We come together today as Advent people, people of anticipation. We await the long-expected Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Word Made Flesh. We change our liturgical color to blue and we light candles of hope and peace and love. We have thoughts of childhood and people we love. We wait in anticipation and hope.
Although we wait for God to be among us, we arrive as fully human beings for whom this Season is poignant and prompts countless memories, both happy and sad. Some of us have experienced deaths during the holiday season, and our grief is renewed. God welcomes us here.
We hear songs of perfect families with perfect memories of Christmas past, of people who want to be home for Christmas. Some of us could hardly wait to escape our childhood homes. God calls us to be at home here.
Some of us worry about our adult children who are unemployed, addicted or without a true north. Some of us have received a frightening medical diagnosis or have lost mobility or mind. God beckons us here today.
And because we have come to this place, we can, for a moment, surround one another with love, allow the music to fill our hearts, feel the glee of the young, and anticipate Mary’s baby, the Son of God.
Many of us share a love for Mary, and she plays a central role in our Advent journey. She is the courageous young girl who, when discovering she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit, sings out, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
Ok … let’s stop there for a minute. Imagine if you were told you were pregnant by the Holy Spirit! How are you going to pull that one off???? Who is this Holy Spirit anyway? Mary’s path is surely not for the faint of heart, and she is probably not so very meek and mild. Mary is strong enough to face the world as an unwed mother and faithful enough to give birth to the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the “Great I Am.” She is no wimp. Rather she has the true grit of many of our pioneering ancestors who were determined to start a new life of independence based on faith.
Have you ever thought about Mary’s parents? Do you wonder how they took the news of Mary’s unexpected pregnancy? They say Mary’s parents were named Joachim and Anne. This information isn’t found in the Bible, but other ancient sources record their names. Legend has it that they were deeply devoted to each other, but were unhappy with their childlessness. Then one day, an angel appeared to each of them separately and told them---guess what?---that they were going to have a baby. A popular theme for medieval paintings was their embrace at the gates of Jerusalem where they ran to tell one another of their visits from angels. One painting shows Jesus sitting on Mary’s lap and Mary sitting on her mother, Anne’s, lap. Apparently, angels were frequent visitors to this extended family.
I love St. Anne! Not so much because I know anything about her, but because I love the idea of Jesus having a grandmother. I bet she was always buying him too many presents. She probably let him stay up late when he spent the weekend at her house. I bet she never told him she couldn’t play right now because she was too busy. I can totally see her rolling her eyes at Mary and Joseph’s uptight parenting. “Mother, stop it. You’ll spoil him.” Mary would say. “That’s the Grand-
Messiah’s job,” Anne would respond serenely as she sailed by with more cookies for the Savior.
“What am I going to do?” Mary would ask as they had coffee and watched him play. And Anne would put her arms around that big girl who would never stop being her baby, pull her close, and hold her tight. “You’re going to do what we all do: love him as hard as you can. No matter what.” (based on story by Quinn G. Caldwell) Grandparents are needed by the generations that follow. Maybe their grandchildren need us to ask them about their goals for the coming year, about their educational aspirations, about their hopes and dreams, knowing that grandparents will allow them to be true to themselves, knowing that grandparents will allow them to dream big and to dream in unconventional ways. Maybe their parents need grandparents to offer them a bit of respite.
I believe that God calls us to be involved in the lives of children who are not our blood relatives. We need to be step up people like Joseph who was not the blood relative of Jesus. Age can give us a bit of wisdom to gift to others, and age can give us a softened heart that is big enough for a lot of children.
Jesus was lucky. He was born into a family with loving parents and grandparents. As we wait for the birth of the Christ Child, perhaps we can ponder in our own hearts how we can reach out and scoop up more children to enter the circle of our love. The greatest gift we have to offer is our heart.
We lost two great American women in recent weeks. They were of differing political parties, but of one spirit in their desire to serve, to be useful, and to have a voice. Sandra Day O’Connor was one of ours, an Arizona cowgirl, as comfortable astride a horse as she was behind a Supreme Court bench. Her brilliant mind took her to Stanford when she was 16, and her persistence took her to law offices that had been previously closed to women. Rosalynn Carter was a daughter of the south, and gave birth to her first child as a teenager. She insisted that her husband view her as a full partner, and they shared a marriage and a partnership for 77 years. She was as comfortable in a small Baptist church as she was in the White House. She was a fierce voice for those who struggled with mental illness. Both women were from very small towns, both women were gifted with humility, both women were mothers and grandmothers, and a nation paused to mourn and honor these women of true grit and purpose. May their memories be a blessing and their lives an inspiration.
And so in this Advent Season we wait. No matter how many Christmas times we have witnessed, we remain in awe of the anticipation of the unlikely birth of the tiny babe. We are speechless as how to respond. Our hearts stop at the thought of the birth of God. We see a star in the distance, we hear the animals’ cries, we smell the straw of the manger, and see a loving couple in the dim light of the barn. We reach out for a spiritual connection. We want to be part of the miracle. We wait.