Friday, December 3, 2010
The 2nd Sunday in Advent
In 2002, I embarked on a 4-year journey called EFM (Education for Ministry). This course was developed by the Episcopal Semenary at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and is designed to help lay people explore their own call to lay ministry in their own worlds.
Each year, during the last class before Christmas, we had a priest do a service for us, and each year, one of the students was tasked with the homily for that service. In 2003, I was the happy recipient of that honor. Copied below is the homily I gave.
Christmas is my favorite season. I love decorating the house, although I haven’t gotten it all done yet this year. I have a collection of those little Christmas houses that we put out every year – one year the village was invaded by toy soldiers that I gave Rick for Christmas as a joke – last year the people were knocked over by our cat, but every year we put it together again, and every year it looks beautiful.
I also love giving gifts to people. I love picking out just the right thing, and seeing joy on people’s faces if I actually got it right. But I’m not as good at receiving gifts – even the smallest extravagance that is aimed at me makes me feel uncomfortable –and a little undeserving. I’m trying very hard to teach my children to be gracious and thankful when they get gifts – even if those gifts aren’t exactly what they expected or wanted.
But as we all know, Christmas is more than decorations and gifts. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “miracle of Christmas”, and what it is exactly. Most people believe that the miracle is in the baby Jesus. But that is only part of the story for me.
Looking at the two Gospels that have the story of Jesus’ conception and birth, I am struck especially by the stories of Mary and Joseph – two young people caught in a potentially stressful and difficult situation.
Joseph had a lot to lose – especially in those days where wives were possessions and expected to obey and honor their husbands. When he found out Mary was pregnant, Matthew tells us that Joseph had it in his mind to divorce Mary quietly, without public disgrace (he must have been a pretty nice guy to not want to embarrass her publicly) – but once the Angel came to him and told him what was to happen, he simply accepted and did what the Lord commanded him to do.
The situation for Mary was even more difficult. Mary was a young teenager when she was betrothed to Joseph – probably not too much older than my daughter Sara, actually. Now, I know lots of teenagers, and if the angel were to come down today to any of them and tell them that they were going to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and be the mother of the Messiah, I’m sure he’d hear plenty of arguments and words of disbelief. “No way!” they’d say – “I won’t fit into my new jeans if I’m pregnant, and besides, I have to try out for cheerleading in the spring. My reputation will be ruined!” Mary, on the other hand, only asked “how will this be?” In spite of the potential for losing her fiancée, and the very real possibility of public disgrace for being pregnant out of wedlock, Mary only asked “how will this be?” She didn’t say “No way – I’m not risking my future happiness and reputation on something like this!” She didn’t complain and try to bargain with the angel. She only said “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.”
Mary recognized this challenge as the most wonderful of gifts, and accepts it gracefully and gratefully. In the Magnificat, she says “my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” She rejoices! The miracle of Christmas, to me, is these two young people’s ability to simply say “yes” to God.
How many times a day are we faced with moral decisions, some more difficult than others? Should I give the homeless man on the street a couple of dollars? Should I stop on the highway to help someone who has broken down, even if I’m a little late? Should I discipline my child, even if their grounding will be harder for me than for them because I’ll have to put up with their grousing for a week?
How many times a day do we feel a little tug from God to make changes in our lives – sometimes big changes, but sometimes just small ones? And how many times do we either ignore that tug, or say – “I know I need to do that, but it’ll be too hard today – maybe tomorrow – maybe next week – maybe that’ll be one of my New Year’s Resolutions.”
Mary and Joseph were humans just like us – and being human had the God-given benefit of free will. They could have said – “No way” or “Maybe next year” or even “Why me?” But they didn’t. God asked a huge sacrifice from each of them, and they both simply said “yes” because they knew that they were getting the greatest gift of all.
Sometimes it’s hard to see things as gifts, especially if we’re hurting or disappointed. Oftentimes it’s hard for me to believe that I deserve the bounteous gifts that God gives me every day and I’m sure others often feel the same way. I pray that we all are given the wisdom to gracefully accept the things in our lives as the gifts they are. My other prayer for myself and for all of us this Christmastime is to try to say “yes” to that little voice in our heads that is telling us the right thing to do – that is telling us what God would have us do. Even if it’s difficult.
And in the meantime, I hope we all take the time this Christmas to enjoy our families and friends, and to give thanks for the great gifts we have received this year. And to look forward to a year where we can simply say “yes” more frequently.