Monday, December 24, 2012
Mary was expecting a child
Luke 2: 1-14, NT page 58 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Sermon Many aspects of this birth story are not ideal: for one thing, engaged to be married and married are two different things. Mary is also not safe at home preparing the nursery, but on the road, forced to travel for the sake of an emperor’s whim. And, while hospitals were rare in those days, midwives were not, nor were clean sheets and hot water, but Mary finds herself without any of these things – alone, without the guidance of an experienced obstetrician or even a sister or mother she gives birth to this child in a barn in the presence of livestock, not on a bed of sterilized sheets but a nest of hay. However, none of these less than ideal circumstances threaten the only aspect of this birth that really mattered: Mary was expecting a child, and regardless of marital status, geographic location, or sanitary condition, this child would be born and he would be Mary’s, and when you get down to it, that is all that really matters to a parent. James Fleming left a pregnant wife at home while he was stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis. That was in the time before ultrasounds, so as James says he didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl or a whole litter. An ocean separated him from his expectant wife and he was in the dark until the Red Cross delivered a telegram from his mother that said, “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you, please don’t swim ashore.” Regardless of where the father was he was the father and the child was his. Still, it must be hard for a father to know that he has a child, and to not lay his eyes on him or her until he returns home. James would not see any of his children until they were months old, and this is still the case for men and women who serve their country in far off places, but today a father need not have to wait until his child is born to see his face. Thanks to advances in medical technology, mothers and fathers can see their son or daughter while he or she develops in the womb – as James Fleming would say, “It’s not Pot Luck anymore”. Dr. Sam Kuyrkendal, the man who helped deliver half of Maury County, brought a cartoon to my office that depicted a new sonogram machine that can not only give expectant parents a picture of their growing child still in-utero, but can load that image directly to their Facebook and twitter accounts. As many well know, this was not always the case. There was a time when young fathers had no idea that their children started life out looking like aliens with cone heads and off color skin. I recently heard a story about a newborn daughter, handed to her young father who had been waiting in the waiting room before the days when fathers were invited in to witness what some romanticists call the miracle of child birth. After a good bit of waiting and pacing back and forth, a nurse handed him a baby girl. He took a good long look and then handed the bundle of pink blankets back declaring, “She’s not mine – she can’t be mine.” I’m proud to announce that this daughter, despite her father’s initial rejection, grew up to become a healthy and fully functional woman, and thankfully, today her father not only claims her but is sitting next to her in this very sanctuary. The child was his – and Mary was expecting a child as well. Joseph “went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.” Take away the guidance and experience of one who might have held her hand through this process and leave this first time mother alone to deliver; take away the comfort of being at or near her home and send her to a foreign town; take away the clean sheets and hot water and put her in a manger; but do not take away her right to this child. Regardless of with whom, when, or where, the time came for Mary to deliver her child and that’s all that really mattered to her. But the child was not to be hers alone. “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” To you is born – not just to Mary – to you. To some degree or another this is always the case. Children never belong just to their parents, but become gifts to us all. Last Wednesday night groups from this church went to sing Christmas Carols to various members of our church, particularly those unable to attend Christmas services for whatever reason. The group I was with went to Life Care, a nursing home on James Campbell Boulevard, and 10 or 12 of us were given the clearance to enter the Alzheimer’s unit where Mrs. Nancy Thomas, our former Director of Christian Education now lives. I know that she knew none of our names. I know that she recognized none of our faces, but she did know the words to the familiar carols that we sang, and I also know that when little Annie Scott and little Grayson Hayes hugged her neck and kissed her on the cheek it was the greatest Christmas present she could have received. These little girls are not her grandchildren, but for a moment they were hers. To you is born – not just to Mary – to you. And for this moment, on this night, let him be yours. For like many today and many before us, we are left sleeping in the cold of night, confused and alone, lost in the world, wondering who it is that God favors. But hear these words, let them be like a kiss upon your cheek - “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” To you is born this day – to you – and his life is the greatest gift that humanity has ever received for the birth of Christ is the great sign that to you he was born for it is you whom God favors. Thanks be to God. Amen.