Monthly Archives: December 2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent — Dr. David Walbert

Children of the (Christmas) Revolution

Luke 1:39–55

May I speak in the name of the one holy and living God, to whom we give all glory.

That’s a heck of a greeting Mary gets from her cousin. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Still, you don’t meet a lot of people who would respond even to that by crying out “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

If you tried that, people would smile pacifically and back slowly away.

On the up side, you’d have that seat on the bus all to yourself.

Seriously, though, did you ever wonder what kind of person Mary really was? We know so little about her, and we have so many agendas. Growing up Methodist I didn’t hear much at all about Mary; we didn’t have pictures of her hanging up in the church, she barely got a mention. Except at Christmas — when suddenly she’s everywhere, loitering on front lawns with her husband and the kings and the lone representative shepherd that came packaged with the Wal-Mart crèche. It’s hard to learn much about her from most of these setups, and those you can… well, let me give you an example.

Take the people who used to live next door to me in my old neighborhood. I knew they were churchgoers, because the bumper sticker on their car said so. They had the polite but stern and unhumoring quality I had learned as a child to associate with certain classes of evangelical Protestant. They had a perfectly maintained lawn that they never, ever used, not even the clean white porch swing in the side yard. And every Christmas they put a crèche out front, a simple one: Mary, Joseph, Jesus in the manger, and a tiny shelter representing the stable. There may have been an angel; I don’t remember. What made this display noteworthy was that all of them — Jesus, Joseph, and Mary — were represented as babies. It was the complete inversion of the Medieval practice of representing the infant Messiah as a miniature adult, with adult proportions and an adult expression. Out on my neighbors’ lawn, even Mary and Joseph had disproportionately large heads, like babies of almost any mammalian species—it’s how you can tell Charlie Brown is a little boy and not a balding old man, and how the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind were made to look safe and innocent instead of weird and scary. Worse, they wore the placidly idiotic expressions of baby dolls. They were cute, like pandas or someone else’s puppy. If they hadn’t been made of cheap plastic they might have been cuddly.

When my former neighbors bought that house and I saw their crèche for the first time, I was not a Christian. I was coming out of a long atheist interlude, drifting in a direction people call “spiritual but not religious” — sensing that something was missing, casting about for it, open to ideas and suggestions and potentially convincing narratives.

What I saw in my neighbors’ front yard was not a potentially convincing narrative.

At best, it was nice. Pleasant. Polite. Sentimental, yes. Safe? Very safe. But I didn’t need pleasant and polite. I didn’t need sentimental. I could find those things elsewhere, plenty of places — and they weren’t enough. I didn’t need a god who was merely pleasant. Although I may not have recognized it at the time, I didn’t need a god who was safe. I needed a god who could shake things up — who could change things — who could change me, who could save me. I needed a god who could kick some butt — mine, when necessary. And that was going to take more than a really super nice guy. It was going to take more than a god who would pick a babydoll to be his mommy.

Now, having been raised Christian, having been exposed in my collegiate singing career to Latin masses and the works of Thomas Tallis, and having studied and written about the Old Order Amish, I was aware that Babydoll Crèche did not represent the full breadth and depth of the Christian experience.

Nevertheless, when I saw that crèche… well, I thought, if these people don’t take their god seriously, why should I? Continue reading

Third Sunday of Advent — Rev. Karen Barfield

Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah
Luke 3:7-18

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
In whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

Today the voice of John the Baptist still echoes from the walls…

“You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Get over yourselves and let go of your arrogance.
Even as we speak, the ax is lying at the root of the trees.
Time is short: bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

And after that tirade, someone actually had the nerve to ask, “What then should we do?”

The crowds of people stuck around because they were filled with expectation…
expectation that the Messiah would come and turn things around,
make life worth living again.

And perhaps this man, John…perhaps he was the Messiah.

So they ask:
What do we do?
How do we live?

The necessary beginning, John says, is to take a look at yourselves…
a deep look…
an honest look.

Move beyond assumptions about yourselves and your community,
thinking that just because you are the people of God that you’ve got it made.
God has the power to raise up holy ones out of folks you’d never imagine.

Taking a deep look at ourselves is perhaps the last thing we want to do!
It is a frightening prospect. Continue reading