Tag Archives: Christmas

The Women Who Brought Us Jesus: Bathsheba and Mary

(Click here to listen.)

Today we are looking at the stories of two women, two women who became pregnant by someone who wasn’t their husband. Bathsheba, who was spied on undressed then brought to king David for his pleasure, and Mary the fiancé of Joseph whom the Holy Spirit made pregnant with Jesus. I read the story of Bathsheba a few times and have to say that I made a very shocking discovery: nowhere in the text does it imply that Bathsheba sinned in this interaction with David. In reading between the lines a bit I have to say that the bible doesn’t give the impression that Bathsheba had any choice in what happened. David played the peeping tom, sent his men to bring her to him and then slept with her. Would it make us feel better if she had tried to resist David? Yes, but her passivity in the face of overwhelming power tells us a lot about the lack of options women, especially the wife of a foreigner, had at that time. Her passivity may even have been an attempt on her part to spare the life of her husband. We don’t know, but need to be very careful when encountering stories and situations where there are power differences to not blame the victim for the crime committed against them. When Nathan came, he came to confront David, not Bathsheba; did Bathsheba suffer at the death of her child? Yes, but her suffering started well before that event. That is not the end of the story though. God is not one to let an injustice go unredeemed. Bathsheba’s next son became the king of Israel, David watched his family disintegrate into infighting factions and Solomon the son of David and Bathsheba claimed the throne of Israel and built a great temple to God. The story of God’s redemption doesn’t end there though, God had a plan to redeem the whole world through the broken family of David and the broken heart of Bathsheba. Their family line persisted and even though it lost access to worldly power, brought us to another young woman who had access to the power that came from trusting the God who redeems all hurts and sorrows.

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38

Mary was a poor girl in a hick town a little west of a major Roman enclave. She was engaged to a man who was most likely older than her and had little to no say in the running of her life. She was the property of her father until she married and became the property of her husband. Into this life of a girl who obviously had little control over her activities we can infer that despite the lack of control Mary chose to honor God in what she did and spent time praying and pondering the words she had heard from her parents about God. Mary was familiar enough with the stories of her people that she echoed the words of Miriam in her praise to God for using her as the vessel of the Messiah. Mary knew that God used the unlikely to confound those who thought they could control events, but growing up without any control showed Mary the lie behind the illusions of power. When that angel came to her Mary neither dropped in fear nor made assumptions about the angel’s purpose, but waited to see what was meant by the favored greeting. This response belies a maturity beyond her years. How often have I gone haring off after hearing what essentially was a greeting and expression of love from God? It is very easy to assume that just because we hear from God that he loves us that our agenda has been blessed and that it is time to hit the ground running.

Mary waited to hear the full message and on hearing it asked a very practical question about the implementation of this plan. There was just a tiny matter that she felt needed to be brought to the angel’s attention that would raise some fairly major difficulties in achieving the desired goal. I also think that Mary was stating in no uncertain terms that she was not willing to compromise the call to be faithful to her future husband. Honestly I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to see the expression on the angel’s face as he tried to deliver this message. This has entered into some fairly intimate and awkward territory. Mary needed to be reassured that what would happen was truly of God. Here is another area that we can learn from Mary, we need to weigh the words we hear from God and ask questions if we don’t understand something. Mary questioned God’s messenger here and while some would say that it wasn’t her place to question God, this text and many others in the bible warn us to test the words and spirits that come to us. Mary knew that she was called to be faithful to her future husband and the angel could say what it wanted, but if it was asking her to violate that, she was going to send that angel packing. We need to guard ourselves as well, because there are many voices out there purporting to be connected to God that have sweet messages that sound good at first, but on closer investigation fall short. Those messages start out with telling us how special we are and then begin enticing us to buy another gadget because we deserve it. We also get messages that start off by telling us how horrible we look, but with this product we can look great. We hear messages about what the good life looks like, but if we follow all of those messages without testing them against the scriptures and God’s priorities for redemption, our homes begin to look like the Hoarders crew is due to start filming next week. Mary knew what God’s priorities were and knew that God would not ask anyone to go against those priorities. Sometimes the overwhelming messages we get from the millions of ads we see overcome that sense of sacred attention we try to cultivate and we end up with things in our lives that we not only don’t need, but have materially contributed to the degradation of the earth or have been made by child or forced labor. The fog of advertisement and the mantras of “free-trade” can overcome the urge to follow the Christ who came to us through a woman that refused to accept anything  that got between her and the life God called her to live, no matter how attractive the message or messenger.

