Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Luke 1:39-42).
There are times I like Christmas shopping. Sometimes a deep quiet settles over me, and I am alone with my thoughts amid the scurry of people moving from one store to another at the mall.
I move slowly amid the hustle, watching faces and wondering what they are looking for. I listen to the music, too, waiting for a song of substance to slip into the holly-jolly play list and transport me into that mysterious love waiting within me to be born again.
Sometimes I see happiness on the face of someone whom I imagine has purchased that ‘just-right’ gift.’
But I also see emptiness on the faces I meet, and I am reminded that the worst thing you can feel at Christmas is … nothing, and nothing is what we sometimes feel, emptiness, barren loneliness.
Many congregations know this and hold “longest night services” in December, timing them near the winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year. The services provide a gracious space to acknowledge and pray the weight sadness that won’t go away.
The longest-night symbolism cuts to the heart of many, perhaps you, who come to Christmas hungry for happiness but burdened by loss and grief, disappointed hopes or fears of threatening illness.
The burden of melancholy magnifies in the expectation that Christmas should be a happy time. When it isn’t, we wait for a song or grace to awaken some small gladness that, for a moment, makes us feel alive again.
Until then, we wait, like Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is a little celebrated character in the Christmas story. Wanting a child, but ever barren, she is getting old when the miracle happens. Her emptiness stirs with life, and her heart leaps in hope that her womb might yet bear life and beauty, happiness and grace into this world.
Luke’s gospel says that when a pregnant Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to visit, Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb.
That child was John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus’ ministry. But first, he was the joy of new birth amid barrenness, a sign that God awakens life precisely when hearts are empty and hope seems lost.
God is bringing life, even when it seems nothing is happening. So, come, Lord Jesus, awaken life in our barren places.
For prayer & reflection
· When have you felt empty and lifeless at Christmas … or other times? What brought you back to life and joy?
· What is hardest and happiest for you in this season? What thoughts and memories appeared as you read today’s reflection?
· What joy are you hungry for? Read Luke 1:24, 39-45 or the song below. What do the words awaken in you?
Unexpected and mysterious is the gentle Word of grace Ever loving and sustaining is the peace of God’s embrace. If we falter in our courage and we doubt what we have known, God is faithful to console us as a mother tends her own.
In a momentary meeting of eternity and time, Mary learned that she would carry both the mortal and divine. Then she learned of God’s compassion, of Elizabeth’s great joy, and she ran to greet the woman who would recognize her boy.
(“Unexpected and Mysterious,” Jeannette M. Lindholm, 1977)