This, friends, is Daisy when she was in preschool with her good buddy Dylan. I couldn't resist using this picture since it's Advent, and their rumpled and homemade costumes just really remind me of the family of God: you, me, and all of human history. Sometimes we feel like we are someone of importance, sparkly garland nestled on our heads, plastic crown tipped at a jaunty angle. And yet we are all just dust. Placed when and where God has chosen. But I've a strong hunch He looks at us like I'm looking at these kids I love; with all affection and pride.
I'm sharing a homily I wrote last year for our church's advent gathering. It's dramatic but fun, and I hope It brings you a bit of refreshment as we close in on the craziness of Christmas. I was working on my book at the same time, so it overlaps a bit into a couple chapters, and I even share a little story about what happened when I was writing my "satisfyingly dramatic homily." It's my prayer we get an opportunity for a little reality check, attitude adjustment, or fresh perspective, Enjoy!
Christmas. It is not an isolated event, lone in the universe, standing still for its picture to be snapped and kept safe in plastic. No, it’s the culmination of millennia of plans and prophecies and history and small seemingly insignificant events all working together supernaturally, spinning into a symphony with an increasingly recognizable melody; louder and louder it’s climax blinding with the magical angelic display of adoration, and yet at the same moment is earthy and human and lowly. It’s unsafe and wild and cosmic. It’s a grand dichotomy, Christmas.
And Christmas is not only for the privileged, for the glittery, for the well-fed and perfect. The story of Advent is vast and dramatic and mysterious and yet the Master Planner is found to be humble and kind to weary people along the way. How extravagant it all is on a grand scale and yet how intimate—how personally meaningful it is for each of us, for the plain, the simple.
The story begins so long ago, really at the beginning of time. A time overshadowed by sorrow and regret: the banishing of the First Two from the Garden.The waiting had begun, the yearning for reconciliation already swelling in broken hearts.
In the epic saga of the Coming, God had chosen to tell his story through people. Because He is kind. An unlikely cast of characters, gently, mercifully he placed them in the midst of this most important of stories. The genealogy of Christ that we read in the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew is like flipping through a frayed family album; pages cracked with old glue, ancient script entitling sepia toned faces and stern expressions. Our fingers flutter over these family pictures, surprised by the unlikely ancestors of Jesus, the human-ness of it all.
We see Father Abraham, righteous by faith, yet flawed by flesh. There’s Tamar, taken advantage of by evil men and fighting to survive using methods we deem both shocking and distasteful. We recognize Rahab, the heathen prostitute who showed faith in the God she had only heard whispers of. Our eyes crinkle with warmth when we see Ruth, Gentile widow, caring for her mourning Hebrew mother-in-law selflessly, faithfully. Eyebrows lift with recognition of the renowned King David, handsome warrior, famous royalty, and we softly gasp in surprise when our eyes shift to the tragically beautiful woman, David’s humble and broken wife Bathsheba: woman of sorrow, used and grief-stricken.
Flipping further through the pages filled with distant relatives we’ve never met, our eyes skim over kings, both good and evil. We point out Uzziah from the time of the Prophet Isaiah, Hezekiah, who pleaded with God for miracles. We shoot looks of approval at the picture of Josiah who unearthed the scripture and honored a return to the Word of God in what had become a godless nation. And then the common, the virtually unknown, the regular, every day, salt of the earth folks. Men like the carpenter Joseph.
From Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian Exile, from Babylonian Exile to Messiah, Matthew records all the men and 5 of the women Jesus is descended from, the royalty, the commoners. The good, the bad, the broken, the faithful. A bit like me. A bit like you.
The family album quietly represents many monumental historical events, as well as many seemingly inconsequential workaday lives all linked together, like fibers spun into thread. Each on their own somewhat weak, but woven together, of great value. Royalty and poverty, sin and obedience, all knit together into this epic story of the coming of Messiah. Christ the King, who hears the humble, who mends the broken, descended from those whom His Father had chosen. A tapestry woven from a pile of loose threads.
Isaiah the prophet, speaking with the authority of Almighty God, quenches dry souls with these words: For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
A child, born to us.
A child, born of a virgin.
Who was the lucky one? Who was to carry this child? Mary the virgin engaged to Joseph the carpenter. Mary of a nothing town like Nazareth. Not a sinless baby-blue dress wearing blond haired picture of placid perfection, of serene loveliness, smiling with lips softly closed and head tilted just right. No, not her. The Mary I read of in scripture is the one with guts, true grit, and unwavering faith in her Creator, the Master Storyteller.
Mary. Chosen for perhaps the most mysterious and honorable task a human can do. A task incredibly risky, daunting. A task that laid bare and gave up so much when she said “be it done to me according to your word.”
Mary. Who gave up her reputation, destined to be seen in her community as unfaithful to Joseph.
Mary. Who sacrificed her security, knowing she could potentially be left alone without a husband to support her financially or protect her physically.
Mary. Who relinquished her stability, choosing the unknown of what was to come, aware that she could be stoned for what her neighbors and family thought she had done.
The night she pledged her service to the King of Glory, the night she agreed to the blessed yet rugged life, she was proclaimed favored and blessed.
Mary, favored, blessed, would be traveling at full term several days journey for a government census. Favored and blessed she would birth her firstborn in a barn with only a trough to lay Him in. Mary, favored and blessed would have strange shepherds visit her sacred birthing room, a room filled with the stench of sweat and dung and wool. Mary, favored and blessed would flee a murderous king in the night to protect her treasure, our treasure. Mary, favored and blessed was willing to be a vital part of the narrative, the grand story culminating in flesh, the newborn Jesus.
Mary was blessed to change holy diapers, honored to wash hummus from Jesus’ precious young face. Mary, favored to hold his small soft brown hand, walked Jesus to Torah school. Mary was faithful as she watched her grown son work humbly as a carpenter, choosing not to take a wife. Mary pondered truth as she believed God’s word, even after 30 years of waiting for her son to reveal his true kingship.
Mary, blessed, favored, honored, and faithful, witnessing her firstborn son die a common criminal’s death on a common wooden cross: despised, rejected, innocent.
Mary lived a lionhearted Advent. From the harrowing adventure beginning with celestial greetings, to the tedious years of Jesus’ boyhood, to the unthinkable pain of following him to the cross, she fearlessly served God.
In the family tree of King Jesus, God has chosen the unlovely, the stained and tarnished, the struggling, the broken, the abused, the forgotten, the downtrodden. And he has chosen the plain. He has given ordinary women the gift of belonging, and has made the timorous into warriors.
Let us not rush through Advent, but stop, open our eyes, listen to the love story. Let us press in with bravery while we await the coming, and with worshipful hearts look Heaven full in the face and proclaim “let it be to me according to your Word.”