Luke 1:39-45 – The 4th Sunday of Advent – for December 23, 2012
“And blessed is she who believed…” (Luke 1:45)
I am “skirting” Bethlehem this year. Click here for why.
Used cleverly, words disguise our inner self. Used honestly, words reveal our inner self.
What do you believe?
What do you think?
What do you know?
Which of the above questions—and its answer—would influence you the most when seeking a deeper relationship with another?
Since you’re a clever human bean, you might hedge your response by claiming it depends on the subject of the question and the asker of the query. True enough, but in general are you more interested in what another believes or thinks or knows about . . .
Abortion. Abstinence. Allah. Birth control. Boxers or briefs. Cats or dogs. Christmas. Death penalty. Disarming a bomb. Gay rights. Global warming. God. Good guys finishing last. Heaven. Hell. Jesus. Love at first sight. Mindfulness. Opposites attract. Premarital sex. Reincarnation. Resurrection. Santa Claus. Sexual orientation. Shaken or stirred. Virgin birth. YHWH*
Of course, specifically . . . if two good guys (and let’s say I’m one of those good guys) were trapped in a room with a ticking bomb during Christmas, I’d prefer to know the other person can disarm bombs and really don’t care what he or she thinks about boxers vs. briefs or believes about abstinence.
What we believe/think/know about something, or what another person believes/thinks/knows about something, is always situational. Which is to say, are you planning to marry the other person or are you sharing an elevator ride to the tenth floor?
And yet I’m mostly a firm believer in belief.
During Advent and Christmas, I suspect many suspend knowing or thinking to enthusiastically (or reluctantly) embrace belief. What do we know about Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem? What do you think about those three wise men? Oops, sorry, we have no idea if there were three or thirty magi, though we know three gifts were mentioned in one insignificant (or magnificent) passage in a single Gospel. What do you KNOW about Jesus’ birth? I mean the real birth. The date. The place. The witnesses. What do you THINK about Jesus’ birth? Was Mary a virgin, did angels sing and how much fretting and scheming did Herod do? How much of a chasm exists between what you know/think and your BELIEFS? Is the difference a gap as modest as a manger or bigger than a barn?
What do I believe about Christmas? (And you can ask yourself the same question . . . what are your deepest, most real and revealing beliefs about this holy, peculiar season?)
Do you want to know what I believe?
If you wanted to learn about me, if you wanted to get a sense of whether my beliefs and my actions supported or contradicted each other, wouldn’t you want me to truthfully share what I believe far more than what I think I know or knowingly think?
At this stage of my feeble faith, I fervently believe two things about Christmas. I usually avoided preaching about the first and never ignored trying to proclaim the second.
I believe Christmas to be a brutal, essential myth about the conflict between God’s hope for the world and business as usual, between a Holy longing for peace and the human propensity for repression. I wish I’d had the courage to insert Herod and his minions into the romanticized, whimsical nativity scenes performed in the churches I’ve served. Herod would wear a bloodstained bathrobe, wield a cardboard sword and scare the shit out of the adults. (Pardon my ancient Aramaic profanity.)
And . . . I believe Christmas is a wondrous tale about a journey into darkness, into the unknown. Each action (humble or hurtful) and each word (humble or hurtful) shared on the path will determine the faith of the pilgrim (Joseph, Mary and, well, you and me) far more than the destination. The truest journey to Bethlehem is ongoing, risked in the sidewalks, streets and supermarkets of your (and my) neighborhood. Incarnation, God made flesh, is never a history lesson and always a current event.
What do you believe?
*Providing 27 examples is an unimaginative attempt to “symbolically” use the same number as the books forming the New Testament. Had to slap together some way to limit my potentially endless list.