Tag Archives: St Davids

A Pandemic Christmas Day

John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God… (Read the whole passage)

“Mom, the camera isn’t on”

“But I can see you.”

“Yes, you can see me, but I can’s see you”

Marlena was again waving her arms at her computer screen, trying to look as though she was pointing down at the camera button on the other end of the screen. 

It was Christmas Day, and she was “zooming” with her elderly parents. They had been zooming regularly for a few months by now. It had taken herculean effort in patience just to get her mom to find the gallery or “Brady Bunch” view. But she still had trouble turning on her camera and microphone every week. 

2020 had been that kind of year. 

Marlena, her husband Jim, and their kids David and Lizzie, were no strangers to extraordinary Christmases. A few years ago, they had been travelling to see her parents and got caught in a snow storm on the way. They spent Christmas Eve with a bunch of strangers snowed in a roadside motel. They even cooked their own potluck Christmas dinner in the restaurant. 

On another Christmas Eve, they had welcomed new refugees from Syria for their first Christmas in their new home. 

And another year, as their family helped serve at the local soup kitchen, they heard that some youth from their church, St. David’s, had been with been on patrol with a local social worker for the homeless community when they helped a homeless woman give birth in the alley beside the church! 

But as appropriately Christmassy as these experiences had been… a global pandemic had changed everything and made for a completely new and unusual Christmas.

Last night they had their COVID Christmas Eve all planned: they would go and pack take out meals at the soup kitchen, then go for a drive through of Candy Cane Lane all before online church for Christmas Eve. 

But Father Angelo, their priest from St. David’s, had called and asked to make a last minute meal package delivery. When they went to make the delivery, they had a surprise meeting with old friends. 

The delivery was to same couple that they had met a few Christmases earlier when they had been snowed in a the roadside motel on Christmas Eve. Jesse and Miriam. Miriam had gone into labour and given birth to Christopher. Marlena remembered how badly she wanted that Christmas to be perfect, yet in the weeks leading up to Christmas things she just couldn’t keep juggling it all. 

But in meeting Jesse and Miriam she was reminded how imperfect the first Christmas was. How plans were derailed and people just had to make do. 

Last night when the two long lost families went for a Christmas Eve walk, all the memories and feelings came flooding back. Watching her kids play with little Christopher. Watching Jim and Jesse laugh about work and fatherhood. Walking with Miriam had put Christmas back into perspective again for Marlena… it was the perfect Christmas Eve miracle for the year 2020. 

But Christmas Day was a little more back to the reality of the world. 

“Okay, I can see you now.” Marlena told her mom. 

Marlena’s mom began her usual recounting of the week. 

“I was talking to my friend Gladys over coffee the other day.”

“Not in-person I hope” interrupted Marlena. 

“Don’t you worry, we washed our hands and wore masks.”

“How did you drink the coffee mom?

“Well… we took off the masks for coffee!”

Marlena felt like she was in the movie Ground Hog day every time she talked to her parents… even on Christmas Day. 

“David, Lizzie, time to open presents with grandma and grandpa on zoom!” Marlena called to her family.

Opening gifts was kind of normal. There were the usual gasps and squeals of delight of Christmas morning. The kids did have to take each toy and hold it up to the computer so Grandma and Grandpa could inspect them. But they were together with the normal Christmas morning crowd none the less. 

When the gifts were all opened and the zoom ended, the family sat down to brunch. Marlena saw that she had cooked way more food than they needed. Old Christmas habits… she figured.

After brunch, Marlena sat and stared out the window. The kids were off playing with new toys. Jim was setting up his new iPad. But Marlena was longing for something else. Last night, after seeing Jesse and Miriam, Christopher and his new sister Lilly, Marlena had felt something for the first time in a long while. This little family that they had taken under their wing, up against the world, with barely anyone in their corner… somehow managed embody hope for the future. Looking into baby Lilly’s eyes she felt the same things that she felt when she looked in baby Christophers’s went he had been born at the motel. As she looked into this child’s eyes she could see herself, she could see everyone that she loved, she could see the whole world. In this little helpless child, Marlena could see the divine, she could see a great passion for all creation, she could see God in flesh — Emmanuel. Looking at Jesse and Miriam, Marlena could saw Mary and Joseph, looking at Christopher and Lilly, she could see the Christ child. The whole world became different than it was. A world with God in it.

