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.
This time of year can be tough: Some of us get seasonal affective disorder as the days become shorter and shorter. * Some churches have a “Blue Christmas” service for folks who have experienced loss in the past year or so. To be sure, the holiday season can be difficult for those of us who have lived through the death of a family member or dear friend. But, rather than “going all Elvis on you,” we at Plymouth have a tradition of the Longest Night Service, which acknowledges the complex feelings of the season. Darkness can be overwhelming, and when it is, being together in a community of kindred souls in the company of God can be reassuring that the light is coming.
We all need a reminder that, as the prologue to John’s Gospel tells us, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It is a holy thing to acknowledge that we, some of us, feel adrift at this time of year. My hope for our Longest Night Service is that it provides a spiritual mooring for those who attend.
This year we will hear our newest choral group, the Plymouth Chamber Choir, as well as handbells, harp, and flute, and we will use a litany from the Iona Community in Scotland. Jake and Jane Anne will preside at communion, and (for those who wish) I will offer individual prayers for healing and wholeness.
It is a dark time of year, but our faith in God can help us see through the darkness into the light. The light is surely coming! Please join us this Sunday, December 16, at 6:00 p.m. as we join together as witnesses both to the darkness and to the light.
* Any kind of depression is nothing to fool around with…help is available…ask one of your pastors or your physician or therapist for help.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
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.