Monday, December 17, 2018

Leaping for Joy!

Mary does something in our Gospel this morning that most of us will do this Christmas season.
She goes to visit her relatives.
For most of us Christmas is about being with family.
I wonder why?
What is about family that makes us get together during times of celebration?
I would like to believe that Mary and Elizabeth knew that sharing their pregnancies with one another would bring joy to each other.
It would confirm that God was doing something new in the world.
We can tell from the songs that they sing that being together helps their faith in what is about to happen.
When we gather with family does it help us to confirm what our faith tells us.
The Holy Spirit tells us that this time of year is special.
It is a Holy time.
Because during this time of year we celebrate that God came to be with us.
We celebrate that the world got turned on its head because of the birth of a baby.
That the poor are fed, and the rich go away empty.
That God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
That God has helped us according to the promise God made to our ancestors.

But we also know that not all holiday celebrations are wonderful.
We know that not all family get together are joyful.
We know that there are families that don't get along.
We know that sometimes when we get together with family it brings up for us painful parts of our past that we don't want to remember.
We know that not everyone has a family to go to.
We know that not everyone can be with their family.
And this is why I think we have to have a note of caution during Christmas.
If Christmas is only about the joy getting together with family then it would seem that Christmas is only for those few whose family is awesome!
Jesus Christ didn't come for the few.
Jesus Christ wasn't born so we could have elaborate Christmas celebrations.
If we believe the words that Mary sings, then we have to believe in a deeper meaning for Christmas.
It has to be about how the world is changing because of this birth.
How are we participating in the saving act of God?

Every year on December 21st I participate in a memorial service for those who died while experiencing homelessness.
In many cases, there were no other funeral for people who died while homeless.
The names that we read were not reported in the paper.
People hardly took notice of the person who was living in a tent and froze to death.
Or the person who didn't get the right type of medical care and died as a result.
The stories of the people we remember is often very sad.
Just as a contrast think of the funeral services for our 41st President George H Bush.
For that funeral we had two days of national coverage as people got up to say what a great man he was.
I am not denying that he was a great man.
I am saying that the reversal that Mary is talking about this morning means that every life is treated as George H Bush's life is treated.
That all people matter, regardless of circumstances.
"he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."
Perhaps you are thinking that George H Bush accomplished great things in his life, and someone who is homeless didn't.
George Bush deserves a major funeral, he earned it in his life, by being a good public servant, a good husband and father.
All true things, but it misses an important aspect of God.
God's love is equal for everyone.
God cares just as much about the person who is experiencing homelessness, as God cares about George H Bush.
That is the power, and the scandal of grace.

Christmas is an excessive holiday.
It is about eating way too much.
It is about spending too much.
I am in support of lavish celebrations that show our joy in knowing that Jesus was born.
The problem is not in the celebration, it is in our understanding of what that celebration is about.

As I was pondering the Gospel this week I found the key.
It is in the joy that John the baptists has in the womb.
It is the joy that Elizabeth and Mary feel when they are in each other's presence.
The joy comes from knowing the blessing of the fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord.
We celebrate that God cares about the names of the forgotten of the world.
We celebrate that God's grace is sufficient for this day.

Because ultimately you and I are also in that category.
We have to be.
We need this joy  too.
Because not everything in life goes great all the time.
We don't always get along with our family.
Our jobs are not always fulfilling.
We lose people that we love.
We sin and do bad things to other people by what we do and by what we leave undone.
And this Christmas we all have left plenty undone.
While we were out shopping and loading up on stuff, people were dying because they didn't have enough to eat or drink.
You and I we need Jesus to come just as bad as anyone else.
We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Because that is where real joy comes from.
It comes from knowing that Jesus has come to be with us, to show us the way.
Jesus has come to remind us of God's gracious and merciful ways.
Jesus has come to do great things for us.
This week a friend of mine, who is going through a hard time, wrote on Facebook.
 "This holiday season rivals the one where grandma died.
 I can’t remember another one that was feeling so irrelevant."
I responded.
"This is exactly the condition that God shows up.
In a manger born to a forgotten people.
When we are at our worst God is at God’s best.
That is the whole point of Christmas!"
Our joy in this season doesn't come from any of the outward signs that we attribute to Christmas.
It doesn't come from  shopping, from family gatherings, from eating.
Those things are a response to what we really have been given.
They are response to the joy we know from having Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior.
They are a response to the grace given through Jesus Christ.
They are response knowing that God is great.
That God cares not about our station in life.
God doesn't care about fancy titles, or how much money you have in your bank account.
What God cares about is you!
Your true self, the one in your soul.
And because of that truth we can, just like John in the womb, leap for joy.
We can have the same joy as Elizabeth and Mary.

May you leap for joy this Christmas.
May you know that grace given in Jesus Christ.
May you know how much God treasures you!
And may you know that you are indeed blessed.

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