“Mom” Lizzie’s voice interrupted Marlena’s thoughts. “Could we take the extra brunch leftovers to Jesse and Miriam? I want to see Christopher again” 

“Yeah, mom and dad! Please!?!” Echoed David. 

Jim shrugged, “I don’t see why not.”

“Can we wrap some gifts for Christopher?” David asked. 

And soon the family was busy changing out of their Christmas PJs, packing up brunch and putting some well loved toys that David and Lizzie had grown out of into boxes to be wrapped.

It wasn’t long before Marlena Jim, David and Lizzie were standing Jesse and Miriam’s front yard. Lizzie ran up and knocked. 

Jesse and Christopher opened the door. 

“We come bearing gifts!” Jim said. 

Soon the two families were standing in the front yard. Christopher was opening his gifts with glee, David and Lizzie were clapping excitedly. 

“I don’t know what to say” Jesse said. “You didn’t have to do this.” 

“We know” said Jim. “We wanted to”

“It was the kid’s idea really. And that makes it a gift to us” added Marlena. 

“But we can’t repay you.” Miriam said.  

“Well, now.” Jim interrupted. “There is one thing you can do, you specifically Jesse. What are you doing on December 27th?”

Jesse shrugged.

“I need a warehouse foreman. Business has been too much for me to handle on my own. You are a contractor, so I know you have managed people before. That’s the hardest part, I can teach you the rest.”

“I don’t know what to say” Jesse was floored, Miriam was smiling so wide. 

“Just be ready for work at 6:45am. I will pick you up.” Jim tried to sound stern, but he couldn’t keep from grinning. 

The two families visited – socially distant and outdoors, of course – for a little longer and then said their goodbyes. 

As Jim loaded the kids into the car, Miriam and Marlena lingered. 

“I still can’t believe you saved us, and on Christmas again.” Miriam said. 

“Oh, you were the ones who saved us… again.” Marlena replied. “But this year, nothing surprises me anymore. And now that we have found each other again, there is no getting rid of us. You are family now” Marlena said. “Besides, you will have to peel our kids away from your family.

“Remember what the old priest read to us at the hotel during that chaotic but amazing Christmas dinner?” Asked Marlena.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Miriam recited. 

“The word has come to us, and we are each other’s flesh. We belong to each other for good now. Just the way God intended on that first Christmas.”

Miriam nodded to that, 

Amen.”

Part 1 of this Story is found here: A Pandemic Christmas Eve

St. David’s Christmas Eve at the Motel
St. David’s Christmas Day the Motel
St. David’s Advent 4 Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Eve Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Day Refugees

A Pandemic Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…. (Read the whole passage)

“You are on mute”

Marlena was waving her arms at her computer screen, trying to look as though she was pointing down at the mute button on the other end of the screen. 

It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and she was finishing her final work zoom before Christmas break. 

2020 had been that kind of year. 

Marlena had been working from home for months. Her event planning and corporate workshop business had to quickly transition from being an in-person service to an online one. She spent her days on zoom helping different businesses hold training events and lead them through corporate team building. 

During the same time, Jim’s food distribution company had been incredibly busy. The business they lost from restaurants had shifted quickly to increased deliveries to local grocers and even a residential home delivery service. Jim had to become an expert on COVID-19 protocols overnight. 

Lizzie and David had been doing their school from home in the spring and then blended learning through the fall. It meant that Marlena has become a part-time home-school teacher along with being a corporate zoom meeting facilitator. 

And still even with busy work and added responsibly at home, their lives had become so small. The kids only saw their friends through their phones, while Jim and Marlena’s social calendar had been wiped clean. Marlena’s book club had moved online, but she just couldn’t spend more time on zoom than was absolutely necessary. They hadn’t seen friends and family in-person since March… other than a few summer walks and socially distanced barbecues – which were only weird and awkward. 

