A Time of Choice ©


One of the truly great passages from Holy Scripture that is often a part of the designated Advent lectionary (readings assigned by the larger ecumenical church) is contained in Luke’s epic first chapter and is simply called The Magnificat because of Mary’s words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (Luke 1:46) When I read the words of Luke 1:46-55 or hear them read in worship, my heart takes flight. The music of Advent and Christmas pours forth. I hear the awe-inspiring sweep of Mary’s Holy Spirit inspired vision.
 
Here I must pause, bathed in the power of Advent & Christmas music. The reality of Mary’s situation pulls me up short and challenges me to a deeper reflection of biblical truth. Young, expectant, unwed, Mary faces a hostile world. Yet, in the midst of what had to be anxious uncertainty, she does not ignore the tumult around her. Reflect on her words. 
 
“He [the Lord] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” (Luke 1:51-52)  
Instead of giving in to fear, Mary faces the pain squarely, unflinchingly, in rejoicing. Why? Because she sees God in action. 
 
Advent calls us to confront reality through the Lord’s vision. On a very practical “how to” level, we must acknowledge the pain and loss. Only in facing it can we, like Mary, push beyond to the real essence of what is taking place. This young, Judean peasant girl sings and models for us the behavior of a real disciple of the Lord. Unafraid, she faces the cold twilight of the Judean hills and sings a little melody of liberation.
 
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:46-50) 
In the midst of pain God is at work.
 
A friend passed on a little story about a couple that invited some people to dinner.
“At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and asked her to say the blessing.  ‘I wouldn't know what to say,’ she replied. 
‘Just say what you hear Mommy say,’ the mother said. 
The little girl bowed her head and prayed, ‘Dear Lord, why on Earth did I invite all these people to dinner?’”
          (Richard Lederer, from Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul)  
However, anesthetizing it may be to simply drift along with the good cheer of the season, we know in our heart of hearts that this is not enough. Even the most jaded engagement in “happy holidays” leads us to perceive that something is missing. If we need something more, something deeper than mere “good cheer” to confront our chaos and pain, we must make choices that move us beyond simply one more gathering, one more event, one more party. We all need something different and deeper, more significant in our choices.  
 
Unless we dwell upon this mystery, letting it take center stage, we will chase the true spirit of Christmas to no avail.” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 145) On a very practical “how to” level this is a time of choice. If we are to arrive at the Bethlehem stable, we must make choices that bring us back to the divine mystery. Only such spiritual depth will salve the wound in our souls and the ache in our hearts.
 
You see, our choices are a reflection, dimly grant you, but still a reflection of the greater choice that brackets the Christmas story. As Dan Shaeffer eloquently writes…
 
God had a choice. That choice carried serious and deadly consequences. It began with Him abandoning His divine glory and humiliating Himself, making Himself as vulnerable as Deity could make Himself, becoming a human child. He came to suffer and died. There is no tragedy, humiliation, loss, or pain that He has not known. We can festively decorate the message of His entrance into our world with mangers, angels, stars, wise men, and shepherds. But we cannot festively decorate the purpose of His entrance.” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, p. 146)
Schaeffer shares the story of author and speaker Jill Briscoe being asked to speak to a church gathering in Croatia for 200 newly arrived refugees during the horrible conflict in the Balkans. 
 
They were mostly women, because the men were either dead, or in camp, or fighting.  She was scheduled to speak in the evening, but after seeing their terrible situation, what she had prepared seemed totally inadequate. So she put her notes away and prayed, ‘God, give me creative ideas they can identify with.’ That evening she told the refugees about Jesus, who as a baby became a refugee Himself. He was hunted by soldiers, and His parents had to flee to Egypt at night, leaving everything behind. Sensing that her audience was listening intently, she continued telling them about Jesus’ life, and when she got to the cross, she said, ‘He hung there naked, not like the pictures tell you.’ Her listeners knew what that meant. Some of them had been stripped naked and tortured. At the end of the message, she said, ‘All these things have happened to you. You are homeless. You have had to flee. You have suffered unjustly. But you didn’t have a choice. He had a choice. He knew all this would happen to Him, but He still came.’ Then she told them why.  Many of the refugees knelt down, put their hands up, and wept. ‘He’s the only one who really understands,’ she continued.  ‘How can I possibly understand, but He can.’” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, pp. 145-146)
 God chose to come in human form. For us this is a time of choice. Our search for God leads on a Bethlehem journey and encounters its essence at the point of choice; when we chose to embrace the Christ child, to let His straw cushion us, and His cloth wrap around us in the embrace of the Holy Spirit.
 
Look again at little Mary carrying the Christ-child.  She sings in hope because she sees a better world in His birth. “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made.” (Luke 1:54-55a) Just so our carols, lights, and expressions of joy at their best can wrap us like bands of cloth in the hope of His coming.
 
Jim Moore, one of the great pastors of Methodism, shared a story of a town called Hope. It was not about Hope, Arkansas but about a different hope. He wrote...
 
A few years ago, a small Alaskan town called Hope was destroyed by a flood. No lives were lost, but there was tremendous property damage. One of the bishops of the church went there to see how he might help. When he arrived, he found the devastated town completely deserted. However, someone had placed a small sign in the center of what had once been the main street of the little town.  The sign read, ‘The Community of Hope Has Moved to Higher Ground.’” (James W. Moore, Let Us Go Over to Bethlehem, An Advent Study for Adults, pp. 18-19)
 The journey to a Bethlehem stable moves us to higher ground. It calls for a different choice in how we celebrate and respond. As a consequence, it brings us the present we most desperately need – hope. The hope is not in our power and might; nor even in our good will and fine intentions, but in the One who comes again for us in love. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  … For the Mighty One has done great things for [us], and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:46-50) This is our hope. This is the good news of God’s wrapping us in His care and love. For us, it is a time of choice.

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