January 3, 2021
by Evangelist Al Mount
Happy New Year!
As we begin the New Year, I would like to share three unwritten rules for a successful 2021. See below:
This came from a book my son, Curt, gave me for Christmas entitled “Bad Dad Jokes.” I send him a Bad Dad Joke first thing every morning. He may wish he had never given it to me! But, looking back over 2020 some of what we wrote down to be accomplished might as well have been UNWRITTEN!
Anyway, let’s start over: Happy New Year to you, my fellow servants, who I love so deeply!!
Let’s begin with a Hymn which is also our opening prayer: “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” by Grace Community Church:
In the protestant church I grew up in, not a whole lot of time was spent looking at Jesus’ mother, Mary. I knew an Angel visited Mary announcing she was to give birth to the Christ Child. She was engaged to Joseph who married her even though she was carrying a child that was not his. Mary knew Joseph could put her away and even have her stoned. I knew Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable and laid the babe in a Manger and then there were the three Wise Men, etc. As I reflect, it seems there was not much deep thought given to Mary.
My Roman Catholic friends seemed to make a bigger deal of Mary than was done in my denomination. I think we missed something. I believe we should have made a bigger deal out of Mary. So, let’s have a look!
In Luke 1:30-33 we read where the Angel Gabriel tells Mary: “Don’t be frightened, for God has decided to wonderfully bless you! Very soon now you will become pregnant and have a baby boy, and you are to name him Jesus. He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. And the Lord God shall give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he shall reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom shall never end!”
Let’s pause here and ask ourselves some questions: Why was Mary chosen to bring Jesus into the world out of all the thousands and millions of women? Why was Mary chosen to be the Messiah’s mother? There had to be thousands of women, who at least on the surface, had equal credentials! I, Al, certainly do not have the answer, but accept the fact that there had to be something extra special about Mary. She was the chosen one, handpicked by God to give birth to the “Son of God”! How could this not be a BIG deal?
In Luke 1:38 Mary tells the angel; “I am the Lord’s servant. Whatever he says, I accept.” Wow; what an example for us to follow! Can we say the same for ourselves that (whatever God tells us we will accept and do?) To me this says Mary was completely selfless! To me this is a big deal. God knows I “Al” am not selfless let along completely selfless as I self examine myself, and my life.
Let’s take a moment to discern just how deep the meaning of selflessness truly is. For one thing it means we love God more than self, more than our spouses or significant others, our parents, and even more than our children. It means to surrender ALL by CHOICE as did Mary. It is a big deal!
Before looking more at Mary, let’s look back as we approached the year 2020. We, you and me, were probably making plans for the year about this time. Some of those plans probably had some degree of certainty and some of our plans may have been a bit uncertain. But just three months into the year all our plans were blown out of the water by something we never anticipated. EVERYTHING became UNCERTAIN! And so, and I think I can speak for the vast majority of us, we are happy to have the year 2020 behind us. Yet, we probably do not look forward to 2021 with whatever degree of certainty we may have had going into 2020. And so we ponder, as did Mary, about our future and 2021.
Growing up, my mom and dad told me “there was no such thing as security in this world the only constant is God.” Never have those words of wisdom shared by my parents rang more true than in the year 2020! God was and is my only constant.
You know, you can lose your health, your home, your money, your spouse, your children, your parents, and even your friends but you can’t lose God. While this has always been true, we probably realize this truth more deeply.
Now, back to Mary, she certainly had her plans for her life. She was engaged to Joseph, she was making wedding plans and picking out a wedding dress for herself and gowns for her bridesmaids and planning their honeymoon. Their wedding was not only a big deal for them but for their community according to Jewish customs. Beyond the wedding, Joseph, as a carpenter, would build their first home, there they would raise a family and live a nice normal Jewish life. Mary had her life laid out.
But suddenly (just like our virus) the Angel appears! All of Mary’s plans were blown out of the water, just like ours! Her plans were dashed. Mary went from exciting wedding plans to wondering if Joseph would have her stoned to death as she was with child and it wasn’t his!
And so, Mary Pondered (Ponder is probably an understatement!) Mary “pondered” the angel’s message that she was to carry in her womb Jesus the Christ. I believe that we, like Mary, need to ponder our future with God. I like to believe that it is as we ponder (with God) we discover the right course of action for the right reason seeking the best outcome for all as we move into the future and leave 2020 behind.