“Okay, I can hear you now.” She said to the person on the other end of the call. “Let’s book the next meeting for January”

And then bloop, it was finally done.

____ 

Around lunch time, Lizzie and David emerged from their rooms, headphones on and iPads in hand, to appear at the kitchen table just in time for some grilled cheese sandwiches to be served. 

“Don’t forget, we are packing meals at the soup kitchen this afternoon.” Marlena said the words out loud, but her kids didn’t seem to be aware that she existed. She heard Jim’s car pull into the garage. He came into the house. “What’s for lunch?” He asked. 

Marlena sighed. The two sat down to eat… while David and Lizzie cleared their plates without looking up from their screens. 

“Work is all set until the 27th. 3 days off!” Jim sounded both exhausted and excited at the same time. “I thought we could do to that Candy Cane lane drive-thru after the soup kitchen and before church” he said with a half mouthful of grilled cheese.

“Sounds like fun” Marlena said, but her words didn’t match her expression.

Christmas just wasn’t the same this year. Jim had been trying. He bought a real tree, instead of pulling out the old artificial one in the basement. They weren’t travelling so they could water it every day, he reasoned. 

They had also been watching a Christmas movie a night since mid-November. They were all starting to blend together, except for the night when they watched Die Hard… Marlena kept waiting for the Christmas part of the movie, but it never really came… just lots of explosions. 

Around 5 o’clock, Jim and Marlena, Lizzie and David were all packed into the family car. They were leaving the soup kitchen for their drive down Candy Cane lane. Instead of serving meals like they usually did, they were packing to go containers in a socially distanced kitchen with masks on. Another Christmas tradition that just wasn’t the same.  

The family was quiet as they drove through the empty streets of the city. Marlena looked out the window and kept thinking about all the things that Christmas wasn’t this year. 

All of a sudden her phone started buzzing. 

“Hello” 

“Marlena?” It was Father Angelo, the priest from St. David’s. 

“I have one more meal to deliver, but all the drivers are gone. Are you still close?” 

“Sure” said Marlena. “We can be back to you in 5 minutes.”

——

Father Angelo handed Marlena the meal and an address. 

“Thank you so much” he said. 

Marlena just nodded. 

10 minutes later, Jim was taking the car through a rougher area of town. A lot of run down rental houses and dingy apartment buildings. 

Finally, they pulled up to a particularly unsightly house. 

“I can take it” Jim said. 

“No, I will. But keep the car running.” Marlena answered. 

As Marlena approached the house, the outside light came on and the front door opened. 

A woman appeared from behind the door, and there was young boy hiding in her legs. He couldn’t have been more than 3. The woman had a mask on, just like Marlena did. 

As Marlena approached, she started to feel like there was something familiar about this woman, but Marlena couldn’t place it. 

Marlena was going to leave the box with the meal package on the step, but woman came out to meet her with her arms outstretched.

“Marlena?!?!” The woman gasped. 

“Miriam?” Marlena blurted out. 

Without thinking, Marlena put the box down and the two women hugged… but only for a moment before stepping back. 

“Sorry” they both said. 

“Miriam, I thought you and Jesse had gone up north?”

“We did” said Miriam. “For a few years we were. But back in March the work dried up for Jesse. So we came to the city. Jesse has had work off and on since then. Enough to get by, at least until the latest lockdown. Now… it’s been hard this past month. “ said Miriam. 

Marlena’s heart was full of compassion in a way that it hadn’t been in a while. She looked down at the little boy in Miriam’s legs. 

“And are you Christopher?” Marlena gasped. “You’re huge” she laughed.

“Marlena is the very first person to hold you, ever” Miriam said to her son. Christopher’s jaw dropped the way little kids jaws do. 

“I met you the day you were born. Your mom and dad, and my family were all snowed in at a hotel for Christmas. You came a week early. Wait… tomorrow must be your birthday!” 

