Saturday, December 14, 2013

Journey to Christmas: Days 9-13 (Luke 1:46-55)

"Mary said, "With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham's descendants forever."

I have to confess -- I've missed 5 days! Bad, Rachel. VERY BAD. 

That being said, the Magnificat could not have come at a better point in my Advent journey. The last 5 days I have been so bogged down with school work. I mean hours upon hours of reading, analyzing, taking notes, reading some more, writing, reading, writing, reading, taking notes, writing. It's exhausting just thinking about it. But I turned in papers yesterday. WOOOOOO HOOOOOOOO!

I could NOT wait for the end to come! I wonder if Mary felt the same. A child inside of her was going to do wonderful things, amazing things, things that would bring her joy. Was this time ever going to get here? For me, at least, time couldn't go fast enough. Then I emailed my papers and it was over. Sigh of relief. Happiness. All the things I could finally do now I did. 

Then I saw this video today that brought joy to my life. I saw this link on Facebook and when it said "piano" and "magic" I couldn't help but play it. When I watched it filled me with joy -- the video makers promised magic, they promised amazing, and that it was. It made me remember why I so love this season. Yes, Advent is about anticipation. Yes, Advent is about waiting. Yes, Advent is about yearning for Christ to be here already. But Advent is also about rejoicing. It's about getting excited. It's about seeing the magic that is to come. It's about being promised something amazing and then getting it. I hope you take the time to watch the video -- I promise it won't disappoint. And I hope you take a moment to remember that God's promise won't disappoint either. :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Journey to Christmas: Days 7 and 8 (Luke 1:39-45)

"Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, 'God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.'"

The loved ones have been separated for years by circumstance or travel or work. Since he's been gone, she's had a child and worked hard to care for her while her father's in her life from afar, wishing she could be exploring new places with him. He's seen places he never thought he would, he's met new people and eaten new foods all the while wishing he was at home eating McDonald's and watching his little girl grow up. When it's finally the day for him to come home, she and their little girl wait at the airport gate. The anticipation is great and the nerves are great and the excitement is great, though they're not sure exactly what he'll look like or how he's changed and he doesn't know how much their little girl has grown. She can't wait for him to get off the plane. He can't wait to get off that plane. Then they finally lock eyes as he walks through security...

That feeling. That feeling of looking at the one you love when you haven't seen them in months, knowing you both have so much to tell and so much love to give. Thinking of all the good times you have ahead. Re-kindling the love you have for each other. This must have been what Mary and Elizabeth felt when seeing each other again. Elizabeth's baby even jumps inside her! 

Not all of us have experienced the blessing of pregnancy (or are all able to). We don't all know what it's like to have a child move inside of us, and know even less what it would be like for a child to JUMP inside of us. But we know the stomach-jumping experience we get when we see someone we love for the first time in a long time. We know butterflies in our stomachs. It's almost like the roller-coaster stomach-in-throat experience. So much joy! 

And Elizabeth knew this meant something. This was a message from God. For Elizabeth the message was that God would bless the child Mary carries, the Lord. For us, the message is different. Why do we get that feeling when we see one we love after such a long separation? We are relational creatures. Remember -- God see's human and says it is not good for that human to be alone (Gen 2). It is not good for us to be alone. We are made to be in relationship with each other. We are made to be in relationship with God. We feel it when we are separated, and we feel it when we see each other again. 

Our butterflies, our jumping stomachs, remind us of God's promise to us -- I will never leave you or abandon you (Hebrews 13:5). God is with us, just like God was with Mary and Elizabeth (and Mary is literally with God as she is with child and that child is Jesus). We are not alone. Even as we anticipate Jesus' birth, we remember that God has always been with us, even before the new things that God promises for us during this season. And we remember that God is with us in all those stomach-jumping moments, in all the times that we are with each other, that we are re-united, that we recognize God's great promise to us that we are not alone.

Perhaps this familiar song can remind us of what we already know that we have in God -- comfort, friendship, togetherness, home.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Journey to Christmas: Days 5 and 6 (Luke 1: 30-38)

"The angel said, 'Don't be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob's house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.' Then Mary said to the angel, 'How will this happen since I haven't had sexual relations with a man?' The angel replied, 'The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God's Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled "unable to conceive" is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.' Then Mary said, 'I am the Lord's servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.' Then the angel left her."

