When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
"Let it be"
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
"Let it be"
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be
How many of you knew the Beetles had today's gospel story as their basis for this hit song? I know they didn't get “Hey Jude” from Jude's epistle. But they went to the town of Nazareth to share Mary's words of wisdom; “let it be”. Luke had a little more meat to his account, “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary offered herself as a servant of the Lord, and it wasn't just, “Let it be”, but “let it be according to your word.”
We don't get to study this portion of the Christmas story every year. And of course, it didn't happen during the time of Christ's birth, but 9 months before. Mary and Joseph engaged, but not yet married. We can imagine plans were well underway planning their big day; a wedding in Nazareth would be a community event. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary...with an unusual greeting, calling her “favored one” which she didn't understand. She was “much perplexed by his words.” Gabriel went on with a fantastic, unbelievable promise for this teenager from that tiny village. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Wow. How would you like to be the recipient of such a promise? It sounds pretty good at first flush. But consider what it would mean for Mary. One, she wasn't married so it would mean scandal, it would mean removal from her faith community, Joseph would have his doubts and would be in his right to call off the marriage; at its extreme, it could mean death as the penalty for being unfaithful was stoning. Serious, serious possibilities. Plus she was busy planning her wedding...as I learn more and more is a very important day in the life of a young woman. This news was going to turn her world upside down, and not always in good ways. She could very well be a young, unwed mother with no means of support.
We tend to paint Mary with a very fine brush. We see her as a holy, obedient, spiritual, almost unreal saint. But she was flesh and blood with dreams and plans like any young girl. This angel breaks into her life and gives her this unbelievable, frightening news; and her response...let it be.
As we celebrate Christmas tonight and tomorrow, we sing the carols. “Silent, Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright?” No, calm is the last thing Mary experienced. Not only the unexpected and unplanned pregnancy, she must leave home when the baby is due. Then her contractions coming closer and closer together and Joseph can't find a room for them. “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.” I don't think so. Overcrowded streets, vendors trying to make a buck with the crowds, cattle lowing, Mary crying out in pain. All happening in a blur of activity and fears and doubts and anguish.
Do you think Mary was regretting her faithful “Let it be” at any time during this process? And yet, what would it mean if she did? It was done, there was no going back. Each and every one of us, every one who has lived has faced trials in life where we don't have the chance to make something not be. Cancer, infertility, broken bones, arthritis, Cystic Fibrosis, depression, fibromyalgia, diabetes, dementia. A partial list of things being faced right now in this congregation. Are we to say “Let it be” and just take it? Not necessarily. God's good plan for us is health and wholeness. Sin, disease, even death were not part of that good plan. But since we live in a fallen world, we face troubles that God allows but doesn't always send to us. And so we work and we pray and we exercise and take our meds to be as fully whole and healthy as we can be. Our “Let it be” is acknowledging that we need to face the troubles that come our way. But our faith in a good God means acknowledging that we don't have to accept the inevitability of the evil of disease winning. “Let it be according to your word.” is how Mary responded. Go to God's word and claim promises of protection and wellness.
Rosie lent me a book recently on the 91st psalm. It is a psalm with many promises of protection. We are promised that we, as God's children, can come to God and ask for these protections. Listen to what we can claim as God's promises, “God will save you from hidden traps and from deadly diseases.4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you can hide. His truth will be your shield and protection.
5 You will not fear any danger by night or an arrow during the day. The Lord is your protection; you have made God Most High your place of safety.10 Nothing bad will happen to you; no disaster will come to your home.11 He has put his angels in charge of you to watch over you.”
Now I admit that I have witnessed too many cases where God's protection isn't recognized; bad things do happen to us. And we know that in this world we will have trials. But claim these promises from the Psalm; “God will walk with you. (The Lord says) They will call to me, and I will answer them. I will be with them in trouble;” Notice that the verse says we are to call out to God. This is echoed in the New Testament, 1 John 5: 14 and 15, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” We call out to God for health and wholeness in our quarterly wellness prayer service. You are each invited by the Most High to call out in your distress. We are assured that God hears. And you don't have to go easy on God. God's feelings are not hurt by your honest prayers of grief or sorrow or even anger. Share the journey with God!