Christopher smiled a big smile… while Miriam had a moment of saddness cross her face. Then she turned back to the house. 

“Jesse!” She called “It’s Marlena and Jim. You know, from the motel. When Christopher was born!” 

Jesse came to the door, a big grin on his face. As he walked through the light, Marlena could see that he was holding something… or no, it was someone. 

“This is Lilly” said Miriam.

“Lilly Marlena” said Jesse. 

Marlena gasped. 

___

Soon the two families, all bundled up for winter, were walking down the street. It was a mild and clear winter night. 

David and Lizzie were playing peek-a-boo with Christopher behind trees and bushes along the walk. Jim and Jesse were talking about their jobs and the pandemic. 

Marlena was looking at Lilly as she walked with Miriam.

“She is only 2 weeks old.” Said Miriam. “She is the reason we came to the city for Jesse to find work.”

“Why didn’t you look us up?” Asked Marlena. 

“I don’t know… it felt like it was so long ago. And it was only a two days that we were together. I just didn’t feel like I could ask for help again. You saved us once already.”

“No” Marlena said. “You saved us. You saved me. We were miserable that year. I wanted so bad for it to be the perfect Christmas that I was cranky with my family all month. Then when we were snowed in, I just lost all hope. But when you and Jesse… and Christopher came into our lives, you reminded me, us, that Christmas isn’t about perfect moments and memories.”

Miriam just nodded.

“And here were are again… and we are different kind of miserable. The whole world is.” Marlena’s voice started to break, she took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. 

“But look at my kids.” David and Lizzie were smiling and laughing like they hadn’t for months. 

“And look at our husbands.” Jim and Jesses were chuckling about something. 

“And look at me. Look at you.” Marlena stopped and turned to Miriam “Look at Lilly, this little Christmas baby. I see you and her and your family. And you remind not to let my version of the world take up too much space. You remind me that there is something more going on, even when everything feels heavy and dark. You mind me that God is up to things in this world that are both bigger than I can imagine, but also happening in the smallest out of the places that I forget to look.”

The two women looked at each other and at their families. 

Marlena looked to Lilly. “In this child, this little baby, I see hope and promise. I see a future. I see God breaking into this broken world, bringing light and life for us all, when we need it so desperately.

The tears were streaming down both women’s faces now. 

Just then some music began playing. It was coming from the school yard nearby. 

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth, receive her king. 

Miriam and Marlena started to laugh with joy. Just then the kids and the dads gasped as a giant firework erupted over head. 

“Let every heart, prepare him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing”

Miriam looked at Marlena and said, 

“Thank you.” 

Marlena shook her head., “No, thanks be to God for you.”

St. David’s Christmas Eve at the Motel
St. David’s Christmas Day the Motel
St. David’s Advent 4 Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Eve Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Day Refugees

Refugees Welcome – God sent YOU to us

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (Read the whole passage)

 

Sermon

As the plane descended, it broke through the orange grey cloud cover. As Mara looked out her window, she could see the lights of the city sprawling off in all directions. There were little cars and trucks moving along streets and highways. Buildings rose up tall in some places, and in other areas fields and parks broke up rows and rows of houses. All of it was covered in white… like a great sandstorm had covered the city, but not quite.

Soon the airport and runway came into view. This was a the 4th and final landing that she, her husband Yusef and her two year old son Isa would be making on their long journey. 72 hours before, that had left the Zataari Refugee camp for Amman Jordan.  In Amman they boarded a plane destined for Canada. They had been chosen for resettlement. They had been interviewed, screened, and interviewed some more. When the news came that they has been chosen to go to Canada, they couldn’t believe the news.

The plane touched down and began taxi-ing into the terminal. The plane was nearly empty with only a few dozen others. It was dark outside and the family was tired. They gathered their belongings to exit the plane. However, as Mara and Yusuf made their way up the gangway and through the airport, their anticipation was beginning to build. They were about to finally arrive at a new life, in a safe country. Mara noticed right away that there were no soldiers or guards, nor police officers to be seen Late at night the airport was nearly empty, except for the friendly airline staff waving them on towards the baggage claim with smiles and greetings. The government officials who had been with them the whole way were leading the group as they walked.

