Wednesday, December 25, 2013
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. --Luke 2:15-20
And thus begins the story of how we of the Christian faith come to find our hope in an infant born not in a hospital, or on a bed of rose petals, but in a manger among barn animals. In listening to this Gospel lesson--for the third time in a 24-hour period--I had a couple of things strike me. One was the idea that God's first appearance as "the Word made flesh" is with the animals and in the environs of those without a home. The first guests at this birth were sheep and goats and cows. (OK, my manger scene now includes a lion, wolf, and fox... but that's in recognition of what will happen later in this child's life). The next to come on the scene are the shepherds. Not the religious leaders. Not the politicians. Shepherds, who were not among the elites of First Century Palestine. And so, this divine presence is revealed first to the least... a theme that is going to follow this child as he grows into the man we will call the Messiah.
The next thing that I heard repeatedly were the words about how Mary, the young woman tapped for this extraordinary birth, listened to what the shepherds were saying about why they'd come to Bethlehem:
"It was amazing," they were telling everyone. "There were angels and they were singing and they were making such a beautiful song about this child! They said 'Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth among those whom he favors! And so, here we are!!"
And there's Mary, taking in all this news, treasuring every word and pondering it in her heart. She's already sung her own song of awe and wonder, the Magnificat, which echoes that of her Jewish ancestor Hannah about God raising up the lowly. So I can only imagine what it must have been like for her to get the news of how the shepherds had heard about this birth. I can visualize this young woman, exhausted and drained from having had a baby, lying on the hay as she is surrounded by barn animals as her nurse maids, pondering all these things. "What in the world is going to become of this baby boy? What have I become a party to in all of this?" Luke doesn't tell us about Joseph's response, but I can guess that he, too, must be scratching his head and wondering, "Is this for real? Or is this another dream?" The evangelist Matthew is the one who lets us in on Joseph's dreaming, an important means of God communicating with this carpenter, to tell him, "Don't worry. Follow my lead and all will be well." It's his own way of pondering things.
Certainly, I have had much to ponder in this past month. And as I embark on my new life of following God's lead, I am a mix of emotions. I started to tear up this morning as I stared back up the aisle of St. John's, all bedecked in Christmas fare, and treasured my memories of the many times I have served as a Eucharistic Minister and a Verger. At the same time, I have been praying for and holding close in my heart my new church home, St. Thomas in Thomasville, GA. I found myself last Sunday missing the opportunity to be with them in their equally as beautiful sanctuary. Faces that have become familiar to me there (even if I'm still struggling with the names) flooded my mind and made me realize, "I really miss them."
Whatever crossroads, highways, train tracks you find yourself at in your life, my hope for you is that on this day, when we are marking the start of a new and radical way of loving, you keep your heart and mind open to the opportunity to let change happen within you. If it comes with tears, so let it be. Tears are the shedding of the old and the watering of something new. If it comes with joy, let that happiness within "go viral" as they say! If you're neither here nor there the place where you are is a starting point. Allow your dreams to guide you.
Merry Christmas, dear ponderer. Trust. Love. Amen.