In looking at Matthew’s introduction to Jesus we focused on the story of Joseph, and it only makes sense to cover Mary’s story with Luke’s Gospel. Luke gives us the grand narrative of the birth of Jesus, beginning with the drama surrounding his aunt, uncle and cousin, and then his own parents traveling to Bethlehem in that iconic journey which comes to rest under the star. He has angels galore, shepherds and an all-booked-booked-up inn. We have women breaking out into song and a guy with temporary muteness. Luke really delivers.
But in Mary’s story a single word has captivated me this season: Behold. You almost have to go back and grab an old translation for this, and I chose to study and read from the King James Version this past Sunday, Luke 1:26-38…
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be . 30 And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary said “BEHOLD!”
It was interesting to look into newer translations and see verse 38 expressed in different ways. Many simply had Mary say something like “I am the Lord’s servant” or a variant thereof, and some at least allow her to say, “Here I am…” In the Greek she says idou, which is “see me, perceive me.” She really does say behold!
I think that Mary was often presented to me as someone who acquiesced to God’s will… but this is not acquiescence, this is proclamation! She turns the table on the angel and says, “Ok Gabriel, now you pay attention and see that I am God’s gal!” She’s not giving in, she’s buying in.
Mary is sounding very prophetic here. This part of her story reminds me of Isaiah’s moment of identifying himself in God’s plans, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8, KJV.
This Is A Powerful Woman.
Why does it matter that Mary said behold? It matters because she is on the cusp of major life joys and changes, and God arrives to announce the impossible, the unlooked for and the unimaginable… and she buys in. She has her moment of how can this be?, and then she squares her shoulders, takes a deep breath, and gives herself to God’s insane sounding plan. This young woman hands it all to God and allows herself to be caught up in something she does not control, accepting all the repercussions to come. We think of Christ being incarnated in the Advent story, but this is an moment of faith being incarnated, strength incarnated and courage incarnated.
You Are a Powerful Woman (or Guy).
The story of Mary matters because it is our story as well. I want to be like Mary. I want to hear God’s crazy sounding will for peace and good news, grace and reconciliation, and believe it! I want to see a place for me in that plan, and I want to buy in like Mary.
I want faith to be advented in me, incarnated in my own behold! If we were all Mary in our own communities, Mary in our schools, Mary in our homes… if God’s insane grace, love and forgiveness were allowed to interrupt our daily plans and advent something new… if only. How many cycles of abuse would be stopped? How many cycles of insult and hurt would end? How many hearts would be reconciled in God’s peace? What do I miss when I insist on the plans I have made?
I’m not sure I can always be as strong as Mary when confronted with God’s work in the world. Many days I feel more like Zechariah, questioning and struck mute by my doubts. (Luke 1:5-25) But that’s ok, because Zechariah’s mouth was eventually reopened, his words are returned to him, and he sings a beautiful song…
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them…
…because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Let’s go advent some faith. And if we don’t have the words at a given moment, keep believing and the words will come. Yes, Mary was blessed among women, and she is also a prophet and a inspiration for us all.
It’s the second week of Advent! Woot! At Church in Bethesda this past Sunday we dug into the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel to explore his introduction to Jesus. Matthew begins with a lengthy genealogy of Christ (which we’ll skip over for now), but he then moves into a birth narrative, the subject of our discussion this week. Let’s take a peek at that in Matthew 1:18-25…
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew stands alone as the Gospel writer giving us the story of the annunciation to Joseph, something we usually associate with Mary (and which we’ll see in Luke’s Gospel). Joseph stands in a similar situation to Mary in that his marriage plans and future marital hopes seem to be coming apart at the seems… his betrothed has turned up pregnant. He would be understandably upset, angry and hurt. He would understandably feel betrayed, and most of us would lash out at Mary in our hurt and anger.
But Joseph is a good man, a righteous man, and that leads him to grace instead of disgrace in his dealing with Mary. He’s a righteous man. The Greek word there means that Joseph is a keeper of law, both human and divine, and is as he ought to be. And that leads him not to judge or to disgrace Mary, but to move in a way that protects her from any further hurt or harm. The circumstances look about as bad as they could be for Mary and as hurtful as they could be for Joseph. She’s not yet fully married, but now unexpectedly pregnant, and Joseph moves to shield her from further trouble.
When it says that Joseph did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace the word in the Greek does mean to put on display. Isn’t that what we so often do to deflect any blame or wrong-doing that might be accredited to us? Isn’t this what we do to punish people when they hurt us? We usually make sure everyone knows who deserves disgrace and blame. Joseph shows us a better way, a way of grace.
Still, Joseph does plan to divorce her, right? He does plan to end their betrothal. I’m glad he is a righteous man and plans to do so quietly, but I’m even happier that God steps in and expands on the grace Joseph would show Mary. When God enters the picture Joseph is called to greater faith and less fear. He is called to courageously embrace the very circumstances which had caused him pain and embarrassment, and to love Mary without fear.