Through a final set of security doors, the group spilled into the escalators leadings down to the baggage area. The quiet airport all of sudden was filled with noise. There were people shouting and cheering, clapping. As Mara, Yusuf and Isa stood at the top of the escalators she could now see crowds of people. Hundreds – waiting just for them. Many were holding signs. In English and Arabic,

“Welcome Refugees. You are home”

As the group rode down the escalator it was thrilling. The gathered crowd began singing (Mara would later discover that they were singing O Canada). People were handing out coffee cups that looked like Christmas sweaters. And little sugar-coated balls of dough to eat.

The government officials were helping the refugees to find their sponsors, but Mara had already spotted hers. There was a group holding a sign in Arabic with their names on it. Underneath their sign it said, St. David’s church. Mara noticed it because Yusuf’s family had always said they were related to the great King of Israel – David.

There were about 20 church members. An older priest, surrounded by all kinds of people. A woman stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Mara – Marlena the woman said pointing to herself.

“My name is Mara” Mara said practicing the English she had been learning for the past two years in the Zataari Camp.

After many more hugs and introductions, Isa was off playing with boy and girl around 11 or 12 years old. Yusuf was trying on a number of winter coats the group had brought. Mara couldn’t believe all these people were there for her family.

Soon the three were packed up in a big SUV and on their way to their new home. Marlena and her husband Jim with their children David and Lizzie took the family to their new apartment. Mara was exhausted but exhilarated. She didn’t know how relieved she would feel to finally be safe, for the first time in years. For the first time since she and Yusuf had left Damascus with only what they could carry and walked to Jordan. She had been quite pregnant at the time and she had given birth to Isa their first night in Jordan. During the past 2 years they had lived in a Refugee camp wondering if they would ever go home again, wondering if they would ever have a home again. Isa had been a Refugee, a stateless person, a homeless person his entire life. He didn’t have a home until now. But now he was, with his parents, a Canadian.

Marlena’s family said goodbye and promised to be back the next day. They would be going to church for Christmas Day. Yusuf put Isa to bed while Mara explored their new home. It was full of furniture, food and more. Finally late into the night, Mara and Yusuf, happy and content, drifted off to sleep…

In the morning, the doorbell rang. Mara went to the door. It was Marlena.

“Are you ready to head… Where did you get that sweater?” she asked surprised.

“They gave to us in camp” said Mara.

“What? How?” said Marlena.

“C-L-W-R” Mara said trying to remember the letters.

“I gave that sweater to the Lutheran church across from our church to years ago, that is incredible that YOU have it.”

Mara was wearing a St. Francis Xavier University shirt. It said Volleyball on the back. Marlena pointed to the arm. Stitched onto the arm it said Marlena – 1994.

“Amazing” said Marlena. “Just amazing.”

The two families arrived at St. David’s about 5 minutes before church was to start… they were greeted by too many people to remember. Finally, the two families found their pew on the right side of the sanctuary.

Father Angelo processed into the sanctuary to begin worship and the congregation began singing, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Two years in the refugee camp and now two days in Canada had been full of unfamiliar things, this church was more like home than either Mara or Yusuf expected. They were Syrian coptic. The liturgy at St. David’s was very familiar to how they worshipped back in Syria. Even though they couldn’t always keep up with the English, the familiar pattern of standing and praying and singing reminded them of life back in Damascus. They listened to the sermon, they joined in the prayers when they could, and they went forward to receive communion. Father Angelo smiled as he put some bread in Isa’s hands.

At the end of the service, Father Angelo made a few announcements. And then he slowed down and said very clearly,

“As-salamu alaykum” which means Peace Be with you in Arabic.

“Today, we are also welcoming very special new members. Yusuf, Mara and Isa are joining us from Syria.” before he could finish people started clapping.

Overtop of the clapping Father Angelo asked the family to stand.

