Today is the day we’ve been waiting for. Or at least I’ve been waiting for. We light the Christ candle. It is now Christmas. I don’t know about you but I’ve been anxious for the last 4 weeks. Anxious to sing the songs and hear the stories and remember the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is difficult for me to comprehend that God’s people waited through 400 years of silence for the birth of Christ. I would bet that every time a new king was crowned, a new country invaded, a new period of famine or drought came they imagined that they were on the cusp of a conquering savior’s presence. And then they got a baby.
It is easy for us to look at the coming of Christ as a baby and make that sound we do when we see a newborn. You know it. You’re probably making it right now. It is the sound of seeing something that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is my usual response to Christmas. The warm and fuzzy feeling of watching the Nativity. But today I am keenly reminded of the frailty of Christ’s birth. In a striking move unanticipated by anyone looking for it, God chose to manifest himself on our planet as the most vulnerable citizen. We don’t have record of the maternal and infant mortality rate at the time of Jesus’ birth but we can extrapolate based on the earliest data we have available. Based on early European data and other modeling statistical methods the best estimate is that 300 out of every 1000 infants born did not live to celebrate their first birthday. That’s 30% of babies. And their mothers. Infection and hemorrhage were common. As many as 25 of every 1000 women died as a result of childbirth during the time that Mary was pregnant. Compare that to giving birth in the US today where, on average, the infant mortality rate is 6 per 1000 and the maternal mortality rate is about 10 per 100,000 women. When Mary accepted the call of God to be the mother of Christ not only did she accept the shame that comes with being an unwed mother in her culture but I’m sure she knew the reality that many mothers and children did not survive childbirth in her community.
It begs the question: why would God choose to become incarnate in the form of a baby? Why choose the most vulnerable way to represent himself? Maybe it’s because God enjoys being subversive. Maybe it’s because no one would have suspected to look in a crib for a savior. I suspect it is because He is in the business of demonstrating to us that power
is made perfect in weakness; that He is best found amongst those who cannot raise arms to protect themselves. Dare I say that if you find yourself looking for a savior who will increase your power, fill your pockets and take down your enemies…don’t look inside the manger. Don’t look in the manger for a savior who will use violence and destruction and despair to bring about his kingdom.
This Savior, the one found in the manger, will be “God with you” always. He will be with you despite your words, despite your actions, despite your selfishness. This Savior will stay close to you in your suffering, He will walk with you in your grief and He will rejoice with you when life is gracious and good. He will ask you to forgive your enemies, to lay down your weapons, to love someone who believes differently than you. He is the Light that breaks through all darkness. If you dare to look for the savior born long ago out in the cold this is what you will find.
May your life be filled with the light of Christ as today we light the Christ candle. May every baby you see today and this week remind you of the vulnerable God who sends a baby in order to bring peace healing and hope to your life. Merry Christmas friends!
photo credits: Pastor Jason, yours truly, shiftworship.com, and the internets.
Well friends, Advent is in full swing and we are fast approaching Christmas Sunday! And guess what? Christmas Sunday is….on CHRISTMAS! Traditionally we celebrate Christmas Sunday on the Sunday that falls closest to the 25th. But next week we will celebrate the morning of Christmas. And I’m excited. But today is the 4th Sunday of Advent.
We light a candle in celebration of love.
In the Advent Scripture from Isaiah today we are reminded that God comes to us as Immanuel. “God with us.” We have come to that time in Advent when we begin to really anticipate the birth of Christ. Most of you will be familiar with the story. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is engaged to Joseph. Except then she is pregnant. And it’s not Joseph’s baby. You can imagine the drama that this would create. It’s a story we want to romanticize. We like to paint a picture where both Mary and Joseph are overjoyed at the thought of having a baby but I have to believe that they both understood the hard work, the shame, the isolation they would face. They had enough faith to bravely accept the ways in which God had chosen to use them and follow wherever this path would lead.
The reality is that God comes to us in one of the most uncomfortable stories of all time. Single mother. Unglamorous birth story. Weird visitors. If it happened in my hospital today people would look the other way or maybe roll their eyes. But it leads me to believe that maybe God is at His best “Immanuel” in times when we are most uncomfortable. The difficult part is being able to recognize the Immanuel in our own lives. We tend to move away from the uncomfortable spaces, to stay quiet when we see something that isn’t right, to ask how others are doing with the expectation that they should say all is well.
God loved us enough to have Christ come into the most uncomfortable spaces in our lives. If we are to be His people then we must love in the same way. There is a lot to be uncomfortable with. Watch the news, read the headlines, get on social media. Aleppo. Violence against women. More gun violence. Road rage. Sexual assault on our college campuses. Cold and dark days of winter. But, because Immanuel, we can speak out against violence. Because Immanuel we can speak out against oppression and injustice. Because Immanuel we can sit with someone in their despair. The Immanuel allows us to sit in anger, bitterness, sadness and frustration with our lives and He doesn’t move away, He moves closer.