And so, as I have pondered, I would like to share the following which comes from various writers which I hope will be meaningful for us as priesthood and cause us to ponder and reflect on how we are called to bring the Light of Christ into God’s world just like Mary!
Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896–1985) was a Russian baroness who lived the Gospel “without compromise.” She gave up all she had and began Friendship House in Toronto, “a storefront center for the works of mercy, where the hungry were fed and the homeless were welcomed.” Robert Ellsberg writes that Catherine’s formation of the Friendship House in Harlem, New York in 1937 emerged out of a deep conviction of the sins of racism and segregation. In 1947 she also established Madonna House, “which became a place of prayer and retreat. . . Through Madonna House and the communities it inspired around the world, Catherine promoted the two principles by which she lived—a commitment to the social apostolate in the world and the need to root such a commitment in a life of prayer and the spirit of Christ.”
In her own words, Catherine describes how we give birth to Christ:
Christians are called to become icons of Christ, to reflect him. But we are called to even more than that. Ikon is the Greek word for “image of God.” We are called to incarnate Christ in our lives, to clothe our lives with him, so that people can see him in us, touch him in us, and recognize him in us.
We have to begin to love one another in the fullest sense of Christ’s teaching. But to do so we must pray. . . The immense problems of war, of social injustice, of the thousand and one ills that beset our world, these can be solved only if we begin to love one another. (Al here: This cannot be legislated; it comes through a change in our hearts not laws.) When people begin to see, love, respect, and reverence Christ in the eyes of another, then they will change, and society will change also.”
As Richard Rohr puts it: “To incarnate the Christ is to live out the Gospel with our lives, as faithfully and fearlessly as a woman in labor who holds nothing back in order to bring new life into the world.”
Al here: Just like Mary. A big deal!
You see, as Mary labored to bring Jesus into the world, she held nothing back as she told the Angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. Whatever he says, I accept.”
Ronald Rolheiser writes:
“that giving birth spiritually is a dynamic and creative process. To bring Christ into the world involves an ongoing commitment to growth, to discomfort, to love, and to surrender. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is God’s invitation to all of us.”
Looking at how Mary gave birth to Christ, we see that it’s not something that’s done in an instant. Faith, like biology, also relies on a process that has a number of distinct, organic moments. What are these moments? What is the process by which we give birth to faith in the world?
First, like Mary, we need to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We need to let the word take such root in us that it begins to become part of our actual flesh.
Then, like any woman who’s pregnant, we have to lovingly gestate, nurture, and protect what is growing inside us until it’s sufficiently strong so that it can live on its own, outside us. . .
Eventually, of course, we must give birth. . .
Birth, however, is only the beginnings of motherhood. Mary gave birth to a baby, but she had to spend years nurturing, coaxing, and cajoling that infant into adulthood. The infant in the crib at Bethlehem is not yet the Christ who preaches, heals, and dies for us. . .
Finally, motherhood has still one more phase. As her child grows, matures, and takes on a personality and destiny of its own, the mother, at a point, must ponder (as Mary did). She must let herself be painfully stretched in understanding, in not knowing, in carrying tension, in letting go. She must set free to be itself something that was once so fiercely hers. The pains of childbirth are often gentle compared to this second wrenching.
All of this is what Mary went through to give Christ to the world: Pregnancy by the Holy Spirit; gestation of that into a child inside of her; excruciating pain in birthing that to the outside; nurturing that new life into adulthood; and pondering, painfully letting go so that this new life can be its own, not hers. . .
Our task, too, is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go.
Christmas isn’t automatic; it can’t be taken for granted. It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world.”
Now I, Al, ask, “Isn’t Mary a big deal?”
As William Barclay, puts it: “Mary had learned to forget the world’s commonest prayer-‘Thy will be changed’-and to pray the world’s greatest prayer- ‘Thy will be done.'”
As we share in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper this day through zoom or at home with an elder or priest, may we say as did Mary, “I am your servant Lord. Whatever you ask of me, I accept.”
Let us become pregnant with the Holy Spirit; let us be Icons for Christ!
May God bless each of you my brothers and sisters and fellow servants in the coming year with the richest of Blessings and fill your hearts with the Love, Joy, Hope, and Peace of Christ to overflowing into the world around you. This is my prayer. Amen
Your brother and fellow servant in Christ;