This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
there’d have been no room for the child.
By Madeleine L’Engle, from A Cry Like a Bell, 1987.
As we all prepare for the holidays in this last week before Christmas, I am thinking of the Song of Mary, The Magnificat, that we will hear in song and scripture this Sunday. Mary sings this song of praise in Luke 1 after she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. It is a song of abundance and of justice for the marginalized. As the story goes Mary said, “Yes” to the angel who proclaims she will bear the Son of God. And we know it was not a rational answer. It caused her problems as she was technically an “unwed” mother. She had not known a man though she was betrothed to Joseph. Why would she put herself in this compromising situation as a young, vulnerable woman? Why does she say “yes?” It seems to be the irrationality and joy of deep faith rather than the rationality of a “what’s in it for me” attitude.
Mary seems to understand L’Engle’s poem. She understands about love blooming “bright and wild.” The writer of Luke puts the psalm we know as The Magnificat in Mary’s mouth to prompt and challenge our understanding of God’s irrational ways of love in the world. Sending the child, Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, was not a rational solution to the world’s problems in the 1stcentury Roman empire. It is still not rational in the 21stcentury. Yet it is the exact miracle we need year after year after year.
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt,
to a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
By Madeleine L’Engle. From A Cry Like a Bell, 1987
I hope you will join us this last Sunday in Advent at 9 or 11 a.m. or 6 p.m. to celebrate the Song of Mary and its relevance for our world today. And join us on Christmas Eve at all our family friendly services, 3 p.m. for our “instant” Nativity Pageant service or at 5 and 7 p.m. for our services of Lessons and Carols! At 4:40 and 6:40 there will also be pre-service choral performances of the Christmas Oratorio by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Blessings for Advent and Christmas,
* Image Credit
Visitation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56718 [retrieved December 17, 2018]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johndonaghy/22885862/ - John Donaghy.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.
At around 10:00 a.m., I was on my way back to Fort Collins from a very early morning pastoral care visit to one of our members at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, when I received a phone call from a friend. Using my hands-free calling (safe driving) speakerphone, I took the call. One can never be too careful on I-270!
“Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are Gerhard have good plans for food!” - Friend
“Yes, we do! When I get home, later, I should double check that everyone knows what they are bringing.” - Me
“Where are you now? It sounds like you are on the highway?” - Friend
“Yes, I am just returning from visiting one of my members at a hospital down in the Denver area.” - Me
“Why? What good does that do? You aren’t a doctor!” - Friend
“Because… it is just what we do.” - Me
I have reflected on my response since: “It is just what we do.” To those outside of the church, much of what we do as church community must seem very odd or otherworldly: visiting each other in the hospital, making blankets/shawls for blessing, calling on our friends on the anniversaries of loss, and even driving to Denver or beyond to just say “hello,” “God loves you,” and, “we are here.”
It is just what we do indeed! Let us all support each other in this season of light, this season of waiting, this delicate season of unfolding grace. It is just what we do…after all.
P.S. I stumbled upon this reflection from 2016 about those experiencing Christmastime Blues. Anna and I have made it available again for reading and listening. I hope it might be a small blessing.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
The liturgical year offers us the discipline to follow in the steps of Christ during his ministry on earth. It is a compass for worship, and one I grew up with in the Lutheran Church and still cherish.
We are now at the beginning of a new church year in Advent, Year C in the three-year liturgical cycle. Advent is the shortest season and easily overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations. But I believe Advent is quite special, and can be of value to us if we so choose.
The word Advent is derived from the Latin Adventus meaning "coming." The season has been in existence from at least the 5th century. Advent traditionally recognizes three aspects of Christ's return: the incarnation in the manger, presence in our hearts daily, and the return of Christ at the end of all things. In our modern day progressive outlook, one could say that it's the birth of Christ and God's message of salvation to the world that is of prime focus. But is Advent just a nod to tradition in our worship services or is there more?
If we think about it, many of us already have an Advent state of mind post-Thanksgiving: shopping for Christmas presents, planning trips to see friends and relatives, or preparing one's home for guests. We are getting ready, staying awake, preparing for the coming of...something.
For myself, I can always use a little introspection, a little penitence. And Advent has those qualities built in, though not quite as overt as in Lent. But we can take stock of ourselves, make changes, and be grateful for God's presence in our lives. Remind ourselves to just listen to that small voice within.
Musically, the liturgical year has provided an abundance of inspiration to composers over the centuries. Advent is no exception, ranging from the chorale preludes of Bach and Buxtehude, masterworks such as Part One of Handel's Messiah to contemporary compositions by Olivier Messiaen, Arvo Pärt, and John Rutter.
So, Christmas will come, soon enough. Let's enjoy the journey there and stay centered, tethered to what really matters. I leave you with a poem by MaryAnn Jindra. The Chancel Choir sang this text in a setting by composer Libby Larsen last year, "Lord, Before This Fleeting Season." It encapsulates the meaning of Advent far better than I could ever do. Let's give Advent a chance to offer clarity in our busy lives.
Lord, before this fleeting season is upon us,
Let me remember to walk slowly.
Lord, bless my heart with love and with quiet.
Give my heart a leaning to hear carols.
Grace our family with contentment,
And the peace that comes only from You.
Lord, help us to do less this busy season;
Go less; stay closer to home; kneel more.
May our hearts be Your heart.
May we simply, peacefully, celebrate You.
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.