Mary’s going to be having a baby – what a blessing! And not just any baby, mind you, but God incarnate – what a miracle! She should be happy, she should be rejoicing, she should be pleased. And yet, she’s fearful, she’s in denial. I can’t help but be reminded of the grief process when I read Mary’s reaction to Gabriel and his news for her. Fear – “Do not be afraid, Mary.” Denial – “how will this happen?” Acceptance – “Let it be.” All of these are characteristics of grief.

It’s happy news, but Mary’s reaction isn’t happy. Are we really all that surprised? I mean, Mary’s been told she’s going to have to bear the Christ child, the Messiah. It won’t be in the normal way – she hasn’t had sex yet. She’s carrying God’s Son, and she is still a child herself. Change is coming. BIG change is coming. She’s leaving a lot behind – plans for a normal life, her childhood, her life as she knows it. No wonder she’s afraid, no wonder she’s in denial. When we leave things behind, even for something better, it’s difficult. We have to process the change, and in doing so, we often have waves of worry and denial and anxiousness and sadness even in the midst of our happiness and joy at the amazing change that is to come. But the uncertainty is difficult. Mary’s situation is uncertain and disconcerting. She’s grieving all that she’s known, all that she’s planned for the future of her life.

Part of Mary’s looking forward to God’s future means leaving plans for her own future behind. She will miss that. I can imagine there would even be difficult times in her life with Joseph and Jesus where she would wonder what life would be like if things had been different. But they won’t be different. And she might even be sad that she’ll never know what it’s like to live a “normal” life. Perhaps that’s part of her calling. Perhaps that’s what it means for God to “honor” her – that her life will be set apart, it will be holy. I can’t imagine that would be easy. I can imagine she would need to grieve the loss of her expectations for the future.

Perhaps we are called to do the same. Though we often think of grief as bad because we associate it with death and loss and sadness, it is a good and healthy process. It helps us sort through the change and transformation that is happening in our lives. Change and transformation comes with being honored by God, with being called by God. God doesn’t promise ease, but God does promise that we will birth great things when we accept our callings. As we prepare for God’s future, for the great birth that is promised to us, may we also prepare to accept what God wills to grow and birth in each of us; may we rejoice in change and transformation, and may we also take a few moments to think about what that new birth means leaving behind.

We are the Lord's servants. Let it be as God says.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Journey to Christmas: Day 4 (Luke 1:26-29)

"When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David's house. The virgin's name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, "Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!" She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be." 
-Luke 1:26-29

Yo! What’s up? How’s it going? How are you? Good to see you! Hiiiiiii! Hey!

There are so many ways we greet each other. Each is slightly different, but all with the same general meaning – I noticed you, you mean enough for me to speak to you, you’re important to me. What, then, was Gabriel’s greeting to Mary about? No hi, hello, how ya doin, just, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” No wonder Mary doesn’t know what to think. What sort of greeting is that?

What if someone came up to you and said, “hey, chosen one!” I think I’d be thrown off if that happened (not to mention, this isn’t just anyone, it’s an angel, and I hear angels can be frightening). As the story unfolds we find out just why Mary is the favored one – she will carry and birth God in flesh. That’s pretty impressive. That seems like quite a calling.

Like Mary, we’re all called to something special. Now, we may not be called “favored ones of God,” but in some ways we are just that. We are favored because God loves us. We are favored because God calls us to be the church. We are favored because God calls us to specific tasks available to and do-able by only us. We are favored because we are children of God, all given gifts that God calls us to use for God’s purposes.

As I look forward to the birth of Christ, I will, once again, consider my calling, and I invite you to do the same. I’ll ask myself – where is God using me now? Where is God pushing me to go? What are my gifts? How can I use them to help others?

A large task? Probably. But a do-able one? Definitely. And the best part? We don’t do it alone.

Celebrate, special one! God is with you!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Journey to Christmas: Day 3 (Luke 1:18-25)

"How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old." -Luke 1:18

Zechariah didn’t believe what Gabriel told him. Surprise, surprise. Who could blame him? What he was being told seemed impossible. “How can I be sure of this?” That is his question. It almost seems like a challenge, though: "My wife and I are going to have a baby after all these years? Even though we’re old and grey? How can I be sure? Prove it."