Marlena leaned over to Mara and Yusuf and gestured to stand. Uncertainly Mara stood up, Yusuf picked up Isa and joined her. As they stood the clapping almost immediately died out. People were gasping and some were even pointing. Mara became very self conscious. Trying to formulate the English words, she said, “Thank you. God has blessed us and given you to us. We are so happy.”

Still people were staring and pointing, until Mara realized they were pointing behind her. Behind Mara, Yusuf and Isa hanging on the wall was a Christmas Banner. It was a dark navy blue starry sky above a brown desert. Walking across the desert were two figures, one holding a child. Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt. Mara looked strikingly like Mary, with her white headscarf, blue sweater and blue dress matching Mary’s look exactly. Yusuf’s shaggy hair and beard, with his brown corduroy sport jacket and brown pants matching Joseph’s brown tunic. Even Isa’s red shirt and white pants mimicking the infant Jesus’ white and red clothes.

Father Angelo finally broke the moment.

“No” he said. “No, God did not give us to you. Here you are in our church, a family from the house of David who had fled across the same sands as the holy family, who has known fear and danger, who has sought refuge in a foreign land.”

Father Angelo took a breath.

“No, God did not give us to you. God has sent YOU to us. We are blessed because you have been given you us. You are the ones that we have been waiting for. The ones that we needed to receive here. You are the ones who have reminded us that we have not saved you. But you have saved us. Your little family has travelled across the world to remind us that we are the ones who needed the saving. That God is the one coming into our world in order to bring light into our darkness.”

Father Angelo took another breath and then said,

“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.”

Amen

*This is part 3 in the series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

Mary and Joseph in Al Zataari

*Part 1 of this series is found here.

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

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. (Read the whole passage here)

 

Sermon

As he walked along the rough and sandy road, Yusuf looked up to see his fiancée. She was sitting in the back of a cart being pulled by a horse. She gave him a gentle smile and then closed her eyes once again to try and sleep. Every time the cart hit a bump in the road, the whole thing bounced and shook. Undoubtedly, Mara was not getting much rest. Rest that she, and the child within her womb, needed.

Mara and Yusuf had joined with the caravan of people walking south to Jordan. Mara was sitting in the cart with few elderly people, some children and another pregnant woman. The two had left everything behind, their home, their jobs, their family, their lives. Yusuf was angry at himself for having to make Mara embark on this long journey while she was pregnant. He had hoped that they could have stayed a little longer in their homes. He wanted the baby to be born in Damascus, but the bombs were dropping and the government troops had ordered everyone out. Anyone who was suspected of being a rebel was being thrown in prison or worse, and people were turning on each other, accusing friends and neighbours of rebellion in order to stay in the government’s good books.

Yusuf had told Mara that he would find them a place to hide out, where she could have the baby safely in Damascus. They would only have to stay a few weeks. But Mara had insisted they leave. She didn’t want their baby to be born into such a dangerous and chaotic world. And so here they were, traveling in winter on a hard and rocky road, from Damascus, Syria to Al Zataari, Jordan so that they could make a new life, one free from bombs and guns and soldiers. Yusuf was not happy about it, but every time Mara gave him that small smile of hers, he was relieved that she had insisted on leaving.

______________________________

Zataari was bustling full of people. There were NGO workers, peacekeepers, kids running around in packs, adults visiting, people working. Zataari was the same distance from Nazareth that Bethlehem was, the home of King David. Yusuf was a coptic Christian, and the family legend was that he was a descendant of King David, not that this was something to advertise back home.

Yusuf and Mara were hoping to find some of Yusuf’s relatives already in Jordan. He  heard that his cousins had already fled Syria. But as he asked around, no one seemed to know his family, it was a long shot in a town of 80,000 refugees. Yusuf was worried that they might have to make camp on the outskirts. He only considered this as his last option, for the threat of thieves and bandits was too great, especially with Mara being almost ready to have her baby.

