5:45 pm – Family Celebration: A service full of stories and singing and the traditional “mitten tree” donation ceremony. Fellowship following the service featuring ornament making.
7:30 pm – Candlelight Service: A service with the UUCS choir, readings, a homily by Rev. Rick and songs sung together. A special way to experience the spirit of peace and love.
Celebrant: Monica Jacobson Tennessen, Anchor: LJ Frederickson
Music: UUCS Choir
WHO WAS MARY?
Hearing the biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus on this night conjures up all sorts of heavenly images in my mind’s eye – like Mary the Mother of Jesus – Consider all the lovely artistic renderings of her that have been created throughout the ages. No other female figure has been the subject of so much adoration and artistic rendering.
There she is – the perfect mother who miraculously remained a virgin, did not experience the pains of childbirth (as the book of Genesis noted – pain during childbirth was God’s perpetual curse to punish women for their sinful nature and she, alone of all women, was said to be “without sin.”) who never once says or does anything wrong. That’s Mary. Then there’s Joseph, about whom we know next to nothing except that he seems to have been one righteous dude who always got it right.
And then there are there’s the rest of us – moms and dads and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters who, it must be acknowledged, have probably made a few mistakes along the way. OK, more than a few. Lots of them.
How often have I sat with brokenhearted folks as they bewail and bemoan the brokenness of their lives? It’s not so much that folks have made a mess of their lives, it’s that they (we) were born into the human messiness of life and got caught up in this trans-generational messiness of life and don’t know how to get out of it.
Yes, sometimes life gets less messy for those who resolve not to repeat the mistakes of the older generation, and we may do better in that regard but make other, new types of mistakes. You jump out of one mess and land in another. Life can be a messy business and we don’t get an instruction manual when we come into this world. Yes, there are wise souls who do offer us sage counsel on how not to get caught in so much messiness, but really, no one has got it all figured out and if someone says they do, run for your life. There’s never been a lack of charlatans, hucksters, cult leaders and demagogues who promise to clean all the messiness of life. They’re the ones who make the biggest messes of all.
Wouldn’t it have been nice it would if we’d been born on lofty spiritual plane above all the messiness of life, like the Virgin Mary, who was without sin and maintained total purity all the days of her life. No mistakes, no regrets, no messes for her, at one with the divine plan from day one of her life.
Really? Wonder what a closer look might reveal? Knowledgeable biblical scholars who aren’t intimidated by the loud barking of enforcers of church dogma offer an alternative view. They note, for example that there is no historical basis for stories of an immaculate conception – that’s the mythical imagining of later generations. Most likely, Mary was unmarried teenaged girl who was – to put in in biblical terms – “with child.” Any girl in her condition in that ancient, patriarchal society would most likely have been terrified because the whole social structure utterly condemned this – such girls and women were ostracized, forced to leave their families, sometimes stoned to death and other times sold into slavery. How distraught she must have been.
It does seem that a good man stepped forward and agreed to marry Mary and offer some protection. So Jesus was born (and Mary surely experienced birth pains). Yet there was no sweeping the matter of his unknown paternity under the rug – patrilineal descent was a huge deal in ancient Galilean Jewish society, and many credible sources speculate that because Jesus’ was unknown he was stigmatized as an “illegitimate” child. The evidence for this view seems stronger than not. If true, how hard it may well have been for Mary to see her son bearing this stigma. Was she wracked by guilt or did she get so overwhelmed with mothering Jesus’ four younger brothers and his sisters that she couldn’t be the mom she wanted to be? (Yes, according to scripture he had all these siblings) We’ll never know exactly how it happened, but scripture does indicate that Mary and Jesus became estranged. Thus, when Mary and Jesus’ younger brothers go to a synagogue where he is speaking to take him home (because they think he has gone insane) he won’t even come out to speak to them and sends someone to tell them to go packing. Ouch!
And finally, Mary apparently was there at the end of Jesus’ life – how heartbreaking! And you thought your life was messy!
Indeed, all the credible evidence we have indicates that Mary’s life must have been hard, heartbreaking and messy. She may have even felt like a total failure. Who knows? I am not saying this to discredit her – but rather to commend her. She had a life of struggle and pain and yet she somehow managed to raise a son who blessed the world and revealed to us the sublime nature of love. I daresay, he learned much about love from her – for that is where we do first learn about it – from the mothers who brought us into this world. Paradoxically, by putting Mary up on a pedestal – envisioning her as dwelling above the messiness the rest of humankind we diminish her. We also diminish ourselves if we think that just because we do have messy lives full of struggle and tears and occasional heartbreak that great love and goodness cannot come into this world through our own imperfect lives.
Christmas does not only celebrate the birth of an individual – as great as he was – two thousand years ago – it celebrates the ongoing, surprising, utterly unexpected but glorious birth of love and light and joy into our dark and messy world. Christmas is the great reminder that if we think times are bad, that life is just cruel and meaningless then we don’t get it. For there is something greater, deeper, higher, a sacred mystery from which comes new light in every age. Even the darkest times. Love was born, it is being born now and it will continue to be born into this world. May that be your faith. It is a miracle beyond our understanding. It’s a gift.