The angel reassured Mary that nothing untoward would happen and gave her a sign that what he said was true: Mary’s aged cousin Elizabeth would bear a child as well. Mary’s reply echoes the words the high priest Eli told Samuel to say when he heard God calling him. “Here I am Lord. Speak for your servant hears.” Mary said let it be so and then when the angel left went to Elizabeth to double check on the angel’s sign and get away from the glances and rumor mill of small town Nazareth. When she had met Elizabeth and received confirmation in the flesh, Mary sang out the following words in praise of God and acknowledging the purpose God has given his people and began to carry out in her womb. She said

“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46b-55

God’s salvation had come and through that salvation the world would be changed. Human hearts would be changed and the mercy of God would be poured out through his son Jesus. The proud and powerful would be cast down from the thrones built on the oppression of others and those who bore the brunt of their oppression would be freed. There have been times when the oppressed have given in to temptation and become oppressors themselves, but Jesus seeks to free us from that cycle. The change he brought is not a change of who is on top of the heap, but to remove the heap entirely, creating a space that has been redeemed from the value systems of this world. That is our mission, we are to embody a redeemed space in a culture of competition designed to separate us into winners and losers. Jesus’ sacrifice in coming to us as a helpless infant, living life as the “illegitimate” son of Joseph and Mary, then giving up his life and livelihood to a ministry which showed us the way of the cross lived out in graphic brutal detail leads us to care for the “losers” and even allow ourselves to be considered “losers” by the society around us. Tamar the abandoned widow, Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the immigrant, Bathsheba the rape victim, and Mary the unwed mother were all considered to be “losers” in the societies they were in, but God sees beyond our definition of success and failure and intentionally shows the value of those our society considers worthless. As we reflect on these women that God brought Jesus to us through, let us be aware of those who our society and culture considers to be worthless. Let us also ask God to help us move beyond awareness of the value he sees in each of his creations, that he came and died to redeem, and actively seek out and welcome the precious children of the most high God upon whom his favor rests. Let us seek out the abandoned widows, the women forced into prostitution, the immigrants, and the victims of our world’s value system and welcome them into our family. As this motley crew enters into our time of Open Worship, remember to hold this time in reverent communion with God and the, broken, misfit, overwhelmingly loved, rich, healthy mix that exists within these walls and our spiritual family the world over who celebrate Jesus’ coming with us.

Another NW Christmas song parody – I’m Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

Wet Christmas

by Gil George with all apologies to Bing Crosby

I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas

Just like the ones I used to love

Where the raindrops glisten and children listen

to hear splashing up above

I’m dreaming of a wet Christmas

With every snowy Christmas ad I get

May your sunlamp be brightly lit

and may all your Christmases be wet.

 

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Mary, the Unwed Mother of God

December is upon us, and yesterday we had the joyous task of decorating our building to celebrate Christ’s coming. That physical preparation is important, but we have some spiritual preparation to do as well. What does it mean to you that Christ has come and is coming? We live in an in-between time waiting for the fulfillment of promises in a world torn by strife and empire building. Mary lived in a similar time in world history. The Roman Empire was well on its way to controlling the world and the Hebrew people were waiting for the promised coming of the Messiah to free them.

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

 

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:26-45

 

There are some hard questions that God asks me when I read this story: “Would Mary be welcome in your church? How would you treat her? Would she have to run to the next state to stay with family?” Mary was a young woman with a problem. There are names for young women that get pregnant when they aren’t married, and she knew she was about to be on the receiving end of them. I find it interesting that there aren’t nasty names for the young men that are part of these kinds of situations. Mary knew God would protect her, but how could she look her family or neighbors in the eye? Who would believe the story she had to tell? She needed to get moving before she started to show. Her life was possibly in danger and her future was uncertain. She needed to go somewhere to figure out what to do, how to break the news to Joseph, how to not become an outcast. Mary paid attention to the words of the angel and went to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth could have said quite a few things to her cousin, regardless of how her baby reacted, but she welcomed Mary with open arms, seeing the truth of the situation. It is not recorded what counsel Elizabeth gave Mary, but we do know that Mary returned home after only three months, right when she started to show. Who would have thought that the Messiah would be conceived out of wedlock? If the mere fact of her pregnancy didn’t get her in trouble her excuse would have. If a teenager came up to me and said that God got her pregnant, I know that I would have a bit of difficulty swallowing that one. But God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus was to come through an unlikely, but willing vessel.

