Mary Pondered

Luke 2:1-20

It never fails. Really. People say that the only things you can count on in this world are death and taxes – but that’s just not true.

You can also count on people showing up for Christmas Eve worship.

Now before you get your stockings in a twist, I am not talking about people who show up just for Christmas Eve services. I have no complaint about that at all. No, what I am saying is that there is something about gathering on Christmas Eve that is attractive to people.

Maybe it is the candlelight, and we are all moths drawn to the flame.

Maybe it is the songs – both carols and solos – that we are all waiting to hear.

Perhaps it is just being together, as a family and as a community of faith that drives us to want to be here on Christmas Eve.

I can assure you of this, if I had to pick one worship service to attend every year – if for some reason I could only go to one service of worship – it would be this one.

So, believe me…I am incredibly happy that every single person is here tonight and was thrilled with everyone that I got to see at the earlier service as well.

Yet there is something about worshiping at 11 pm on Christmas Eve that just works for me. (Some think that it is because my family has a tradition of going to Waffle House® in between the early and late services that motivates me. But trust me, it is more than that. Really.)

I think it has something to do with wanting to recreate the experience of that first holy night so long ago. Yes, in a very truthful way we moved our main Christmas worship to Christmas eve a century or so ago because we wanted to give Christmas Day to families and friends. But at the same time, I think we wanted to try and recreate a holy night. We hope for some sort of star to shine bright for us or for the words of an angel to ring in our ears. Or maybe it is because during this hour when our energy is really starting to run low, we know that we are open to experiencing God in some new and powerful way.

So, we come. Expectant as the shepherds, we come.

And maybe that is the real reason you can always count on people to come to Christmas Eve services: they know that they have been invited not just by a church, but by the Creator of the Universe.

Shepherds were invited to the birth of Jesus and shepherds were about as low on the totem pole of human creation that existed at the time. So why can’t we show up to celebrate as well, regardless of how we see ourselves or others see us. I think that is perfectly good theology. The Creator does want you here.

Angels were there as well, and if you don’t feel like one of the ruffians that shepherds were in those days, perhaps you feel at least a little closer to the angels – not angelic – but at least someone willing to serve God as you can, following Jesus, doing your best. So why shouldn’t you feel invited by the Creator? I think that is perfectly good theology as well. The Creator does want you here.

Even preachers have a precedent for attendance from the first Nativity – well, at least according to some. Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem, and we all know that a donkey is just another name for a, well, you know. So even preachers, or anyone we think a little less of in this world because of their obstinance or difference in opinion from us, have a standing invite to this service. I think that is perfectly good theology. The Creator does want me and you to be here.

But maybe we are here tonight because we know just how important this night is in the scheme of things. We realize that on this night long ago God chose to become Human, which started the move towards the cross and the resurrection. Those set loose the power for everything to be reversed for us so that we humans could be filled with the presence of God. Some would call it the circle of life…I like to think of it as the circle of re-birth. We celebrate a birth because we know that somehow this helps leads to our rebirth.

So, because we know how important this night is, we want to be here. We want to say we added something to our celebration of holly and Hallmark, presents and matching pajamas, lights and libations.

So, we go where people have always gone.

Church. On Christmas Eve.

I think a lot of us do show up because we think we know what this is all about. We think we understand the babe in the manger as Lord of Creation. We think we understand the shepherds, the angels, the guy who married a woman already pregnant, and we think we even understand Mary. We think we get all these things.

It is God’s coming to earth – of course I am going to be here to celebrate that! Easy – peasy – God is among us, let’s worship and have good cheer! Our world certainly needs that.

But right there at that moment is where we all rub up against this story in the wrong way. We are told in such a way that you cannot make sense saying that you “understand it all.” One of the last verses we heard in that story was, “But Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Folks, I have done my fair share of pondering – which means simply that we think about things that are puzzling to us – and some of you may even claim that I do far too much of my pondering out loud, from the pulpit. The truth is, pondering requires less than full understanding. If you fully understand, there is no need to ponder.

And Mary pondered. The one who knew more about what was going on that night than any other human or animal or angel present found herself surrounded with a baby given by God, a husband who loved her when he could have left her for dead, a birth in a strange town and a strange place, a bunch of lower class shepherds showing up to ogle her first born, talk of angel proclamations – something which with she had personal experience.

All these things – and Mary pondered them.

I believe that the greatest thing the church offers as we come together to worship on Christmas Eve is the opportunity to experience mystery! We can’t completely explain being fully human/fully divine. We can’t truly describe virgin birth, angelic hosts, shepherds who become proclaimers. We can’t explain new stars in the sky and anything else about this holy night.

However, we can invite you to the mystery of it all. We can aid in experiencing the mystery that goes beyond all mysteries. God and humanity created in One. You cannot explain that. But you can ponder the mystery of it.

And if you can ponder it, then perhaps you will decide to also follow that mystery. You can follow like the shepherds did. You can follow the mystery you ponder of the God/Human along whatever path you are walking.

Just don’t try to own the explanation of it.

Let it own you…so you too can have the peace that this holy night brings.

Amen.

Prayer

On the sidewalk, he talked to many people

                But they were not to be seen.

As he approached me, I wondered,

                Does my “here” exist for him?

But he spoke to me as to those other –

so I am real,

I guess.

And the King of Austria introduced himself

To me

And me to his own cloud of witnesses.

People who were there for him if not for anyone else.

He talked to me and to them in turns.

                Seeking help and advice and counsel from us all.

At times I could not keep up, but as time went on

                It was no longer strange, or weird, or uncomfortable

                Instead, it was what it was:

Prayer.

                I’ve been asked to explain it, teach it even.

                                But had I ever really lived like someone whose whole life was prayer?

                I held the door open a little longer than usual as he/they left

                Just to be certain they all went with him.

                But when the curtain, the door closed

                                Between us

                                It might just have been that

                                                One or two

                                Stuck around

                Just waiting for me to pray.

Living As Loved Ones – Week Two of What’s Next

Last week, I proposed that the first “position” that Christians and communities of faith need to have as we move to a post-pandemic church is to be able to “be present in the moment”. In this week’s sermon, the challenge from God’s Word is to be people who are “living as ‘loved’ ones” – as those who know the transformative power of Jesus’ love in the way we show joy, in how we choose who to love, in the way we are known by Jesus, and in living into the identity of being “chosen”. Below are some clips of that sermon…

Living as Loved Ones – Excerpts from May 9, 2021, First UMC Huntington

After watching the clip, meditate or discuss the following:

In what areas of your life do you find yourself “looking for happiness or satisfaction” rather than bringing the joy that Christ gives to us?

The idea was not explained well in the sermon, however, Jesus’ words showing our love by laying down our lives for our friends can easily be understood as identifying who we think is worthy to be our friend by choosing whether or not we are willing to lay down our life for them. Do you struggle with loving certain groups of people or maybe some person in particular? How would “giving up your ‘self'” in their presence help to heal that relationship?

We can easily get caught up in the act of serving Jesus out of obligation rather than realizing that Jesus’ greatest desire for us is to be in a close relationship with us. How do you keep Jesus at arms length in your life?

How is it different to think that Jesus chose you rather than you having chose Jesus? You must certainly respond to Jesus’ choice, but how is it different knowing that Jesus is the initiator of your relationship with him?

Feel free to discuss any of these in the comments below as well…

Challenge for this week – find some way to remind yourself several times each day that you are loved by Christ.