Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pink Candle

Luke 1: 47-55

Some advent candle sets are just four purple candles. Some, in an effort to separate Advent from its sister season, Lent, have changed to blue candles and paraments. But most traditional Advent wreaths have three purple candles, and one pink one. The pink one is lit on the Third Sunday, and it is there so that, in the rush to get to Christmas, we stop even for a minute and remember the one who gave birth to Jesus.

This Sunday is the Sunday of Mary. Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary the unwed, minority teenage mother, the one who said yes, knowing what it would do to her standing in the community. In the short term.

Mary didn’t have to do what she did. When Gabriel visits her, he doesn’t say “and now you will be impregnated by God”, and boom, it happened; No. We serve a God who asks first, even though God doesn’t have to. God has the power to do what God wants, and even has the power to make us like it, but that’s not how God works. God asks. God wants us to choose service, not be made into slaves. Adam and Eve were created to be a companion to God, not a toy, and God has been acting as if it will come true ever since. God has faith in us, and in Mary, his faith is justified. She says “Here am I, Lord.”

In the Protestant Bible, there is a gap of about 400 years between the last prophet, Malachi, and the beginning of the Gospel story. Other Bibles are a little different, but not much. I don’t know whether God had gone completely silent (which I doubt), the voices and writings of the prophets of those middle years are lost, or were somehow deemed to be not worthy of being made into scripture.

But something changed. The last voices we hear are of Nehemiah, and all of the prophets, which all seem to have come about roughly the same time, and around the building and completion of the Temple and the city walls of Jerusalem. To the people of God then, perhaps the last act of God was the restoration of the Temple, and the temple cult. Indeed, for any story teller, that would indeed be a great and happy ending to the story.

But human life is not tie-able into neat bows, is it? The end of the story is not the end of human existence. Even in the texts we have, the people are already showing signs of faltering, falling short of the promises they made to Ezra at the rededication of the Temple, the public reading of the Scriptures of God.

As the story ends, Jerusalem is re-inhabited by the people of God, under the care and watchful eye of the Persian Empire.

But yet, 400 years later, when the Gospels open, Jerusalem and the Temple are now subject to the rule of the Roman Empire, not the Persian. Persian officials seeking the re-flowering of the Jewish culture under caring and interested Jews like Ezra and Nehemiah, and called to account by various prophets, are replaced by soldiers and tax collectors. That story of history is far too long to be covered here, but what was once thriving and focused on God is now, 400 years later, silent and occupied (and not in a good way!).

This is the climate that first hears a voice crying in the wilderness, which is as much a spiritual wilderness as it is John living and baptizing out in the boondocks.

When God acts, in God’s time, God does so in God’s own way. God does not act to take his land back from the Romans, land is not God’s concern. God acts to call God’s people back.

And who does God use to begin that calling? A crazy hermit in the desert and an unwed, minority teenage mother. If these two kinds of people were who God used to call us back, I’m afraid of how many of us would fail to hear that call.

Michael Slaughter, who is pastor of a very successful congregation in Ohio, wrote this week that God chose an adolescent girl to give birth to the Message of Love because she had a proactive faith. Mary said yes, when she didn’t have to. I think what he means is that she was open to whatever it was that God would have planned, and to God’s purpose.

I could ask here what you think God’s purpose is for your life, but I think that would be a mistake. We all know God’s purpose for our lives. Whatever our choices, whatever our situations, whatever our responsibilities, it is simply stated, and often over-thought. We lose the forest for the trees. God’s purpose for our lives is to show and teach and live the love of God in the world. To give birth to it every day, in a sense. To say yes to God, to carry the love of God, to give birth to God, to give the love of God to the world.

That is the call on our lives. It’s that simple. To do what Mary did. To say yes to God, and to care for the love of God within us, nurturing it, feeding it, protecting it, until it bursts forth into the world, and it is our responsibility, like a good parent, to let it go freely into the world. And to do it again. And again.

This is why we have a pink candle in our advent wreath. To remind us of the unwed, minority teenage mother who gave birth to the Love of God, and raised that Love to be given freely to the world.

And to remind us that we can, too.

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