Finally someone who seemed to be a distant cousin offered Mara and Yusuf a room to themselves…. Well kind of… it was a tattered tent with a faded UNHCR logo on it… it looked like goats and sheep had been living there before they came. Mara and Yusuf would have to make due.

 

Yusuf led Mara to their temporary dwelling and they settled in. Mara didn’t seem mind, she was just grateful to sit somewhere that wasn’t bouncing down a road. Yusuf’s distant cousin had given them some food and blankets and sweaters. Not long after they had sat down to eat, Mara dropped her food and grabbed her belly. Yusuf knew what this meant, the baby was coming.

Throughout the day and well into the night, Yusuf stayed by Mara’s side. Helping her as best he could through the labour. Finally, through gritted teeth, Mara told him,

“The Baby is going to come now”. Yusuf got into position as she gave her final pushes and then all of a sudden into his hands slithered a slimy and wailing bundle of legs and arms, hands and feet. Yusuf gave the baby to Mara, it was cold and there was nothing to wrap the child in. So, Yusuf took one of the sweaters his cousin has given to him and tore it into strips. Some he dipped in water and helped Mara to clean the child and with the rest they wrapped up the baby warm and tight.

Once the baby had been cleaned and fed, Mara and the boy slept. A short time later, while it was still dark, Mara woke up and called for Yusuf to take the baby. She wanted to clean herself up from the birth. She couldn’t quite stand on her own, so Yusuf put the baby down in the nearest convenient place — a long metal bucket or trough full of straw, probably for the goats. Yusuf was so proud of Mara, she had come all this way and now given birth, he was all of a sudden overjoyed that he had not left her when he had found out that she was pregnant, and he was overjoyed that she had made them escape the dangers of home.

______________________________

As Yusuf pulled Mara to her feet, they heard voices coming near their tent. At first Yusuf thought it might be his cousin coming to check in on them in the early morning, but there were several voices… several men. Yusuf peered out of the tent into the darkness and coming towards him was a group of men with weapons, with sticks and staffs, and rods and slingshots.They were boisterous, loud men… Yusuf’s anxiety grew and his heart began to pound. These men must be a gang of thieves.

“Stay in here” he told Mara and he pulled out one of the few personal items he had brought with him from Damascus, his carpenter’s hammer. He was ready to die for wife-to-be and child.

As the men got closer they quieted themselves, Yusuf was ready to fight. He put himself between the tent and the men, blocking their way. He raised his hammer above his head to signal that he would not allow anyone to come in. But the men stopped and only one came forward.

“Is he here?” the man asked excitedly. “The one the messengers told us about? The Messiah? The child in the manger? We were watching our sheep not to far from here, and were told by messengers – Angels  –  that we would find the great prophet here”. Yusuf’s jaw dropped, along with his hammer, in shock. How could anyone know that Mara had given birth already? Angels? Messiah? He turned and looked back to the tent. Mara was standing at the door, nodding her head and beckoning the young men to come forward. One by one the men came and knelt before the baby, saying prayers of thanksgiving as Mara watched on, looking totally unsurprised that these rough men had arrived. Yusuf’s head was spinning.

Finally, when the men had finished looking at the child, NO when they had finished worshipping the child, Yusuf looked to Mara who was holding a squirming Isa in her arms.

“Angels, Messiah, a baby in a manger! Our son is special isn’t he?”

Mara looked at Yusuf for a long moment. She thought about all that she had been through in the last 9 months. The visit from the angel and surprise pregnancy, the shame of being unmarried followed by Yusuf’s continued willingness to marry her, the time she had with her cousin Eliza while she gave birth to her miracle child in her old age and now the journey to Zataari. Mara was amazed at how her life had been so dramatically changed, how this baby had come into her world and changed everything. This tiny baby that could not lift his own head, who could not survive unless she kept him warm with her own body heat, who could not be fed unless it was she who gave him food, who could not be alive unless she worked to keep him so. This little child had come into her life and nothing was the same as it was.

