”And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
December 17, 2017
When I was looking at the song Mary, the mother of Jesus, sang when she arrived at her cousin Elizabeth’s home, I couldn’t help but think of Peace Camp and Rob Vogle.
Rob was a Bible Study leader at Peace Camp many, many years ago, (somewhere between 10 and 20). I think it was in Vancouver, Canada but it could have been in Harrisonburg, VA, or maybe somewhere else. But, wherever it was, there are things Rob said that have stayed with me all these years. One of those was that we need to take time to revel in God. And joyful revelry is exactly what Mary is engaged in when sings what we now call the Magnificat.
We have talked about Mary enough over the years to realize that this person who is often regarded as a meek and mild peasant girl who shyly submitted to God’s will was, most likely, a supporter of the revolutionaries who were in armed rebellion against the Roman occupation. That stuff about the proud being scattered, the powerful being brought down and the lowly lifted-up, the hungry being filled with good things and the rich being sent away empty—that was from the songs the Zealots sang. This is the stuff that Jesus learned from his mother’s breast. And you saw it unfold in his life. Not only had he ingested the importance of standing with the poor and the powerless with his mother’s milk, he also learned about the importance of just reveling in God.
Mary sings of the God who does great things and is merciful, the God who helps and remembers, the God who keeps promises. In her reveling in God, she doesn’t seem to be too worried about the consequences of what is happening to her. She is young. She is unmarried and pregnant. In Matthew’s story we learn that Joseph is trying to figure out if he is going to “put her away quietly.” Plus, there is that fact that she is a peasant girl living under the harsh rule of Rome. Those were dark days. But Mary’s joy reminds me of what we read at the beginning of John’s Gospel about how “the Light came into the world and the darkness did not overcome it.”
It seems that no matter what was going on her life, Mary was expecting God to be at work, to be doing something. This gets me to another thing that Rob Vogle said at that Peace Camp so long ago. He said we tend to lead out lives anticipating the disaster around the corner. And those things obviously do come. But Rob said how different it would be if we decided we were going to anticipate the work of God around the corner, that something good is waiting for us. There was plenty of disaster, or potential disaster in Mary’s life, but that was not what she seemed to be anticipating.
One of the things that Ron Vogel has instituted in my life is that every night when I am falling asleep I start thinking about what was the best thing that happened today. It could be something really huge like some problem finally getting solved. But more often it is something that seems inconsequential until you take the time to stop and think about it. Maybe the best thing today was the meeting we had this afternoon. Or maybe the best thing today was that Linda was home when I dropped off the cans and we got to chat a little bit. Maybe the best thing was that conversation I had at IGA with Hattie Jones. Maybe it was just hanging out with Mary. It could be an email from somebody that was really encouraging. How about that Sunday a couple of weeks ago, right before we left for New Haven? I remember going to bed that night and praying and pondering with God what was the best thing that happened that day. Was it that prayer time Cindi led us in right after church. I really needed that for a variety of reasons. Or maybe it was Communion Lunch. That was a really good time just sitting around talking with folk. Or maybe it was the dinner we had with folk from ECO where the conversation was deep and joyful.
This is the follow up to those nighttime prayers and musings. When I wake up in the morning one of my prayers is almost always asking God to help me pay attention today to the good stuff, to the work God is doing, that might just be around the corner. Sometimes the disaster is not simply waiting around the corner for me that day, but there to greet me when I wake up. I can get caught up in the disaster, or so worried about one that may come, I might well miss the other stuff that is around the corner. So every day I try to take Rob Vogle’s advise seriously and have the kind of anticipation for the day that Mary the mother of Jesus had.
Another thing that Rob Vogle said at Peace Camp that continues to stay with me is that we have a choice between less death or more life. He talked about a continuum that I have demonstrated a few times over the years. To this one side is less death and on the other, more life. Is it enough for us if things are just a little better or not quite as bad, not only for us individually but for the folk we share the planet with? Or do we want to live where Jesus lived looking for, working for, anticipating more life. Rob Vogle reminded us that Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” He may well have learned that from his mother.
As I have thought about the difference it makes in our lives whether we are closer to the less death or more life ends of the continuum, that for some people in some very hard situations, less death is not a bad place to start. Mary and I talk about the Syrian refugee test. How would what we are saying or suggesting about what people need sound to a Syrian refugee? It’s the same thing about a person who is seriously ill, or victimized by poverty, or experiencing any of the number of oppressions or prejudices that we visit upon each other. Jesus knew about all of that too. He was born in a manger. Herod tried to kill him when he was two. And he knew there were people looking to hang him on a cross. But he still held out for more life and called us to not only look for more life in our own lives, but help bring more life to others.
This is the third Sunday of Advent, the joy Sunday. It is hard to find someone in the Bible who is more joyful than Jesus’ mother. And this third Sunday of Advent is almost always our Gift for Christ Sunday, too. And that seems right to me. For me, so much of the joy that comes into my life, that I contemplate most nights, comes from people right here in this room and all the folk who make up PCC Gathered and Scattered. We get to be church together. We get to bear witness to Jesus with each other and figure out what it means to be the Body of Christ. We have the joy of discovering together the life that is in our Lord Jesus Christ and come alive with him. And no small part of who we are as a congregation, it turns out, is because of the impact Peace Camp has had on many of us here right now or on some of those who have sent in their Gift for Christ envelopes. By the way, this year Peace Camp is July 2-7 at Keuka College in the Finger Lakes region in New York. Make your plans now because you may well have your own Ron Vogle experience.
In a couple of minutes, you will have a chance to bring up your Gift for Christ envelopes, place them in front of the Nativity, and simply revel in God who is waiting for us right around the corner. How great our joy.