God Asks Much

Luke 1:39-56

As I read today’s scripture I am struck by several things. This scripture, like my own schedule this week before Christmas, has too much going on. There are so many important lessons in this scripture, or at least possible lessons, that the temptation is to try to wring every bit of meaning and activity out of it. And in the process, I risk doing a poor job at all of them. That is always the risk at this time of year, we try to do so much, to wring every moment of joy, every perfect Christmas activity or experience out of each moment and each day, that we risk not savoring or appreciating any of them. And so I will narrow my focus in this scripture to just a few things.

First, Mary could not face it alone. God had asked much of her—that she would be an unwed mother, who well might lose her fiancé as a result of the pregnancy, that she would be the mother to the Messiah, the long awaited savior of Israel, and that she would allow the babe to grow inside her until the time came for him to be delivered. Facing all of this, Mary could not do it alone. She had to seek out Elizabeth who was facing a similar situation. Elizabeth was not carrying the Messiah, but Elizabeth was carrying a child also long foretold and much awaited. And in the presence of another who understood, Mary sings. Mary’s song of rejoice reflects what the Messiah was supposed to do: to bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry, and to send the rich away empty. Mary sings of these things as present realities, things that have already happened—God has done them. 

God sometimes asks much of us too. I realize that I am, like Mary, asked to let the Messiah grow inside of me, not as a baby to be born, but to grow inside me so others can see the face of Christ. As a disciple, I am to grow in my faith, to let that part of me that is in the image of God, that part of me that is my place in the body of Christ, to let that part inside me grow and grow, to let Jesus grow inside me, until there is new birth.

And there is much risk. Following God’s will for us requires risking that others will reject us. When we do what God asks of us, instead of what the world expects, we risk rejection even by those closest to us. Being a Christian is counter-cultural. As Christians we are the ones call to bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry and send the rich away empty. These are not society’s values, they are God’s. Mary sang of radical change as if it had already occurred. But in this Advent 2011, we can see that there is still so much to do. And yet, the babe is growing and preparing to be born, in each of us.

And that brings me back to my first point—Mary could not face it alone. Neither can we. This Advent, put on your list, along with the other many things to do, time to gather with others to sing, to rejoice, to support each other as we prepare for the radical change that comes with carrying the Christ child inside.

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Rev. Ann Thomas is the senior pastor at Griffith United Methodist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she is working to renew and revitalize this downtown congregation through spiritual renewal, social justice work and missions.  A recent graduate of Claremont School of Theology, Ann practiced law in Las Vegas for 18 years before entering full-time ministry and seeking ordination.  She was commissioned in June 2011 and is seeking full ordination in The United Methodist Church.

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Hey, Jude!

Jude 17-25

So often the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is so consumed with preparing for a visit from that “right jolly old elf” that we must be intentional about making time for Advent as the season of preparation for the arrival of the Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Jude reminds us to take the time and the care to prepare ourselves for “the last time.” After exhorting the readers about those among them who are the “grumblers and malcontents; they indulge in their own lust” (v. 16), the author tells the beloved to “build yourselves up on your most holy faith” (v. 20). We must prepare ourselves for the time to come, praying in the Spirit and looking toward the mercy of Jesus that leads to eternal life. One of the most interesting and challenging parts of this scripture is that we are to “keep yourselves in the love of God.”

This is one of the three simple rules of United Methodism, “stay in love with God.” What is most significant is that this is a conscious decision. It requires action on our part, intention, and deliberation. When those around us, especially those in the church, are living worldly lives unconnected to God, we must be intentional about preparing our own lives so that we can “keep ourselves in the love of God.” Jude, this small, often overlooked book, provides guidance to those in the Church to live as Christians in love with God even when those around them, including members of the church, are preparing to live wholly in the world, indulging in all nature of worldly, earthly pursuits. And then the author tells us to have mercy on others, even all those grumblers and malcontents, and even to “snatch them out of the fire” (v. 23).

This letter put me in mind of the Beatle’s song, “Hey Jude.” Beyond the commonality of the name Jude, the letter, like the song, calls us to make it better, to improve a sad and unhealthy situation. Despite the lengthy and somewhat graphic depiction of those who were living lives contrary to Christian teachings, those who are “waterless clouds…autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted…for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever,” (v. 12-13) Jude ends with a word of hope and reconciliation. Even those for whom the darkness has been reserved, the author says to have mercy and save them (v. 22-23).

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Dear Gracious and Loving God, I give you thanks for this time of preparation, for this opportunity to remember the grace that has been given me. Help me this day to consciously be in love with you. Help me to share that love with others, to show mercy on those who are unsure, and to help those who are struggling. In all things, help me grow ever closer to You. Amen.

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Rev. Ann Thomas is the senior pastor at Griffith United Methodist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she is working to renew and revitalize this downtown congregation through spiritual renewal, social justice work and missions.  A recent graduate of Claremont School of Theology, Ann practiced law in Las Vegas for 18 years before entering full-time ministry and seeking ordination.  She was commissioned in June 2011 and is seeking full ordination in The United Methodist Church.