Mary's Song

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In many of our Advent and Christmas activities, liturgy, and traditions in the  church, we tend to focus on the baby Jesus, the Christ child coming into the world. And don't get me wrong, we should. His birth in humility, and the vulnerability of God choosing to come into the world as a tiny human, to experience all that humanity experiences, and no less born in a stable amidst cows and sheep, is the center of this season. 

But I want to shift our focus to another important person in the story: to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The mother who, like I'm sure many mothers reading this can relate, frantically rushed around Jerusalem after the boy Jesus left her and Joseph's care only to find him preaching in the temple; the mother who prepared Jesus' body with spices and whom Jesus entrusted to John at his death; and most of all, the woman who said "yes" to God when some random angel appeared to her young, poor teenage self and told her she would give birth to the Savior of the whole world. 

Can you imagine? Mary was the age of many of our KPUMC youth, risking everything to get on board with what God was doing not only in her life, but for all of creation. I think we Methodists could learn or thing or two from our Catholic friends about the importance of venerating this woman who birthed our incarnate God.

During the 4th week of Advent, one of the lectionary readings is the song, the Magnificat, that Mary sings after her cousin Elizabeth's womb (where John the Baptist was growing) leaps during a visit from Mary. 

"My soul magnifies the Lord," she says. "And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant... He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate." 

In other words, "God noticed me.... even me, poor and afraid, a woman living in a patriarchal society of humble means. God chose me for this task, which says so much about who God is and who God cares for."

Mary's song is a powerful word for us in this season of political turmoil, of allegations of sexual misconduct left and right, of the mighty in their thrones who exploit the poor and subjugate those of lowly status. God sees and validates the experiences of those who are mistreated and powerless. 

What an invitation for us to say yes when we feel least able to do so, to thank God for God's presence in our lives no matter how inadequate we may feel at times, and to honor the women around us who have said yes so that beautiful and holy things could be born into this world.

As we continue our Advent journey together, I pray that Mary's words might bring you comfort, challenge, and serenity.

A Stranger's Letter

by Ken Kelley

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I can’t remember a year when I’ve so anxiously awaited Advent. After spending the last couple of months taking solace in the expectation of the coming of The Prince of Peace, I can hardly wait for a liturgy in worship in which we respond together as a congregation, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come again” (or words to that effect).

One of our Good Shepherds gave me a copy of the following letter which was written by the son of a friend of hers. It’s reminiscent of many of the conversations I have with those I visit. They often share stories of memorable events in their lives which I usually enjoy, even when I can’t relate to them. Frequently, I learn something and have discovered that, if I pay attention until the end of our conversation, I often leave inspired. I hope you will have a similar experience reading a stranger’s letter:

The smell of his Old Spice cologne and cigars still lingers in my mind.  His pocket always had a Schaeffer ballpoint, the kind with an arrow for the pocket clip.  I remember noticing that my Granddaddy had a small hole on his upper lip, a large pore actually. I always wondered how he got the hole, so on Christmas I asked.  He told me an Indian shot him.  It was funny, and I laughed even though I knew it wasn’t true.

The world and everything else didn’t seem to matter when you were in your Granddaddy’s lap.  The room could be full of people, but it was just you and him --one on one.  I think that if I had to write a description of the perfect Granddaddy, it would be him.

Every year my brother, sister, and I would decide (usually Christmas Eve morning) to make Granddaddy a present.  He had a big desk in his butcher shop, and surely he would need a new pencil holder.  All it took was a Welch’s frozen grape juice can, some construction paper or colored felt, a few sequins or some glitter, and voila, instant pencil holder.  He always acted like it was the best present he’d ever received. I wonder what he did with all of those pencil holders. You came away feeling as if you had made his Christmas special.

I never really thought of someone as a gift.  I know now that the people God gives you in your family are a gift.  It takes years to realize what you were blessed with.  Those people may not be perfect, but they are what God wanted you to have, experience, learn from.  I learned much from my Granddaddy.  I hope someday I am as good a Granddaddy as he was to me.  I thank God for the gift of his life and for allowing me a time to know and love him.

Thinking back, I have seen the face of those who received a gift that they did not expect.  That what-cha-ma-call-it that you have no idea what it is for or why it is even under your tree, or that “what-on-earth were they thinking when they got me this” look.  I think that this has been a recurring event since the first Christmas.  The world was given a gift.  They had asked for this gift for centuries. They had been promised the gift would come.

But that first Christmas morning, the world said, “What is this?  This is not the gift we expected.  What good is a baby to us?  Why he is just a common child, the son of a carpenter.  What could he possibly do for us?” The gift came to the world unappreciated.  The Giver received few thank yous for His thoughtfulness, His generosity, His love.

The gift was a treasure -- a miraculous, unique gift.  But it would take thirty years after his birth to begin to understand God’s plan.  It would take centuries to spread the gift to the whole world.  It will take until His coming again for all of the world to understand and appreciate this gift and what it truly means.

As the season rushes to its climax, amidst the hustle and bustle, the rivers of memories which flood our hearts, don’t lose sight of the truth of Christmas.  Take time to appreciate the Gift, thank the Giver, and look to the future with the hope that is yours in Christ.

Come, Lord Jesus, come again.

Trudging the Road of Happy Destiny

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One of the happy perks of being your pastor is being invited to all sorts of holiday events, and one of my favorites is the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by our Monday night Alcoholics Anonymous group.

This year’s extravaganza was no different — a rich smorgasbord of fantastic food, including all the season’s favorites, followed by an even richer time of testimony. The group leader read the following passage from the The Big Book:

Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

Then we went around the room, and people shared their thoughts on the passage, as well as expressing their gratitude. The things they shared were humbling and powerful. More than one person expressed their thankfulness that they could remember holidays now; several admitted outright that they knew they would be dead if not for AA.

As I listened, I realized that this group is nothing less than a “church.” Here is a group of people who recognize, admit, and confess their sin, who submit their lives to a Higher Power, and meet weekly to hold each other accountable as they move forward in sanctification. Their fellowship is marked by openness, authenticity, genuineness, tolerance, and acceptance. They don’t wear masks with each other, or pretend to be somebody they aren’t. Their conversation is marked by a deep humility, and also a sparkling sense of hope.

This is exactly what I hope for Kessler Park UMC; this is the kind of fellowship I hope we become.

Isn’t it ironic that perhaps our best example of how to “be the church” has been meeting right here, on church property, every Monday night for the last 16 years?

As you celebrate Thanksgiving, please give a prayer of gratitude for these fellow members of the body of Christ, these fellow trudgers on the Road of Happy Destiny.