Have you ever experienced a miracle? Have you ever been in the middle of something that was totally unexpected and inexplicable? It happened to us recently when, in the deep of winter, we ran out of heating oil and that turned our comfy home upside down and inside out which though uncomfortable, is a good thing! In fact, discomfort and unease is at the core of the Gospel from Luke this Xmas week. After reading today’s scripture, instead of assuming in our post-modern manner, that Jesus’ mother Mary couldn’t possibly have been a virgin or that it is not possible to believe that Jesus was God incarnate, let’s look at it a different way.
Let’s approach the scripture through an Appreciative Inquiry lens. What is really good about this Xmas story, whether or not you believe in the details? Putting aside skepticism, what can we appreciate? Armchair religious experts have long told us that Jesus was probably not born on December 25, right after the longest night of the year. We are also told it is not clear where exactly his baby crib was, and that it does not make any historical sense that he was in Bethlehem because his parents wanted to obey a census. Not logical.
But look at it this way. In New England, the Winter Solstice brings with it ice, snow, cold and ruddy faced conditions. It is a nightmare for those in our community who are without house and home. Beautiful hymns like “In the Bleak Midwinter” were composed around this theme as was the modern pop Christmas favorite “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” These songs would make absolutely no sense to Jesus, Mary & Joseph and so, logic itself has limitations. On the eve of Jesus’ birth, his family was probably dog tired from their immigration to find sanctuary. The climate was neither cold nor hot. The December temperature in Jerusalem is two degrees cooler than Lake City Florida which is just slightly southwest of Jacksonville. So, the average December low temperature in Jerusalem is the equivalent of South Georgia, or North Florida. Not exactly Arctic conditions. Even so, we understand that Jesus was born under less than ideal circumstances and he was not a welcome entity, but that is exactly what makes his refugee origin story so interesting. Who in the world wants to read about a savior who had it all easy, comfy and warm?
People need drama, a little pain and the overcoming of a struggle to make life worthwhile. That’s what all the movies you have ever seen are about. We humans LOVE to overcome adversity! My Father was an adversity expert and used to tell us eight kids; if you are lost or in the pits, “go to work!” What he meant was, get out of your head and reach beyond your limitations. Instead, tap into your possibilities. As a Depression Era child, that was my Dad’s secret to life - “Go to work!” I do like to double down on work when things are iffy or I’m feeling low and my family will tell you, when I get to work, we all get to work! What my father didn’t seem to practice was that sometimes you need to just chill out, not work and leave things alone in order to make sense of a situation. Or as they say in the 12-step Recovery Rooms, “Let go and Let God.” He also didn’t dwell on the truth that there are people in this world who are not able to work or are ill-equipped to get a job - people who may seem outside the status quo.
According to the Gospel, that’s how it was for Jesus, Joseph and Mary, moving from one place to the next, no one seeming to have any place for them and that brings us right back to the Luke Gospel reading of this evening. Verse 30 starts,
“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
Hoo-boy, can you imagine hearing that? From an Angel? Although Mary & Jesus were way more divine than the average person, they were mortals. I suppose God could have made them live in their physical bodies eternally but that was not the plan. Jesus and Mary were brilliant meteorites piercing the darkness and then fading to black, melting into the atmosphere of life and yet, they were rejects in their own social sphere.
We will always wonder what they were really like and will forever venerate their improbable courage and their effect on the course of history. If they were still around, there would be no mystery, no questions and my guess is they would be standing up for the rights of other outcasts. In fact, Jesus had a rather short career of doing just that.
How can we as a congregation say, as Mary does in the Christmas scripture for today; "Here am I. Let me become what you have called me to be!” This new year, what improbable thing can you become, which others or even you would never have expected? My family and friends actually would never have guessed I would become a Pastor because my faults are on full display. I doubt myself constantly, I’m funny looking and I have so much to learn, BUT, I believe God sees beyond our frailties.
As I leave you in January, I pray that Greendale People’s Church will continue in its history of doing courageous, out of the ordinary things. I hope you will find a pastor who will push you and challenge you and not let you slide into complacency. Churches need challenging pastors and daring lay people, in order to look forward into the future of God’s realm. We need to listen for the small still voice of God in our troubled world. When the angel came to tell Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God,” she must have just plotzed! The scripture says she said, “what me? I’m a virgin how can I have children? That’s not normal!” Most people agree it’s impossible, but maybe there is a bigger truth there. Perhaps the unexpected and the unpredictable is the way God works. Perhaps God is simply about all the opportunity that is offered to us. The miracles, the unpredictable, the possibility.
Listen to this lovely reading by Susan McCaslin entitled;
Presence of Possibilities
Let the hinges of our hearts open,
To things we can’t explain –
The unexpected remission of a stubborn cancer
(or the) Birth of a child when conception seemed “impossible,”
Release from a longstanding addiction,
A moment to reunion with a loved one long deceased.
Let’s not demand or expect mystical graces,
Or cling to hope of them,
Or be disappointed if they don’t happen.
Let’s acknowledge there are mysteries
Beyond our knowing, unaccountable
Magic in the neurons and cells.
Help us experience daily
The astonishing in the apparently ordinary –
Laugh of a crow pirouetting in space
A peach gladiola blooming beyond its term,
A slug who travels six inches in two hours
To its longed-for haven in the grass
Until the kingdom of heaven is spread out before us
And the glory flames forth in our
You, are so unique! There was no one else like Jesus, no one else like Mary and there is no one else like you. As Jesus and his phenomenal teachings attest, even the lowliest of us, the scarred, the battered, the imperfect, the refugee and the forgotten are loved. We are all deeply cherished by the One Who Created us. This night, the Christmas story is our testament to that truth. Go in peace in the silence of the night, for you are truly loved.