their own and the grandkids John has brought to the table do not live close by. When Bella sees us, even just at the end of a day of being at work, she leaps up in the air for joy like we are the most wonderful human beings on the planet – which of course we are not! Who does not love being greeted like that? I hope you have something or someone to share joy like that with. It can be a person, a dog, a cat, or a group you are involved with. Perhaps it could be here at church. I have this crazy idea that here at church we should greet each and every person with that kind of joy because that is how God feels about us and we are here to worship and emulate God’s way.
In the Gospel from Luke today we hear Mary’s voice singing aloud the joy she is experiencing as an expectant Mother, carrying a very special baby. Just a teen really, she calls herself the lowliest of God’s servants and yet knows that she is abundantly blessed by her pregnancy. But she goes even further. Mary’s joy which begins under her heart burgeons and explodes with a prophecy of God’s love for all of humankind;
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. Mary’s words convey a deep concern for those who are poor or lost in the shuffle of life.
Now - Mary does not mean we should “fear” as in be afraid of God. This fear has a meaning more like deep respect, love and reverence for God. It is why we come to worship. We don’t come here only to see one another and have coffee, though that is a perk. We come to offer our thanks and our devotion to God so that we might experience ever deeper the presence of God in our lives. We come to hear ever more clearly how to practice what God asks of us to do to serve the poor and the downtrodden. It’s what Mary’s life symbolized. It’s what the Gospel is all about.
So, this Sunday we light the candle of JOY! It’s a pink candle and it sort of lights up the Advent Candle Wreath in a special way, doesn’t it? Pink is an appropriate color for this. We think of babies as having a pink hue, or puppies or any newborn critter. When someone is feeling better after an illness we say, “She’s in the pink!” Mary must have been feeling very pink, warm, excited and filled with joy knowing she was carrying the divine Jesus. Can you imagine that level of ecstasy?
Just for a moment let’s try to recreate that for ourselves. Close your eyes and remember a warm, wonderful moment in your life. This does not have to be shared with anyone – it’s just a “you and God” moment. Breathe in, count to two and then breathe out counting to four. Again, breathe in, count to two and then breathe out to four. Imagine a beatific angel, larger than life comes to you and tells you that you carry the light of God right there inside of you. You can put your hand on your chest or your stomach and experience the warmth you feel knowing that the presence of God is right there with you. Just take a moment of silence with that feeling between you and your Creator and listen to Mary’s Voice once more:
My soul lifts up the Lord!
47 My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48 For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
50 From generation to generation,
God’s loving kindness endures
for those who revere God.
51 God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
52 The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
53 The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
54 To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
55 As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.
When you are ready please open your eyes. These next two weeks and days of Advent, you are given the gift of anticipating something profound in your life. My prayer is that you may experience the great joy that comes to you in the presence of God. For you are God’s and that Joy is your birthright, thanks be to God!