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Focus from the Rev. David F. Sellery, Priest-In-Charge, St. John’s Church, Salisbury, CT Thanks Mom - Luke 1:39-45

The gospels for the last two weeks in Advent have given us a bold and boisterous hero… John the Baptist… crying repentance in the wilderness… facing down evil in the halls of power. But this last gospel of Advent gives us a different kind of hero… a quiet hero… a gentle, serene hero… no less courageous, but with the added virtue of mother love.

Mary was not fearless from the first… far from it. But her faith was always stronger than her fear. And from the manger to the foot of the cross, her love was immediate and unconditional. That’s what it means to be a mother… to be our first channel of God’s grace… to be the calming, nurturing, protecting presence in our lives… exactly the peaceful presence we long for in troubled times.

“An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.” That’s a humbling Spanish proverb I came across while researching this gospel. If anything, I bet it vastly understates the case. On the brink of Christmas, this gospel gives us an opportunity to honor Mary for her coming role in the Nativity and by extension to honor all those women who not only give us life but teach us how to live it. And that’s an essential distinction. As one wag put it: Giving birth doesn’t make you a mother, any more than owning a piano makes you a musician. It is very telling that the word “mother” is both a noun and a verb. As a verb “to mother” has much broader implications than just the act of giving birth.

So, what kind of a mother was Mary? How did she mother? And what can we learn from her to draw closer to her Son? First of all, she was an improbable mother… a village girl who had the sun, the moon and the stars land on her one day. But for all her youth and inexperience, she looked at life through the lens of faith.

St. Ambrose captures the resilience of Mary’s faith when he preaches that: “She, who bore the Savior, understood the weight of an uncertain future. She, the humblest of women, found herself called to serve her Lord in a way that seemed impossible. Yet she embraced the call, both the gift of birth and the sacrifice of the cross.”

That’s what faith can do. It doesn’t banish fear. But it gives us the grace to accept our fears and to give them to God for his keeping. That’s the first lesson Mary teaches us: in the face of the overwhelming … have Faith… in the shadow of tragedy … have Faith… beyond physical and emotional endurance… have Faith. Always. Have Faith.

The human nature of Jesus was nurtured every day by this woman of faith. And beyond her faith was her love, the defining characteristic of motherhood. Mary loved and protected her child… struggling to give him life in a stable… saving him in flight from Herod’s terror… sharing his torment at the foot of his cross… and finally rejoicing in his Resurrection.

This week’s gospel gives us another dimension of Mary’s love. How telling that while still reeling from the angel’s message, she rushes to help her cousin Elizabeth… long-thought beyond her child-bearing years. That’s what saints do… the big ones we read about, the little ones we encounter every day. They know that life is not all about them. They are here to serve. How apt that Christ’s first miracle was not a cure, but a simple act of compassion initiated by Mary to help an embarrassed newly married couple.

From Giotto to Da Vinci, from Michelangelo to Bouguereau, the masters have struggled to capture Mary’s mother love. We need only look around us to see that same mother love mirrored in our own family and in our extended parish family. One of the great privileges of my job has been to stand with families in times of great emotional and physical trial. Repeatedly I am in awe of a mother’s faith and love, courage, and endurance… the very virtues we all need in good times and bad.

This week’s gospel is a welcome opportunity to express our appreciation to Mary, the Mother of Jesus… and by extension to all those women in our lives who have sacrificed for us… who love us and look after us. Thanks, Mom.

eDevotions from The Rev.Bob Dannals Daily Devotionals - Based on RCL Advent 4, Year C: Micah 5:2-5; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-56

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior Luke 1:46

This is the famous "spiritual"; the gospel song to beat all others. God's power to save is also God's gentle spirit which enables a young peasant girl to accept the call to bear God's Son ... to venture down the road of motherhood, to teach Jesus the way of humanity, to hold his hand when he is young, to express forthrightness when he is delayed in Jerusalem as a youth, to attempt understanding when he became a man, and to finally watch with horror when they stripped and whipped her boy on the way to his execution. There are many and varied ways that she exemplifies magnification.