“Unlikely but willing” is a theme that runs all through the scriptures. God is much more concerned about willingness than he is about qualification. Abram had no idea what he was doing, but he was willing to trust God and became the father of Israel. Miriam was a poor slave, but she was willing and through her willingness to obey God Moses lived to lead Israel out of bondage. Rahab was a prostitute but was willing to hide the Israelite spies and was spared to become part of God’s people. Samuel was a ward of the temple, but he was willing and God spoke through him as the prophet to Israel. David was a shepherd in a rural area, but he was willing and became king. The list goes on throughout the scriptures and there are some people in this church who have their rightful place on that list. Because of Mary’s willingness we remember her 2000 years later as the mother of God, but we sometimes gloss over her unlikeliness.

Some of that is influenced by our own self-images. We see ourselves as unlikely, unworthy, and unprepared for the calls God has placed on our lives. We see our unlikeliness as a failure on our part to be the person God has called us to be. But we forget the examples that have come before us of God preferring to use the unlikely. God’s will is for us to grow, not to remain as we are. Let’s look at David as an example. David was an uneducated youngest son in an agricultural society. His chances of becoming the king of God’s people seemed not only slim, but laughable. The current king was vigorous, and had a healthy son to continue his line. David was God’s choice though and God created opportunities for David to grow into the role. Not only did God create opportunities, but protected David as he learned the call God had for him. God trained David and gave him the opportunities to grow and prepare that led to his being one of the greatest kings of Israel. David’s biggest failures came when he was at the top of following God’s call because he forgot the responsibilities of the call. What gives us hope is that even though David had his flaws, as did Mary, God still called David a “man after God’s own heart.” If God can use an adulterous murderer like David to do great things in God’s plan, we certainly can be used as well. God has a call on the life of each person in this room no matter what you think about your ability, worthiness, preparedness or the lack thereof.

Just like Mary, Christ resides within each of us, waiting to be born into our daily lives. Waiting for us to willingly lay our lives, hopes, dreams, ambitions, and prospects down in favor of God’s will. This is the real test God has for us: Are we willing to lay aside everything in favor of following Christ’s lead? When the Angel told Mary she would be with child, Mary knew there would be consequences to that. It could have meant the loss of everything she had hoped for in life. It could have meant the loss of her family, the loss of her future husband, the loss of her home, and possibly even the loss of her life. But Mary was willing. She could have said no. She could have asked the angel if it could wait until after the marriage. Mary could have tried to negotiate an easier path, but she didn’t because she was willing to trust God with her future. Mary’s willingness was not blind obedience. She had some questions to ask the angel, and she got answers that confirmed the call. But if you look at the questions she asked, they were not only logical, but they were focused on how God was to accomplish this while keeping Mary’s integrity intact. Mary was willing, but she was also wise to make sure that this was an angel of God, not one that was leading her astray. It is perfectly alright to ask God “How on earth will this happen?” and to make sure that everything is on the up and up. I knew I was called to become a pastor. It was a long journey, and I had some fears and some questions. When I was approached by the Elders at Olympic View Friends Church in Washington, I told them that I wasn’t sure I was ready. They said that they didn’t think I was ready either, but that wasn’t what they were asking me. They wanted to know if I was willing. I said I was, but that I had some questions about how. God answered those questions, because here I am today. God took an extremely extroverted, disorganized, college dropout, and taught me how to shut up, how to organize around relationship and helped me gain admission to and a scholarship for seminary. I was an unlikely vessel for God’s words, mainly because I had plenty of my own, but because I was willing God set me on the road that led here.

The angel also gave Mary a way to confirm things and a direction to go. This direction led to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist who welcomed Mary. We are also called to be like Elizabeth. Elizabeth saw that Mary had some challenges to face, but welcomed Mary into her home and spent three months preparing Mary for what was to come. Without Elizabeth’s support, Mary might not have had the courage to go home and face Joseph and her family. Those of us who have been in the faith a while have a responsibility when we see people God is beginning to work in. It is not our job to point out what makes people unlikely vessels. We usually are all too aware of our unlikeliness, that message is blasted at us all day every day from thousands of advertisements. Our responsibility is to fan the flames of the call, to help them prepare for the path ahead. Elizabeth was paying attention to the workings of God and because of that was able to provide that initial support that Mary needed to begin the process of bearing Jesus. When we are in prayer and are paying attention, looking for the working of God in each other, we can have the privilege of working beside God as he begins a new work in someone’s life.

These two women, Mary and Elizabeth, are role models that display God’s activity in human history. Mary willingly bore Christ, with all of the complications and suffering that added to her life. Elizabeth willingly welcomed the Christ that Mary bore and helped Mary prepare to face the consequences of that call. Just as with Mary and Elizabeth, God has given each of us the privilege of bearing his Son into this broken hurting world and the joy of welcoming the Christ that others bear. I pray that each of you finds ways to bear Jesus to your community and that you eagerly seek to nurture others in following the lead of the Christ they are also called to bear.