Mary did you know? – Christmas 2017

26 12 2017

Written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene in 1991, “Mary did you know” was first made popular by the Gaither Vocal Band. But today we are more likely to hear it being sung by Mary J. Blige, Pentatonix, or a church choir . . . as was the case in my congregation on Christmas Eve. And while I love the song, it bothers me that it never answers the questions that it so boldly asks.

Mary, did you know, that your Baby Boy has come to make you new;
that this child that you delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man;
that he will calm the storm with his hand?

Mary did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation;
that he would one day rule the nations?

Each of these questions DOES have an answer – the same answer in fact. And the answer is a critical part of Mary’s story, the Christmas story, and the Gospel story. And the answer is yes!

Mary did you know?

Of course she knew!

That’s the reason Mary is such an important figure in Jesus’ birth narratives. We remember and celebrate her life precisely BECAUSE she knew. And frankly, only a man would write a song asking such a question.

Regardless of which of the details of Mary’s story you subscribe to – the literal reading of Scripture that insists she was a virgin who immaculately conceived Jesus by the power of the Spirit, or the more metaphorical reading that simply used talk of her virginity to exalt the status of the Christ-child, or the version that says she was raped by a Roman guard – the whole purpose of Mary’s story is THAT she knew! And the most important parts of her story have nothing to do with HOW she got pregnant. All of the ‘man-made’ theories – and they were literally ‘man’made – are concerned about the sexual activity that brought about the conception But consider the real point of Mary’s story.

2000 years ago, somehow, and someway, a young woman, frightened, lowly and without means, not in a palace but in the most humble of circumstance, gave birth to a child that would change the course of human history. And somehow, someway, perhaps simply because she was like any other mother, she knew that her child was special. And so she raised him to be, special! She knew, like most mothers, that her child was a gift from God, and so she did whatever she needed to do to raise him to do great and mighty things. She raised him to model for the world the unconditional love of God. She raised him to care for the poor, and the downtrodden. She raised him to seek justice, and to show mercy, and to walk in humility. She raised him to give sight to those who had lost their way, and to calm the most tragic of life’s storms, and to be a ruler of nations. Isn’t that what most mothers do? . . . everything they can, to raise kind, compassionate, and strong children . . . so that one day they might become healthy and productive members of society?

That’s all Mary was doing! She was doing what all mothers want to do. And that’s why her story is so important.

Did she know?

Of course she knew.

She knew that her son would do great things because that was how she was going to raise him! That was how strong her faith was! That’s why her life remains such an important model for us, and why she is such an important figure in the Christmas story. It’s what her “Magnificat,” in Luke chapter 1, is all about. She knew that God could use even her . . . a . . . simple but selfless, fragile but faithful, broken but beautiful, lost but loved, confused but capable . . . young woman. And she knew that even she could . . . conceive hope . . . carry compassion . . . and give birth to salvation.

Mary did you know?

Of course she knew.

And here’s why this is so important for us to remember. Here’s why this may be the most important Christmas message you’ve read in a long time. Because Mary’s story helps us to see that just as she boldly, daringly, and confidently, bore God to the world, so too can we.

Mary was a theotokos! A God bearer! That how she is referred to in the Eastern Church. And one of the most important messages of Christmas is that just as God came to the world in Jesus, Mary’s son; so too can God be born again in the world even today, thru average, broken, and simple people like you and me. We too, in some small way, can also be a theotokos, a bearer of God to the world . . . by what we say, and what we do. Mary’s story helps us to see that just as she can bear the peace, hope, and love of God to the world, so to can we. Jesus can be born in us, today, just as he was born to Mary, 2000 years ago.

Mary did you know?

Of course SHE knew.

But how about us? Do we know? Do WE know that this Christmastide, Jesus can be born in us, and thru us, change the world?

Mary’s story should help us answer that question! For because she knew, so too can we. Just as she brought forth the light and love God, so too, can we! May that be our goal this week, and every week of the coming new year.

Yoga, Thin Space, and Christmas

13 12 2017

Christmas.jpg“Let me begin by telling you that in spite of what the schedule says, this is not ‘Christian’ yoga!” she said.  “There’s no such thing as ‘Christian’ yoga. Yoga, is yoga, period.  But it was the only way I could get it on the schedule!”