Challenge and Opportunity:

From Mary we learn about the courage to say yes, especially as we are faced with many challenges from God that may seem to us nearly as impossible or outrageous as the angel's word to Mary. Mary said yes to God. She teaches us that our ability to receive grace, beauty, and goodness is only as vast as our ability to endure trial, challenge, and hardship... it's the juxtaposition of life.
What would "yes" to God this season look like in your life? Could it be that you are called into a new way of seeing God, praying, acting, believing, living? Perhaps you need new friends, a new sense of belonging? If you've been away from
church life, it's possibly the summons to re-engage. Ponder with Mary what this might mean during this week.
Clergy Confidential: Finding God in Daily Chaos by Tim Schenck In Good Faith: A Flintstone's Christmas

Did you know, there’s a Christmas episode of the Flintstones? It originally aired on
December 25, 1964, as part of the original cartoon series. In it, Fred gets a part-time job at Macyrock’s department store to help finance the family’s Christmas. Mr. Macyrock initially fires Fred for being his usual doofus self, but reconsiders when he learns that the store’s regular Santa Claus has the flu. Fred proves a natural at entertaining the children and by the end of his stint, Mr. Macyrock proclaims Fred as the best Santa they’ve ever had.

Oh, but that’s not the end of the story. On Christmas Eve, two of Santa’s elves, named Blinky and Twinky, appear to Fred as Macyrock’s is closing for the night. They explain to Fred that the real Santa Claus is sick and they ask him to help deliver presents to children around the world. As Fred steps in to save the day, we see him perched atop Santa’s sleigh shouting “Merry Christmas” in French, Italian, German, Dutch, English, and Swedish.

This is all very nice; until you do the math. And you think, “Wait a minute. The Flintstones took place in the Stone Age. That was two-and-a-half million years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem!”
As Christmas has become increasingly secularized (hello, Christmas-Industrial Complex), it’s entirely possible to celebrate the holiday like the Flintstones: completely devoid of faith. You can celebrate Christmas without any sense of what it’s about or why it matters and many of the people we know and care about do just that. They put up beautifully decorated trees and reverently place candles in all the windows. They gather friends and family for Christmas dinner, pulling out all the culinary stops, and reveling in this most wonderful time of the year. This is all good and even holy in its own way but, as with the Flintstones’ Christmas, there’s something missing.

The fullness of Christmas only truly makes sense in the context of faith. Faith transcends the external trappings of gift giving and menu setting and holiday decorating, reminding us what the fuss is all about which, for Christians, is the arrival of the Messiah. Faith adds substance to the flash of holiday lights.

For people of faith, the main difference between a Flintstones’ Christmas and a spiritual Christmas is that we’re not just expecting a date on a calendar. We are expecting a Savior. Expecting a Savior means standing in the sure and certain hope that we will one day be set free from that which enslaves us. That the sin which clings to us will be removed and we will be made whole; healed and forgiven and lifted up by God’s deep and abiding love. That’s what the true
joy of Christmas is all about.

Now, I’m not suggesting you ignore the external trappings of the season and simply navel gaze until December 25th. You can drive down Main Street after dusk and be enchanted by the twinkling white lights in all the windows; you can even head a town or two over if you want to experience some more colorful, flashing displays of holiday spirit.

But none of it has any rootedness unless you also spend time reflecting on the deeper themes of the season. When you do, there’s just an extra jolt of joy that makes Jesus’ birth even brighter and more meaningful.

I’m still not sure why Fred yelled out “Merry Christmas” rather than “Yabadabadoo” from Santa’s sleigh in that Flintstones’ Christmas episode. These are the things that keep me up at night. But in the end I’m thankful to Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, Pebbles, and Bam Bam for helping highlight what truly matters this season. Even it’s by pointing us back to the divine hope enfleshed in a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

However and wherever you spend Christmas this year, I encourage you to join a local worshiping community. I can’t promise that your mother-in-law’s fruitcake will taste any better, but I can guarantee that your Christmas will be that much more meaningful.

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