This Advent Season let us remember that the arrival of Jesus is shrouded and immersed in grace, grace shared between people. Can we become a people who daily advent grace into our lives and communities? Oh, yes. We can choose to put aside a righteousness that demands others be judged and demeaned and choose a righteousness that honors others and protects them, even in the worst of circumstances.
Choose grace. That is our Advent message for the week. Choose to look past the circumstances and be not afraid. Protect those around you, even if they seem to deserve worse than they are getting.
God of no fear,
and God of greater love…
May we not ever be a people of disgrace,
but a people who plant a seed of grace
in the worst circumstances of life,
and then watch you it into grow a beautiful thing!
May our righteousness always be a gift
to those most in need of our best.
People are worth the effort and the cost,
now and ever more, world without end. Amen
In this first week of Advent many of us are asking hard questions about race and justice. Many of us are trying to understand how we can repair the hurt and divisions in our nation and among our people. But others of us don’t seem to even be trying to understand the pain and view from the other side, more comfortable in a perceived sense of rightness.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John begins to tell us about Jesus by going back to the beginning of the beginning with language that sounds very much like a creation narrative. John goes to the beginning of the beginning to make Jesus central in the creative power and meaning of God’s presence and work to bring the world into being. In doing so John calls Jesus the Word, the logos of God. The Word was of God, with God and was God’s activity.
This is a special way to present Jesus. Though we may think it easy to relate to Jesus as a baby in Luke’s Gospel, a child and a human being, I think John is doing a cool thing by calling Jesus Word. I think John is teaching us about Jesus by reminding us about ourselves.
Is there another species on the planet using words as we use them? We have the singular gift of speech and word, written and spoken. We tell stories, our stories. We write our stories down and share them. You’re reading my blog. I can’t help myself, I have to craft some words and throw them out there in the hopes that someone else will read, comprehend and maybe even appreciate them.
Jesus is Word just as he is light and life. This is a connection point to for us to the divine. One of the beautiful movements of John’s passage is highlighted later in these verses, John 1:12-14…
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus entered creation to bring us into the divine. He came into our world to raise us out of it and into the world beyond us, born of divine will. He was begotten so that we might be begotten again into newness. He came here and identified with us so we could be identified anew into the thereness of heaven’s will. This is story, word and meaning.
Our words have power and meaning just as the Word in John’s introduction was also the life and light of all people. Jesus will later call us the “light of the world” in Matthew’s Gospel, further emphasizing our shared role in his story of bringing light and life to our planet, to our people.
We relate to Jesus not only in our shared human infancy, but in our shared words of light and life, a shared mission and purpose in creation. We are a blend of human and divine, as was Christ, made so by Christ, and now continuing the great work of Christ begun at the beginning of beginnings.
The Work of Advent.
I know we usually talk about the waiting of Advent, but John reminds us that we stand singularly among creation as co-light and co-life with the Word and the Word’s work in Advent. Even in the first week, with only one candle lit, and the light seeming so small, the work moves on. Even in a broken world, in broken times, when the darkness seems so strong and justice so elusive, our words are still so needed.
Shine your light. Speak life. Believe. Own your begottenness and know that the darkness runs before your light. The darkness cannot overcome or commandeer your light. Even if some don’t understand and even if your own don’t celebrate your light, it must still shine. Your words must still be life giving and creative.
This is an Advent Season to embrace our calling. In the face of whatever frustration or disappointment or darkness we see, shine on in life and love! And let’s make our Advent prayer one of purpose and joy to our God, Psalm 19:14 adapted with John 1…
“May all the words of our mouths be life and light in the world,
and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and part of your great work,
oh God of Creation, our Hope and our Divine Parent!”
Things like this pop up in the news every now and again, and I took a hit for the team today and actually listened to Pastor Steven Anderson’s full sermon entitled: “AIDS: The Judgement of God.” It came as no surprise that he generalizes people, uses stereotypes and exaggerates, and does some pretty horrible handling of scripture.
This preacher is not mainstream Christianity. He’s not even mainstream for Baptists, even non-affirming Baptists. He’s not doing good exegesis of scripture. He abuses his concordance by picking and choosing uses of English words across the breadth and width of scripture. And I have to take a moment to repudiate his message and proclamation. I won’t join him in name calling and I won’t join him in screaming. But I won’t sit by and let this be done in the name of Christ, with the accompanying laughter of his congregation, without a strident denial of the message of vilification, violence and anger.
I had hoped to just mention a few things he did wrong, but it’s a long sermon. I ended up with at least 14 things he did that were disrespectful of people and/or disrespectful of our scriptures.
