You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Those Who Dream…are not alone, HERE.
Merry Almost-to-the-Birth-of-Jesus everyone!
This has been quite the journey. The past few months, we have been reading—and walking—through the Bible in a way which is different for us. Traditionally, our church uses a set of assigned Bible readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. Now whether or not you are familiar with the Revised Common Lectionary doesn’t really matter. The specifics of the tradition isn’t important. What is important is in September we shifted to the Narrative Lectionary, a different compilation of our sacred texts which have been guiding us through the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) for the past 4 months. From creation, to the exodus from Egypt as the Hebrew people leave the oppression and slavery of the Empire, and through the prophets we have read ancient stories of people getting to know God in new ways—and in new places. Each step of this multi-generational story has reminded us God is always present. God’s people are not… and have never been… alone.
This 4th Sunday of Advent, we move from God’s faithfulness and covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures, across time and space to the small, nobody-thinks-much-about-it village of Nazareth. Welcome to the book of Luke! A story which begins with the words “I have investigated” (Luke 1:1-4, The Message) and written an “orderly” account based on “eyewitnesses… so that you may know the truth” (Luke 1:1-4, NRSV): Those who dream, are not alone.
We have been doing our own walking through our day-to-day lives in a very different way. Around this time last year, news of the novel coronavirus began to emerge. I don’t know about you, but during 2020 I have often found myself perplexed and asking “how can this be?”
How about you?
For 9 months we have not been able to gather together due to the pandemic. We have found ourselves in exile in these boxed-in, digital spaces called FaceBook and Zoom. Here it is, December, and we still cannot return to the church sanctuary.
Yet AMAZING THINGS have been happening. Throughout Advent, the virtual choir has been offering LOTS of special music. It has been a joy to watch the families light the Candle wreath—in a pre-recorded format. This worship space LOOKS amazing as I sit here with you… but it is empty. I am here… alone. You are each there… alone… or with a few other family members. I am missing the bell choir, and the kids running up to me before church, excitedly telling me about the Christmas presents they have already gotten. I miss the voices in the Fellowship Hall after church, and even seeing cars in the parking lot.
There is no way around it: Our times and place have changed. Yet along every step of our COVID filled story, God has been there and we—no matter how isolated we have felt in 2020—we have never been alone.
Thus, in this midst of this coronavirus time warp, I am going to S-T-R-E-T-C-H the Christmas story. For I am struck by the impossibly possible stories with which the book of Luke opens. People who receive messages of hope in the bleakest of circumstances. In this year which for us has been just packed with Mary’s ultimate question, “how can this be?” God makes possible.
In the sequence of “what happens next” in Luke, we have just eavesdropped on Mary and Elizabeth’s conversation. Now, if we S-T-R-E-T-C-H a little bit and read on, there lies hidden in the text a whole new level of understanding for us of the phrase “those who dream… are not alone.” This is sacred space into which God’s love is born.
So, read on with me! For in a few verses the Emperor Augustus will send out a decree for all people to be registered in their home town. This triggers Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem. Not an easy 3-day trip for anyone, but especially not for Mary who was so close to giving birth. 8 or 9 months pregnant, riding on a donkey? No thanks!
In all the confusion and uncertainty of this mass movement of people, Mary has the baby—in the unfamiliar-to-her town of Bethlehem. Off in distant fields, doing normal everyday life things, the shepherds receive the ultimate text message in the form of angels. “Do not be afraid… I am bringing you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). Boy, at the end of 2020, am I ever ready for some good news—and great joy!
Of these 3 stories: Mary hanging out with Elizabeth, the little town of Bethlehem, and the shepherd’s jubilee I must say, I find the shepherds get a lot of credit.
Sure, the story of Elizabeth and Mary is often told and may be familiar to many of us, but it is the shepherds out in the field who have been morphed into a metaphor for God—Jesus the Good Shepherd. From childhood, I have a vivid image of the Good Shepherd etched in my memory. I know those of you who remember Memorial’s previous building in Madison also have an image of the Good Shepherd from that sanctuary. The UCC church in which I grew up has a larger-than-life image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, holding a lamb fixed in the beautiful, stained glass windows. It is a comforting memory. Being cared for by the Shepherd, we are never alone.
But… what if we S-T-R-E-T-C-H the story? What if instead of Jesus (or God) being a good shepherd… and Jesus’ followers referred to as sheep… what if we heard told of God the faithful cousin, Elizabeth, sheltering us in the storm of uncertainty? Having worked as a youth group leader for many years, I have witnessed teens who have needed to leave their homes for safety. What if God is the relative we have who—even if parents or siblings kick us out of the house—What if God is the cousin, or auntie, or grandparent, or friend we know will welcome us in? Unconditionally.
Or… what if in the story of Mary giving birth to her first child, God appears to us as the midwife? God, ever present, guiding us through the birth process, silent until the urge to bear down grows and it is time to push forth something new? Because… having given birth twice I am convinced someone was with Mary—whether it was midwives from that little town of Bethlehem, or maybe (just maybe) there is a chance Joseph was a really good midwife!)—but someone, or someone’s, were there with Mary. She did not give birth alone.
In all of the moments through 2020 we have asked ourselves, “How can this be?” God has been with us during the labor pains. What if we are witnessing… what if we are agents in… the birth of something new?
What if it is Jesus, the midwife, teaching us how to swaddle a new world order that will need constant attention? Caring for the multitudes crying out in hunger, cold, discomfort? What if Jesus is teaching us how to nurse the tender hopes for the future which have just taken their first breath?
What if, today, the angels are saying once again, “Do not be afraid of the new thing being born! Take heart! You are not alone. Dream people of God! Dream! God sends caring cousins, doting midwives, and watchful shepherds to guide you. Care for you. Celebrate with you. Do not be afraid.
I ask you to dream. Because there is no doubt 2020 has been full of change. Holy S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G. I sense a great spiritual tsunami sweeping our way. And in this moment, God is inviting us to not be afraid of the impossibly possible.
For when we ask, “How can this be?”
God responds with “THIS can be!”
And impossibly possible things burst forth!
So, look around. LOOK at your computer screen, your tablet, or cell (and if you are joining us via telephone IMAGINE you can see a sanctuary full of people). This is who God has sent to us. YOU! YOU are the faithful family and friends, the active midwives, the watchful shepherds. We are God’s dream.
Take a deep breath.
Do not be afraid of the impossibly possible things being born in our midst.
Good news—and great joy—are bursting forth!
Reflection on Luke 1:26-45 offered December 20, 2020