That’s how my first yoga class began.  It was poolside, in San Diego, at a pastors convention; and I remain grateful for that woman who was not afraid to push the evangelical envelope, and introduce my wife and me to a practice that continues to heighten our awareness of God’s presence in our lives even today, more than 10 years later.

Some would say that this practice, and others like it, have the capacity to move us into a “thin space”: that place where the human and the holy – earth and heaven – almost touch! It’s a sacred space, and people of every faith engage in disciplines that they believe make such experiences possible.  For the Buddhist it might bie the practice of yoga; and for the Jew, it might be lighting candles, eating sacred foods, or retelling ancient stories of God’s faithfulness. For the Muslim it might be kneeling on a prayer mat five times a day and reciting words that have been spoken by people for generations; and for Christ-followers it might be breaking bread in a homeless shelter or baptizing a child in a Sunday worship gathering.

Many people believe that there are a variety of spiritual practices have the capacity to thin the space between the human and the Holy.  But sadly, far too many of us look with suspect on one others’ practices simply because they are different from our own.  And we don’t just do this with people of other faiths.  We do this even within a given religion. Presbyterians believe that kneeling is for Lutherans, and Baptists believe that liturgy is for Episcopalians. Well over 3500 people were killed in Northern Ireland during a 30 year period of warring between Catholics and Protestants; and to this day, conflict between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims continues to ravage much of the Arab world.

Ironically, as a result, the very experiences that we regard as bringing us into unity with God, bring us into disunity with one another!  And so as meaningful as the idea of a ‘thin space’ has been for me in recent years, I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps I need to rethink the whole concept.

You see, when we seek God . . . out there . . . and spend our time working to move closer to, or to connect with, this ‘holy other’, I wonder if we are minimizing and devaluing an understanding of God’s presence with us and in us, at all times and in all places.  It almost appears as though we are allowing the transcendence of God to negate the immanence of God, rather than allowing them both to coexist side by side.  When Luke writes in the Book of Acts that God is the one “in whom we live and move and have our being,” is he not implying that we are already close to God — that heaven and earth are actually already touching?  In this passage is he not attempting to convey the idea that more than God living in us, WE LIVE IN GOD?

If this is the case, then the space between us and God really does not need any thinning, because in fact there is no space!  God actually exists in us, and/or we exist IN God.  No thinning required!  Instead, we simply need to learn to become mindful of the very nature of the human-divine relationship, and more mindful of our oneness with all creation.  And at Christmas, this reality may be worthy of our reflection.

Christmas is about so much more than God ‘moving into the neighborhood,’ as Eugene Peterson puts it.  It’s about so much more than, as conservatives contend, God becoming incarnate in a human being; or than as liberals claim, the growing realization that there is a divine spark in all human beings.

Rather, Christmas is about humanity’s capacity to look into the face of the Christ, and see not just God, but all Creation!  Because we live and exist in God, when we look at Jesus – the fullest and most complete expression of God in human form – we see all that is.  His eyes hold the mysteries of the universe: all the planets and stars that make up the galaxies.  His hands hold the secrets of the cosmos.  His heart beats in rhythm with the waves. and his love extends from the heights of the highest mountain to the depths of the deepest valley.  This is what we see when we look into the manger.  We don’t just see a baby.  We see all creation, moving towards God’s deepest desire, where everything is whole, and complete, just as it was created to be.

Further, when we look into the eyes of the Christ-child, we see one another!  We see him in the homeless vet on the street corner holding up sign asking for food.  We see him in the woman on the boarder, fearful over the possibility of having her children taken away.  We see him in the angry Trump supporter, embracing a racist and misogynistic worldview, and living lives full of irrational fear and selfish ambition.

When we are able to see Christ in all creation, we take the first step in the transformation of all creation.  We do so much more than ‘thin the space between us and God’, but rather, we begin to see our oneness with all that is.  Both Advent and Christmas reaffirm this reality, and thus begin to make real our hope that one day justice will roll down water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  The birth announcement of the angels reminds us that God is here, and that all creation is united simply by it’s existence!  And the message of Emmanuel that God is with us leads us to live in a manner that makes the reign of God a reality in all our lives.

Friends, light does indeed shine in the darkness, and darkness will never overcome it.  Love does indeed win.  And God, in whom we live and move and have our being, is in us, with us, and for us!  The birth of Jesus reveals that nothing shall separate us from the love of God, and that when it comes to the space between us and God, no thinning is required!