1. Jokes about HIV/AIDS and people’s health and suffering. Really, he laughs about AIDS rates and people having AIDS. He repeatedly jokes about their suffering and about efforts to help them. HIV is a laughing matter to him.
2. Backward reading of Romans 1 and dismissal of Romans 2. He ignores Paul’s point to the verses in chapter 1 which is made in chapter 2: Don’t judge. Since he ignores Paul’s point of not judging, he is then free to read the verses in chapter 1 any way he wants. I outline in depth this kind of problematic reading of Romans 1 in another post here at the blog.
3. Associating HIV/AIDS with Romans 1:27. I didn’t think people still did this, but he actually makes it the sermon title that he believes HIV/AIDS is the penalty mentioned in Romans 1:27. Do we have to go into the problem of reading a disease in our current time backward into scripture from 2,000 years ago? This is so disrespectful of scripture that it defies explanation when coming from someone so stridently claiming “biblical authority” for his message.
4. Use of the word “sodomite.” If we are honest about the destruction of Sodom as biblical writers spoke of it, then we have to know that using the word (which was created long after the scriptures were written) to reference a specific sexual activity is a warning sign that we’re listening to a severe lack of education on biblical topics and a lack of respectful interpretation. Again, I wrote on this in a previous post. Using sodomite as an adjective would more correctly denote gluttony, pride or a neglect of poor people as scriptural writers spoke of Sodom’s destruction.
5. Defining words with a concordance. He jumps around an English translation of the Bible to define biblical terms in one instance by the use of that term in another instance, as if it were all originally written in English, yesterday.
6. Setting up straw arguments which he of course wins. He says, “They said *blah blah” to which I say “blah blah*” and wins the argument… of course. He makes everyone who disagrees with him sound stupid both in their intention, content and inflection.
7. Advocating the execution of homosexuals. He claims that we can have an AIDS free world in short order by killing all LGBTQ people, as we were told to do in Leviticus. His words normalize and justify violence against sexual minorities.
8. Name calling. Psycho. Homo. Satanist. Freak. Hypocrites. Bastard (speaking of President Obama). Twinkie.
9. Vilification and criminalization of homosexuals in every possible sense. He says, “Homos are gross.” “Homos go both ways.” “No queers allowed in this church.” “All homos are pedophiles.” He actually asserts that all gay men are pedophiles. He asserts that all gay men are trying to spread AIDS to straight men and women. He says that gay men are to blame for any straight person who has AIDS, which of course he can assert by believing that God gave gay men AIDS in Romans 1:27. He claims that gay people only want to be married to be insulting to straight people. *Sigh*
10. Believing the gospel means that a person cannot become gay. He asserts that becoming a Christian means that a person cannot be then tempted to explore gay sex and negates any previous leaning toward gay sexuality. Since when does faith work that way with anything we might consider a sin? And of course, since I don’t believe that being gay is a sin, then I’m left further befuddled.
11. Misuse of a verse from Jude to link homosexuals with the destruction of Sodom. He misuses a phrase “strange flesh” from Jude’s short letter, almost as an afterthought, to link homosexuality with Sodom. The phrase is sarkos heteros in the Greek… very hard to link homo-sexuality with hetro-flesh, but it doesn’t stop our preacher in this instance. I hope we all know that hetro- means different not male. Therefore heterosexuality is attraction to the opposite sex.
12. He doesn’t know any gay Christians. Not just to repeat points 9 & 10, but it’s so sad that he doesn’t know any gay Christians, whose faith has at times put my own to shame. His narrowed and incorrect view of sexuality limits him from a fellowship which would do him such good.
13. “I’m not going to stone them with stones… this is not a violent sermon about harming anyone.” After asserting that we would have an AIDS free world if we’d only execute homosexuals, he then claims that he won’t himself use stones to kill anyone and isn’t meaning to advocate violence. Too late.
14. He engenders fear, “Don’t just put your kid on a school bus.” …because gay people are waiting everywhere to devour your children, with government support. He speaks with the language of fear and abuse. He himself is fairly stereotypical in his language when not only vilifying gay people but also the public educational system and politicians.
Now I have to pray and find a way to detox from this sermon. His anger, his venom and his excited joy in condemning and ridiculing people is injuring to the soul. Please, my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, don’t listen to this man. No one should be swayed by his screaming tirade and twist of scriptural passages and words. Don’t believe that he in any way speaks for our Christ, our God or our Church.
I can’t muster the spirit at this point to listen a second time, but I’m fairly sure he never once quotes Christ in this sermon. I can’t even recall that he mentions Christ. I do know he at one point makes fun of Christians who emphasize love. Hmmmmm. Let that sink in and be a warning flag for the future. If he did mention Jesus, then it was so passing as to not even register in my memory. Know that you cannot preach as this man preaches if you are tuned into the heart of Christ, a heart that breaks with every ridiculing joke and sneering dismissal of a human being from this man’s mouth.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40