Reading – Luke 1:26-52, 2:1-20 (http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+1)
This is a story about miracles! This is a story about the endless possibility of hope! It is absolutely true that we could spend this entire morning discussing the complications, hypocracies, doubts, and even oppressiveness of this story. We could talk about the commercialization of Christmas. We could talk about the seemingly coerced and miserable family time so many are forced into during this season. We could indeed do all of that, but today, I am not going to. Today I want us to find reason to celebrate! It is cold outside and snowing yet we have come together for the purpose of being in this community and listening to one another’s words during a season of light and liberation. Beverly Harrison, womanist ethicist and theologian reminds us in her “Dance of Redemption” that in our movement towards revolutionary transformation we must take time to celebrate along the way. Unfortunately we are yet to reach that promised land we are striving for but if we want to survive and make it further along the road or continue in our wild, whirling dance then we need to celebrate our little victories and open our eyes to the bigger ones. What is happening in Copenhagen right now is a travesty. The powers that be are continuously making choices that affect other people without truly taking into account the sacredness and worthiness of the lives that their choices are actively destroying. But there is still reason to celebrate. Thousands, over a hundred thousand, people have been in Copenhagen standing up to the violence of these institutions. These people are using their voices, their bodies, and their spirits to announce how we can do things differently. We have reason to celebrate because we know that where ever there is oppression there will always be resistance!
During our Sacco and Vanzetti award service a month ago we listened to so many wonderful people tell stories about our local heroes, Joyce and Mel King. Both Joyce and Mel shared their wise words with us. Mel, specifically challenged us to change our language. I wrote about this in our December newsletter, so this might sound somewhat familiar. Mel suggested that we need to let go of our dependence on the language of hope. Mel cautioned us about the inaction that can come from hope and the lack of accountability that accompanies hoping for leaders to make the changes we wish to see in the world. Rather than rely on hope Mel pushed us to build on our expectation. When we expect change, expect justice, expect compassion, expect freedom, the emphasis is placed on proactive involvement of all involved in the expectations. Rooting ourselves in the power of expectation can fill us with the capacity to overcome our fears of losing or fears of being let down. Expectation is an actively powerful force that challenges the power structures to act differently.
I do not contest that expectation is a vital strength for us to have both as a community and as individuals. However there is also much strength in relying on hope as well. Hope is what I feel filled with when expectation has worn out. Hope is what I am filled with when I think about the future of our planet. Hope does not lead to my inaction but rather fills me with the fuel I need to continue when doing so feels impossible. Hope is that brilliantly exciting song that comes on and fills my ears, keeping me on the dance floor even when I am dying for a drink of water. Hope is what Mary was talking about when she proclaimed the future of her divine son. Not only did Mary expect this child of hers to do the incredible and seemingly impossible, she hoped for his strength as well. In a time when wealth distribution and power was so unequal and the people were under occupation of the Roman empire sometimes the only thing left was the hope one could have for the future of their children. Mary proclaimed that the child soon to be born from her would, bring the powerful down from their thrones. Mary was declaring the hope that was burning as a fire within so many of the Israelites, hope that Emperor Augustus would be toppled down and those he was standing upon would be able to get out from under his weight. Mary sang the hope of the people that was for the hungry to be filled with good things and for the rich to, finally, go away understanding the plight of the poor. Mary was hoping for compassion and strength. Not only was Mary magnifying the works and purpose of God she was magnifying the works and purpose of the Jewish people who were suffering. Mary wanted things to be different. Mary agreed to take action and live with the expectation that things would be better and she also drank from the sustaining water of hope as well because it could keep her going.
I also like to imagine hope as that warm blanket that comforts me when I find myself turning towards fear. In this story of Christmas there are magnificent angels that appear with incredible stories of hope that are supposed to diminish our fears. I want you to put aside your possible doubt in the existence of angels and instead imagine first Mary being approached by a heavenly angel who declared to her, “Be not afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Gabriel knew that Mary might be scared by the presence of the angel. Angels did not always bring good tidings and joy but could also bring death. However this angel, Gabriel, was bringing only good news of hope that things were going to be different. A new day was dawning and Mary, if she so wished, could have something to do with it. So Mary, feel the strength of hope and release your fears for the love of God is upon you and a hopeful future is before you!