As I was typing this, at this point I left for a home visit with someone who had recently received a bad diagnosis. As we visited, I shared that this sermon had taken a turn to be a little darker than I'd imagined. And as I told her where I was with it, she pointed out that Jesus is the gift that gets us through the tough times. That helped me, I hope it helps us all. Jesus is the gift that gets us through the tough times. Jesus was the gift to Mary that got Mary through her ordeal. Like all of us, Mary didn't get to fully understand just who this baby in a manger was. He was God. There is no fully understanding God. But we can understand that Jesus was a gift. “God so loved the world that he gave”... he gave the gift of his only Son that we might have life...abundant life. And Paul reminds us in Romans, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And so Christmas has become about gifts. Unfortunately, this gift giving and receiving no longer has much of a spiritual connection. I love the giving and getting of gifts, but we need to work hard to remember why we do it. It is because God gave us the greatest gift possible. And it seems the world is most aware of that gift in the Christmas season.
I am amazed at the number of automobile ads that suggest buying a car for your significant other for Christmas. Who does that? But gifts have become about size and scope. But that first Christmas affirmed that the gift is about the least of these, about the down and out, the downtrodden. The gift was delivered, not in the great cities of Jerusalem or Rome, but an insignificant village called Bethlehem. The gift was delivered, not in a palace or even a hospital but in a lowly manger. The gift was delivered, not to the king and queen or even the rich and powerful, but to a poor village carpenter and his teenaged wife. And the gift was welcomed that first night, not by the rich and famous, but by humble, dirty shepherds come in from the fields. And by the sheep and cattle in their stalls.
In our world today, the ostentation and the expense and the materialism is in sharp contrast to that first Christmas. The love of God and the love for God and neighbor are all that matters in the true meaning of Christmas.
A story from the internet helps illustrate: After a busy morning of shopping, a family decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant. Erik's mother placed him in his highchair and suddenly, baby Erik squealed with glee and said his baby, “Hi”, giggling and chuckling as he looked over to the lunch counter.
His mother followed the direction of Erik's eyes to learn what had amused her son. Her eyes met a homeless-looking, unkempt, old man seated there. He was waving back at Erik, “Hello baby...you are such a big boy.”
Erik's parent were startled. They didn't quite know how to respond to this situation. They were uncomfortable. Well, the food came and their family hurried through it. The old man was still playing with Erik, “Peek-a-boo...I see you.” The man was anything but cute and apparently intoxicated, but Erik didn't know that and Erik didn't care.
They finished their meal and Erik's dad went to the counter to pay the bill and told his wife to hurry and meet him in the parking lot. She had to pass by the old man and whispered a prayer, “Lord, just help me get out of here before he tries to speak to me or Erik.”
She drew near the man and kinda turned to sidestep him but that brought Erik closer and before she could stop him, Erik sprang into the old man's arms. And right there in the restaurant, the ragged man with sorry-old clothes and the young child with a face full of giggles were in full embrace.
Then baby Erik, in an act of total trust and love, laid his tiny head on the old man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed, and tears hovered beneath his lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain, cradled the baby and stroked his back.
Erik's mother stood awestruck. As he cradled Erik, the old man looked at the mother and said, “You take care of this baby.”
Somehow she managed to say, “I will.”
He then handed Erik back to her and said, “God bless you, ma'am, you've given me my Christmas gift.”
She could do nothing more than mutter thanks and with Erik in her arms, she ran to the car, crying, “My God, forgive me.”
God's good gift of love came to earth as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. We witness God's gift when we witness a gift of love shared. The most important gifts this Christmas are not under your trees; it is the love shown and shared to our neighbor, to your family, to the stranger. The gifts under your tree symbolize that first Christmas gift; simple, poor, humble. Remember why we give gifts. And may we each know the love of God as we celebrate this day the gift of Jesus Christ. And may that love shine in your life, today and the whole year through. Let it be, according to God's word. Amen.
In the Bleak Midwinter 36 PH