If we truly believe that God is with us today as He was way back then, then you must know that God will move with you into the darkest of spaces and that He calls you to move with someone else in the same way. It won’t be easy. It will feel uncomfortable. It will mean we have to move out of our daily self-centeredness and begin to notice the world around us. And it will be exhausting. Is it worth it? Honestly, some days I have no idea. The Pastor and I have spent lots of time in uncomfortable spaces with people. The return on investment is small; sometimes it’s nothing. But when I am at my most uncomfortable I want nothing more than to share my burden with another and believe in God as Immanuel. Like Mary and Joseph, we are called into the uncomfortable and God goes with us.
In unsurprising news if you follow this blog…it’s the 3rd Sunday of Advent! Unlike the previous two Sundays, we will light a pink candle instead of a purple one this morning. It is “lighter and brighter” as you might say and represents the joy of the season.
It is Gaudete Sunday, when we are called to rejoice.
I have many things that make me rejoice. Like when the internet servers AND my EMR system at work are running smoothly at the same time. (Can I get an amen!) Or when Amazon packages arrive on my porch filled with paper towels or toilet paper just in the nick of time saving me a trip to the store. Some of my best rejoicing comes when I get to take a long nap or eat ice cream after the kids are in bed or the Pastor has started my car and warmed it up for me on the coldest of days. Oh, and shoes. There is much rejoicing over new shoes in my house.
But the original meaning of the word rejoice was to “cause joy to.” I was struck so deeply by this. It is a radical transformation of what our first thought is when we hear the word rejoice. Creating joy for others. To spread joy as far and as wide as humanly possible. To see the sorrow around us and do something to make the world more joyful. Honestly, I don’t think it would be that difficult.
What if, every time we thought of being generous, we were more than generous. What if, every time we thought of saying a kind word, we said that kind word and a dozen more. And beyond that, what if we tried, in just a few ways each day, to be as gracious and merciful to others as we expect for ourselves. Imagine the joy created if we managed to just give away from ourselves once a day. Once. I believe we are content to stay safely in the confines of what makes us happy. To make someone else happy is a risk. The Pastor and I like to talk about the “myth of scarcity.” Living our lives believing there isn’t enough to go around. We must choose to live in the kingdom of abundance. Where there is not only enough for us, but more than enough for everyone around us. Enough recognition to honor not just ourselves but the people who work with us. Enough food not just to feed our family but to fill the bellies of a family in need. Enough money to meet our needs as well as the needs, wishes and wants of someone else we know. Enough grace to extend it to your enemies as you extend it to yourself on your worst day. This is rejoicing.
As I see that pink candle glowing this morning I am challenged to live a life that brings joy to those around me. And I don’t just mean my family and friends. Bringing joy to my kids is wonderful, but bringing joy to a dark world is remarkable. I am struck by the words of Richard Rohr in his Advent devotional “Preparing for Christmas.” He writes “The darkness will never go away…we have to surrender to the fact that the darkness has always been here and the only real question is how to receive the light and spread the light.” Let us move out of a passive season of advent into one where we see that bright light of the pink candle as a call to make the world rejoice. Spread joy my friends. There is enough to go around.
It’s the second Sunday of Advent! If you aren’t familiar with advent, look here for a little information I posted last week. My house is decorated for the Christmas season and my kids are excited. I will be excited too, when the terror of getting everything ready for Christmas is complete. Pretty sure that will be sometime during the afternoon of December 23rd.
But today is about the waiting and preparation of advent. Today many churches around the world light the advent candle symbolizing peace.
Many times you will hear people praying for peace or telling someone they hope that the person will “find peace.” I think most people would admit that the world needs more peace. That we as individuals need more peace in our lives. But I am not convinced we really understand what we are asking for or what we mean. Peace is more than just not having nations at war with one another. It means we find peace with our neighbors, peace with our enemies and our opposites and peace within ourselves. I think finding peace as a nation might be easier than finding peace with our own enemies and definitely easier than finding peace within.
Here’s the tough news. Peace just doesn’t happen magically. It must be practiced by each of us. It is up to us to lay down our weapons and befriend our enemies. Sounds crazy I know. You might say to yourself, “but I don’t even own a weapon! I’m just a gynecologist without a gun or knives or anything of the such.” Friends, we all have weapons. We have the weapons of mean words and harsh looks. Weapons of biases, fear of others, anger towards those who have done us harm. Sarcasm and judgment are great friends of mine and great tools to make enemies of others. I probably enjoy conflict too much. Everyone getting along is much too Disney Princess in my book. I mean, the struggle is real folks.
Truth be told, war will destroy us faster than it can even destroy our enemies. Our anger, our judgment, our deeply held resentment against another will keep us from having peace in our own heart and mind. Plus, the world will never find peace if we don’t create it in our homes, in our families, in our communities. I’m not claiming that I’m going to spend every Sunday afternoon having lunch with my enemy and my opposite, but I am going to claim that we should put less time and energy into being upset with what someone else is doing that we don’t agree with and more time and energy breathing deeply and choosing to be peaceful. To withhold our hurtful words and frowning faces and extend a hand to help someone we don’t necessarily get along with. To give someone the benefit of the doubt. To sit across the table with friends or family and find a moment of peace.