What happens next is a curiosity to me. For not believing, Zechariah is made silent. To me, that seems like a weird punishment for unbelief. Couldn’t he do community service or something? Maybe he could serve those for whom miracles were happening so that he might see God make the impossible possible every day. But that’s not what God does (through Gabriel).

Admittedly, God is much better at teaching than I am. Instead of witnessing the miracles of others, Zechariah is forced to witness the miracle that is right in front of him. Zechariah is made not to be able to speak so that God can get a word in edgewise.

When we can’t speak, we do a lot of listening. Really, we don’t have much of a choice. Have you ever had laryngitis? Loosing your voice is the WORST part. It forces you to shut up for a while and listen to everything else – TV, other people, books. It’s easier to take a walk alone than it is to try and communicate with someone else, especially if you don’t have a pen and paper or a cell phone or a tablet on which to write. It’s hell for an extrovert. But when you can’t speak, it’s just easier to listen. Actually, I take that back, it’s not easier to listen. In fact it’s harder because listening is the last thing you want to do. You desperately want to say something, anything. But you can’t. So you’re forced to listen to the people around you. And you learn interesting things about your friends and family that you never knew before because you never took the time to hear them. My parents would tell me stories when I was sick, stories of their childhood, stories of their parents, stories of where they came from, stories of where I came from. Things I had never heard before, because I had been talking instead of listening, became very real for me, became a part of who I am.

Zechariah is forced to listen since he’s so intent on talking. Gabriel as much as says, “look, idiot, I came from God to tell you the good news. If you won’t listen, if you insist on disbelieving what I tell you, I’ll force you to listen and witness what’s going on around you.” And Zechariah comes down with laryngitis (ok, maybe not laryngitis, but you get the point) and finally hears and sees what’s going on around him. He stops talking and starts listening. The angel’s message, God’s good news becomes real for him, becomes a part of him.

What might our lives look like if we took a little more time to listen instead of talking so much? What if we took an hour out of our day to read scripture and listen to God’s good news? What if we asked our friends and family to talk while we listened? How would our lives change? Might the good news become a little more real for us? Might we be transformed? Might we witness miracles? If we don't stop talking, we might never know.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Journey to Christmas: Days 1 and 2 (Luke 1:5-17)

"Don't be afraid Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John." - Luke 

How appropriate that the Journey to Jesus' birth, arguably the greatest miracle EVER, begins with -- yes, you guessed it -- a  miracle. Elizabeth and Zechariah were up in years and unable to get pregnant, and God blesses them with the gift of a child after years and years of agonizing over barrenness. This is a miracle to them, like every long-awaited child is a miracle to all parents. But it is more than that too. It's a physical miracle too.

My, my, God is a great author. In literary terms we call this foreshadowing, "advance sign of warning of what is to come in the future." (Thank you, And great things are going to come. John is a little miracle, a little miracle who has come before to set the stage for a bigger miracle, the biggest miracle, Jesus. His birth and life are signs about how the plot will evolve.

God didn't send just any baby to Zechariah and Elizabeth. God's got a bigger plot in mind for these characters. No, this baby will be special. This baby will be great in God's eyes. He will have the power of Elijah, the power to change peoples' hearts and minds, to prepare them for a coming messiah. His life foreshadows greater things to come in Jesus, but he's also like one big walking, talking foreshadower (we call these people prophets).

And what a big job that would be. Lots of power definitely necessary. If the people were expecting a military hero clad in armour atop his white steed (this is a political savior, not prince Charming), John was going to have to do some major work. It would not be easy. It would take a miracle. But, that's not so much of a stretch of the imagination if you can accept a child being born to a post-menopausal woman and an old geezer. Miracles are in John's DNA' his very being is made of such stuff. Maybe the people would even think this powerful guy who has God's favor and changes peoples' hearts is the messiah. Alas, the people would have to wait just a bit longer. John was only to make the people ready for an even greater miracle in Jesus.

Now the stage is set.

And this is just the beginning.