Angels appear again in this story. These angels light up the sky and sing out on the tops of their angel lungs, proclaiming that peace is coming to the earth and that the shepherds should take notice and get a move on. Again, the message of hope these heavenly hosts bring with them is that things are going to be different. Not only will things be different, but a baby, a lowly poor child who lies sleeping in an animal feeding trough is the message of hope. Hope is humble! Hope likely comes along with some doubt at times. I can only imagine hanging out in the fields with my sheep when all of a sudden the sky is filled with singing beings telling me that I have to get up and go some distance away to see a newborn infant who is supposedly going to bring a new era. I am not sure that the kind words of, be not afraid, would really cover it for me and immediately move me to hope but for the sake of the story I am willing to go with it. These shepherds likely were unable to expect things to change. Ancient Palestine had been suffering for a long time under occupation. It is painfully hard to expect things to change when suffering is so great. However these angels brought with them a message of hope and that hope can be a gift that makes it possible to keep going. The hope of those shepherds might not be so different from the hope many people in prison hold onto that one day they will be on the outside again. The hope of those shepherds might not be so different from the hope someone struggling with a terminal illness has that their suffering will come to an end. Hope might be the only thing left for some of the people who are newly homeless here in Boston who are struggling under the cold of this snow. So while I will always hold on to expectation I cannot let go of the beautiful power of hope.
The celebration today cannot be one of only quiet listening. The story of Christmas is one of great joy. Joy that a baby was born. Joy that things are changing, and as we will talk about more in a moment, joy that magic is still alive and thriving in the mystery of Santa Claus. So I want you to reach into your inner most being and find that booming sound of joy that is dying to get out. Your sound may come in the religious language of our Jesus story, maybe you’re dying to shout out, HALLELUJAH! Maybe you’re feeling more secular humanist this morning and you just want to shout out, YES! Whatever it is I am hoping that inside you there is a sound of joy bubbling to get out. So, put away your annoyance at the long lines at the grocery store. Put away your frustration with the tragically few Christmas movies out this year. Let go of the current quiet and help me make a cacophony of joy right now!
Excellent! Thank you! I needed to feel the energy that we can create together. To turn to another story that is so important to Christmas I want to bring us back to the story of Santa Claus I shared earlier. When I was little I was convinced, absolutely convinced, that I worked for Santa Claus. I believed that when I went to bed at night sometimes Comet or Rudolph would come to my window, pick me up, and take me out to the North Pole to work on toys with the elves. I believed this with my entire heart. I would tell stories to my parents and to anyone who would listen about the hard work I was doing to be sure all the kids out there could get their toys on Christmas morning. I’m not sure I was as convincing as the Angels in the Jesus story were but I was sure to tell anyone who would listen that Santa and I were best pals and I could hook them up with some toys if they needed.
Santa Claus is magical. Santa has a workshop where unfortunately the ground underneath him is melting due to global climate change but yet he is still there making toys and helping parents con their small children into being good during the month of December. The magic of Santa is not actually that different from the magic of Jesus, something one might not want to say while at a conservative Christian service, but I feel pretty safe here. I have been writing a paper the past few days about grace. The best parallel I have been able to come up with for grace to help me better understand it is magic. When I think of magic I am not thinking of the magicians that do tricks at children’s parties or at overly priced shows in Las Vegas. Rather I am thinking about the magic revered by many earth traditions and pagan religions. My teenage wiccan self spent a lot of time reading spells and turning to the gift of infinite magic. This magic is that abundant existence of love that makes it so that things seemingly impossible just seem to happen. Magic is what is playing out when a queer teenager is able to get through the day of harassment of school. Magic whirls around our universe and touches unbelievable situations of struggle. Starhawk, who I find myself chucking on the inside as I reference, often talks about the magic that is present at protests against imperialism. Magic protects people and gives them the capacity to keep going. Certainly it is fine and reasonable to explain away magic by talking about scientific, pure coincidence or statistical probability. I however have chosen to believe in magic during the season of Christmas because it just feels good to do so. Magic gives me hope that we can be better than we are and that we don’t have to do it alone. Magic is that dancing goodness in the universe that gives gifts to those in need. Unfortunately we all know that bad things happen all the time that are unexplainable. I do not want anyone to get the idea that I am suggesting that magic or hope makes bad things go away or that they make possible some kind of cosmic equal distribution of suffering. Sadly the bad things don’t just go away because we believe in magic and hope. What magic and hope are capable of doing is helping us as a community continue to survive and thrive even as the bad things are continuing to happen. Magic and hope are what get me to show up when doing so feels too difficult. If magic can make Santa reach the millions of children that he needs to on Christmas morning then it can certainly help us take action to end the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. If hope can fill the body of Mary and the Shepherds in ancient Palestine then that same hope can fill us and all those working to put an end to the Israeli expansion in the West Bank and Gaza.
These are things I have to offer to you on this snowy morning. Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year with longest night. Take some time to think about the wonder of our planet that spins so incredibly fast and rotates around the sun fulfilling our global purpose in the universe. We can explain so much with science but offer yourself permission to accept the solution of magic when you think about some of the unanswerable “why’s.” And turn some of yourself over to hope. Hope that things can be different and take the necessary action to get us there. Hope for love to overcome the power of fear; and do what you need to in order to move yourself there. Hope that the joy of the Christmas story can radiate through us as we go about our days in anticipation for the closing of this decade and a new beginning with endless possibilities.