The Rev. Linda Campbell
Advent IV, Year C, 2009
Have you noticed the children before church, after church, come into the side chapel and light a candle? Maybe you have lit a candle and offered up your concerns and loved ones to God. For those of you fortunate to have been raised with a theology of the Mother of God – perhaps you sneak in a prayer said through the intercessions of His Mother, Mary.
Mary’s God is a comforting God, one who is available to us as Parent and Savior, Mother to all the peoples and creatures of the world. Mary’s God’s embraces without measure and without condition. Mary’s God drips with milk that nurtures us and helps us to grow healthy and strong in faith. This God longs for us to suckle and cuddle and lay our heads down, in rest and utter contentment. And at some level, don’t we all long to do just that? To truly become a child of God.
I know that when I get knotted up with worries and fears and what if’s and if only’s and how come’s, the knots melt away when I light a candle, say a prayer, and crawl up into God’s wide, warm lap. And after awhile, I’m ready to be a grown up again – a grown up that doesn’t take myself or anyone else too seriously. A grown up that knows it is good to also be a child of Mary’s God.
The church I first served was a historic building, built from redwood in the late 1800’s, with a magnificent pipe organ, and a deep sanctuary for the choir and the altar. Among the artwork was a beautiful painting of Mary and Jesus – hidden away in one of the small alcoves. Those of us who served at the altar would talk about how beautiful it was, and we wondered where that lovely painting might go so that it would be more accessible to everyone. But in the end, we decided that the painting should stay where it is – because another truth of Mary’s gospel is that God is often hidden, and found in unexpected, small, out of the way places. Found in places where no one thinks to look and in places that are not available to everyone. Places in our lives perhaps of disappointment and sorrow. Places of tragedy and even curse. Places where we come face to face with what a mess we are, private places where we cannot bear a great deal of public scrutiny. Places of fragile new beginnings. Places of hopes and dreams that are not yet ready for the harsh sunlight of details and facts and figures and rational logic.
Mary’s God is wide and warm and completely available and also hidden and small and unexpectedly last and least. We meet this wide, warm God in Bethlehem, a small out of the way place of complete ordinariness.
The truth is that our advent journey towards the manger of Bethlehem;
towards the infant born under the cold night air;
towards the peasant woman giving birth to her first born child, far from home;
our journey towards the unspeakable mystery of Christmas,
is a journey towards those places where the
great, vast richness of the Creator,
enters into the cramped small places of our lives, of our world -
without reservation, without hesitation,
without hanging on to a scrap of dignity.
Our journey towards this revelation of Almighty God, under the improbable cover of a vulnerable naked refugee infant, is a journey to the places where the last and the least are born. Where they live and die. To the people and places who do not occupy any place in history or in the news. People and places that are insignificant. It is a journey towards those places in our own hearts where our carefully and tightly woven veils of plans and protective defenses fall from our faces and we must acknowledge that we, too, are insignificant and bloodied with the afterbirth of purpose gone astray.
But these are not places where we really like to go, is it.
The truth is, we long to meet God in places like Herod’s palace.
Places where we are secure in ourselves. Where we have got our
best foot forward. Where we can point to pretty pictures
and classic statues and carefully cultivated gardens. Where there is
beautiful background music and where we are confident that we would
hear God say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
You have been faithful with a little. Now, I shall put you in charge of much.”
Despite our acknowledgement and bewailing of our manifold sins and transgressions, we most want to meet God in the palaces of our making. And if we can’t do that, then it might be ok to hike over to the manger, greet God, and then high tail it back to our places of security and order and predictability.
But Mary stops us. Our Mother rather forcefully puts her hand out, grabs us, and tells us to wash our ears, and don’t forget the backs of our necks, and forget going home to our palaces that are due to fall any minute anyway.
“My soul magnifies the Lord”, she says as we squirm. “And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Jesus had a fiery mother. A mother who knew whom to say yes to, and whom to worship. She did not worship safety or popular acclaim or social status. If she did, she would never have found herself in the awkward and dangerous position of being pregnant and traveling by foot, alone, to take refuge with her older cousin, Elizabeth. If she worshipped her own future, she would never have said yes to God. But she did worship and love God above all else, above all other considerations. And so she, the first Christian, the Mother of the Church, calls us out of our worship of security and predictability and into worship of her God. The God that comes to lowly places, to places of humility and emptiness, to bus stops and soup kitchens and in the middle of the night. The God that asks us to lay down our whole lives “in a small, chilly manger warmed only by the hearts of the lowly and know with perfect joy that we are home.” (Sojourners)
From early childhood, we are mostly trained to go towards the spotlight – and to work hard for all the benefits the spotlight brings. But the good news according to Jesus’ Mother, Mary, is that the world’s spotlight is neither here nor there. If wealth and fame and power and visibility fall on you, so be it. Rejoice. Use your resources with humility and joy and confidence, for the sake of God’s good news. But if obscurity and emptiness and lowliness is yours, so be it. Rejoice. Say, along with Mary, an unknown girl; and along with Jesus, a stranger born among the last and the least, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:7) “Let it be with me, according to your Word.” (Luke 1: 38b)
And whether we serve our Lord in the spotlight or in obscurity, let us join our hearts and minds and hands in prayer:
“Come, little Word, there’s a weary world awaitin’
Come, little Word, with your eyes open wide.
Come, little Word, the welcome table is ready.
Now, little Word, would be a good time.
O come, Lord Jesus, come.” (Sojourners)
Quotations from: “Sojourners Advent Bulletin”, 2003