A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
December 24, 2006
Advent 4 Luke 1:39-45
Reading this gospel passage continually brings a vision to my mind of those millions upon millions of women in two thirds world countries to whom the announcement of another child is a tragedy. For them it means trying to stretch food further, to try to earn or find more money which is merely a mirage on the horizon. It is almost certain that the child and its siblings will be even more disadvantaged than before and the threat of starvation, disease and death is part of the landscape. So where is the beauty and the anticipation, the excitement for such as these. These people, who are our brothers and sisters.
Quite simply – there is none –
It's hard to imagine for us – our affluence, our social welfare systems, our fat societies that appear helpless to effect any real relief for those in desperate need.
Well – I have got to say that I gave someone a goat for Christmas, and as I write these rather pathetically proud words I know deep in my heart that it should have been a flock of goats – would it really matter if I didn't drive a powerful car or bought decent face cream for my aging skin – would it really matter if I didn't drink reasonable red wine or buy my children gifts that they probably don't need but I indulge in giving them because it is traditional and part of the excitement and anticipation of Christmas day. My heart shudders… and I try to push these thoughts to the back of my mind with the usual excuses
- What can I do?
I constantly resolve to alter my behaviour so as to be more in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who need goats and water, certainly not iPods, new computers and CD's I might only listen to once and then get fired to the back of the cupboard.
It is a really difficult problem for me as my faith, my conscience, my heart feels deeply for this crazy world, as I hope yours does too – but, what do we do?
We talk and carry on as normal don't we – as I said – we appear and feel helpless – we pray maybe, but then go out and have some cake and a latte.
So – when I read this gospel passage today it seems a little unreal. Not only do we have the annunciation where good old angel Gabriel gives Mary the hottest news in town, then Mary really is zapped by the Holy Spirit because Elizabeth tells her Yep - its all for real. She felt it herself as Her baby said a big Hi to Mary's baby who is the real McCoy. True. Its all major excitement and they both get pretty high on the Holy Spirit who fires them up with the knowledge that they are the special ones – they have been picked out, amongst all women – these are the two chicks who are going to deliver the goods and bring all the justice and the love and the truth to the world. That's what the Magnificat says doesn't it – we have been singing it each week of advent haven't we –
God does Mary a favour and she's blessed
God is holy and into mercy bigtime - everywhere
God will show awesome cosmic power and put down the egotistical greedy people
God will take away the money from the rich and will give it to the poor and the hungry
This is a promise – God's promise.
That's what it says, and I can't help thinking – Well God – When?
Things haven't changed, in fact they could be even worse as its not just people now who bleed and starve and sell their kidneys or their babies to survive, but the whole planet is beginning to sicken………as we continue to drink our lattes.
I find it hard to get the celebration bit here – sure, it's a sweet story and we sit here and listen to it year in year out and do all the stuff and feel good – we do don't we – feel good… we decorate our Christmas trees and cover the floor beneath with presents we don't need, we sing beautiful carols and eat and drink and eat and drink - we feel good that we have been to church because we know the real meaning of Christmas – don't we??
I am not so sure – it's real because we are in it and its how we do things in this incredibly wonderful, fortunate and blessed part of the world. But what about the rest – I bet there are thousands of women just like Mary this Christmas who are in utter despair because they are having yet another child and can't support them. Maybe they are in fear because it could be another girl – the awfulness of it.
It's unjust, unfair and quite ghastly to think of our riches and our indulgence in light of this sort of thing.
I don't claim to have any answer and I have never heard a satisfactory one yet, but I do know that having a baby should be beautiful because it is a miraculous event and I think that is what this reading is all about. Shouldn't all women be like Mary to whom it is exclaimed in today's reading “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
For us in the west it can be exciting and eagerly anticipated – The miracle and the beauty of a healthy baby – and I just realize, there I go again – what is wrong with a baby that is perhaps not so perfect – isn't life itself sacred – isn't life, all life, whatever life, sacred. Don't we believe that God is the creative principle that undergirds all life, that is behind all life, - so then isn't all of it, the good and the bad filled with God, and isn't it our task to be like Jesus and to try, however small and pathetic – to redeem it, to struggle with it, to love it. And never to stop. I know - it's hard.
For me, a small way we can maybe do this within our own sphere or community is to celebrate life in the best sense of the word. I don't mean the usual overindulgence, but more on a personal level where we smile and really try to be aware of how lucky and truly blessed we are – maybe it's a time to call that long lost brother you fell out with a few years ago or walk down the road to that old ladies house and say hi with a cake or whatever, to make contact with that solitary neighbour – to do something out of the ordinary that connects us with the lives we pass by or conveniently ignore because it's too much bother or we'll do it next time – and never do!
I think we have to be thankful – joyful too, that this event, the birth of Jesus, did happen over 2000 years ago and that we are still living into what that meant – here and now as we wrestle with these ongoing conflicts and ethical issues that seem ever to plague us. We must also rejoice in the birth of you and me, our neighbour in the pews, our families and all people we love and those we don't love – life truly is a precious gift and we have an obligation to leave the world just a bit better than when we arrived, that those who follow us may look back, just as we look back to the birth of Jesus at this time of the year, and be thankful for us too. We are the world, we are a slice of that divine life that Jesus is and represents so intrinsically in symbol and body – we are the future, we must guard and speak the best truths of our faith and fight and write on behalf of those millions that cannot.
Christmas is a special time – for us here it is ever a harbinger of hope – the hope that Mary sings of in the Magnificat, that our God will come in showers of love, justice and peace for all humankind. The hope we feel in the miracle of every baby born, the hope in our humanness, our vulnerability.
The hope, the incredible beauty, the power and the miracle of God born in a manger.