Mary had a Baby

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, December 29, 2019

By: Eleanor Wellford

Mary had a baby (O Lord), Mary had a baby (O My Lord), Mary had a baby (O Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone. (Bruce Cockburn)

These are words of a classic spiritual. Historian John Lovell, Jr. states that “the genius of those who created over 6,000 existing African American spirituals was their ability to weave together complex ideas and make them appear simple.”

The questions and responses in this spiritual are certainly simple. Mary had a baby as the focal point is followed by the practicalities of: Where did she lay him? She laid him in a manger. What did she name him? She named him King Jesus. Who came to see him? Shepherds came to see him.

The simple statement of the event masks the complexity of how the baby was conceived, of Joseph’s shame over Mary’s pregnancy, and of the danger surrounding Jesus’ birth in a barn and later by Herod’s threat to exterminate newborn baby boys causing Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt.

The most complex issue of all has to be how this baby represented any hope among an impoverished and oppressed people during the 1800s. But it did. It can be heard in each refrain of “O My Lord” which represented a deep spiritual understanding of God with them in the midst of challenge and misery. It’s a response of gratitude, reverence, and awe not only for the miracle of birth and for the eventual freedom for all people that this birth represented.

And what about that train that’s mentioned so many times in the spiritual. What did that represent? During the 1800s, trains were emerging as a new method of transportation. For many people, trains represented a new way of connecting to people and places. For African Americans, they represented an eventual way out – to freedom. The train may have gone as the spiritual says, but what’s understood is that because of the nature of trains, there’ll be another one comin’.

Mary had a baby. The simplicity of the event was that it was like any other birth in changing the lives of Mary and Joseph. The complexity of it was that it was like no other birth in changing the lives of us all.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

By: Eleanor Wellford, Priest Associate

 

Who in the world is King Ahaz and what does the prophet Isaiah want us to know about him that would be of any interest to us so close to Christmas?

Well…glad you asked that question! About 700 years before Jesus was even born, there were two kingdoms where the Israelites – God’s chosen people – lived: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

Israel had been threatened by the Assyrians for years and had finally been captured by them. Judah, however, was still independent. Its capital was Jerusalem and it was being ruled by a descendent of the great King David. His name was Ahaz.

The thing about the Assyrians is that they weren’t happy with just capturing Israel. They wanted to add to their empire and they set their sights south on Judah. King Ahaz was doing his best to hold them off, but it wasn’t easy. And he began to think that the best solution to the crisis was to make a deal with the Assyrians.

And that’s when Isaiah stepped in. He couldn’t help himself because like any prophet, Isaiah was God’s mouthpiece, and he needed to urge King Ahaz to have faith in the will of God instead of giving in to the will of the Assyrians. But Ahaz was scared and like anyone else, he wanted a sign that he and the kingdom of Judah would survive – but he wasn’t going to ask for one.

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Mary’s Faith

Advent Reflection, Sunday, December 22, 2019

By: Elizabeth Starling

Our Gospel reading this morning tells the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective; but, this year, I can’t help but see it from the perspective of Mary. This Christmas is a little different for me. My husband and I are expecting our first child and being pregnant over the holiday has given me a newfound respect for young Mary. At 13 or 14 years old, Mary is engaged to an older man she barely knows, and on top of that, finds out that she’s pregnant with Jesus—Emmanuel—“God with us.” What?! I can’t even imagine her reaction.

My wonderful coworkers probably won’t tell you this, but I have not been the most graceful expectant mother. I’m 27 weeks along now, and this week I, without any remorse whatsoever, stole a foot massager from another coworker during our staff Christmas “white elephant” game. I think I said something like, “Sorry but not really because my feet hurt ALL THE TIME,” and then swiped it from him. If my feet or back hurt, they hear about it; if I’m hungry, they know; if my daughter is kicking me, I’m likely making weird faces; and to say my temper is short is an understatement. Pregnancy is beautiful and exciting, but also really tough, and I haven’t been the best at hiding that.

So, when I think of Mary, I just want to give her a hug. By the time she and Joseph set out for Bethlehem, she’s nearing the end of her pregnancy. She has gained 35 or more pounds, her feet hurt, her back aches, and she is riding a donkey. A DONKEY. The last time I rode a donkey, I was five years old, and was excited about the “pony ride” at a carnival. For some reason I still don’t understand, I ended up on a donkey instead of a pony, and it tried to kick me off its back just so that it could stop and eat some grass. You could not pay me to get on a donkey again, especially at 40 weeks pregnant. No thank you.

Yet we don’t read about Mary complaining. We hear only about a humble young woman tasked with something that probably felt impossible—bearing a son, in an unfamiliar place, as a young teen, with a new husband, who just happens not to be the baby’s actual father. There were probably tears and anxiety that we don’t read much about, but despite that, Mary’s faith carries her through. Her trust that God is in control is something that I struggle with daily, and I can only hope to be just a little more like Mary in the months and years to come.

A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

By: David H. May, Rector

 

Last Sunday and again today John the Baptist is front and center calling for God’s people to, ‘prepare the way of the Lord’, and to ‘make straight his path in the wilderness’. And you know – maybe I’m hopelessly hopeful or sadly naïve – but I think we would, truly, if we knew what that meant for us and how to do it. If we could only hear, in the cacophony and contentiousness and wilderness of this world we’re living, if we could only hear this one voice calling.

When I was little and my family was heading to North Carolina or West Virginia to visit our grandparents, we four children and my parents crammed into a station wagon with all our bags and sometimes pets and headed off on what was usually a five hour drive. Before driving off, we often got lined up outside the car for a little talking to. My mother usually took the lead and would say things like, ‘look, no fighting, keeps your hands to yourself and no picking on each other’. And then she or my Dad would add, ‘if we have to pull over to straighten you all out, it will be a ‘reign of terror’ I promise you’.

Of course, there was no way we could make it five hours in a car like that as little angels. Inevitably, at some point flying down the road in the middle of some fracas or brouhaha in the back seat, we’d sense that the car was abruptly slowing down, the blinker was on and we were pulling off the road. This brought a sudden hush to we four kids and one or the other of us would say, ‘uh oh, reign of terror’.

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Being an Instrument for God

Advent Reflection, Sunday, December 15, 2019

By: Bob Hetherington

We have arrived at the Third Sunday of Advent. Advent is a separate season, not just the build up for Christmas. Keeping Advent is what makes the Church’s approach to Christmas very different from how the larger culture approaches Christmas. In the shopping malls, the Christmas music began long before Thanksgiving.

Advent is a challenge for each of us because we live in multiple worlds. There is so much to do this time of year – shopping, partying, organizing, and traveling. It is so easy to be distracted and lose sight of things that matter. We try so hard to get Christmas right. It is also true that the more the season is hyped, the more many people feel out of sync with the Christmas build up.

One of the sharpest contrasts between “Church Christmas” and “World Christmas” is John the Baptist. (You will never find a mall display highlighting John the Baptist this time of year.)

What can we say about John the Baptist?
• He was connected to Jesus. He was a cousin. He baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.
• He was from the wilderness – an outsider.
• He had a stern message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
• He pointed beyond himself in a spirit of deep humility: “There is one coming after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The challenge this season is to prepare a place in our hearts for John the Baptist. It begins by creating quiet space in the hustle and bustle of the season.
• Who are God’s messengers who come to us from the margins of life?
• In repenting our sins, what do we turn away from? What do we turn toward?
• How can we be instruments of God’s love and blessing?

John the Baptist was an instrument for God. He looked beyond himself to the One who was to come. In this holy season, how can we be instruments to bring peace and blessing to others?