Yet before tonight, the message from that first Angel had not seemed so real and grand. For certain she had been pregnant, but for her child to be the Messiah… well that was something she could not imagine. Yet the Shepherds had come, they told them of messenger Angels coming to the fields, telling them about the birth of her child, of this tiny little baby boy, so vulnerable to the world, of how he would be their saviour!

Returning to Yusuf’s question, was their son special?

“Come and look into his eyes Yusuf, see for yourself”, Mara finally said.

And together as they looked at this little child, so new to world, wiggling and gurgling like newborns do, they saw skin and hair; ears, eyes and a nose. And yet as they looked longer, they saw something more, something so much more. As they looked into this child’s eyes they could see themselves, they could see everyone that they loved, they could see the whole world. In this little helpless child, they could see the divine, they could see a great passion for all creation, they could see God in flesh — Emmanuel. Looking at this little miracle in their arms, Mara and Yusuf saw the whole world differently than it was just a moment before. A miracle bigger than they could hold. A world with God in it.

As the first wisps of light began to breach the horizon with the sunrise, the little family stood at the door of their tent, watching this new light come into the world. As starlight and sunlight danced with each other across the sky, Mara could almost hear voices singing from above and she listened to the heavens.

Yusuf whispered to his son,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Amen.

Our version of Christmas is NOT God’s

Luke 1:39-45(46-55)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…

[And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

(Read the whole passage)

 

Sermon

We have come to the end of Advent. Advent has been rough this year. We have endured talk of the end times and John the Baptist’s fiery preaching from the river banks.

Finally today, on this last Sunday of Advent things start to sound a little more Christmasy. Elizabeth, a woman thought to be too old to conceive and barren, is pregnant with John. Mary, a virgin still only engaged to be married, is pregnant with the Messiah.

Today’s story sounds beautiful and picturesque. It is easy for us to imagine two delightfully pregnant women greeting one another lovingly; a scene that makes us smile.

But we forget to consider the struggles these two women are facing. Elizabeth is older than a pregnant woman should be. She and Zechariah will be raising a child in their old age, more like grandparents who have unexpectedly found themselves raising children again. While Mary is a young unmarried teen girl, and her fiancé is not the father of her child. Joseph could call the marriage off at best… maybe forcing Mary to a life of begging on streets, with a child to care for. At worst, both she and her unborn child could be stoned for adultery. For both women in their day, child birth was dangerous and all too often women would not survive the birth experience without some luck. There is probably more relief than joy while the women greet one another, as Mary has gone with haste to see her cousin, to avoid the judgement of her hometown family and friends.

The story of Mary and Elizabeth is not one of those Christmas movies. Rather it is story full of fear and danger, one that stands in contrast to the Christmas image we generally try to present. Mary and Elizabeth challenge the notion that Christmas is about shopping, baking, decorating and hosting. Mary and Elizabeth introduce things we don’t want to talk about this time of year. Fear, danger, shame and uncertainty.

(Pause)

In the middle of Advent, St. David’s church was having an extraordinary congregational meeting. It was a busy time of year. The actors for the annual pageant were having regular rehearsals. Father Angelo and Father Michael were frantic with preparations, sermon writing, and pre-Christmas visits. Everyone was busy with all the usual Christmas stuff at home – office parties, school concerts, family visits – it was not a good time for a congregational meeting.

Yet, the basement of the church was packed full of people.

The meeting was extraordinary because it had not been called by the parish board or the priests. It had been called by special petition. Simon, the building committee chair, had gotten the 35 signatures required to call a special meeting of the congregation.

The president of the congregation stood up to the mic and called the meeting to order. She asked Father Angelo to lead the congregation in prayer. Then the president asked Simon to read the one motion that the congregation was to vote on.

Simon came to the mic, “I move that our congregation cancel our plans to sponsor the refugees. Bill seconds the motion.”

When Simon finished, people began to murmur and talk.

The president had to ask for quiet. She then open the floor to debate, with Simon getting to speak first as the mover of the motion.

“Our parish board went ahead a decided to sponsor those people without asking us. Because they know what we would have said. They know that Father Angelo and the tour group was over there when it happened. They stuck in that church only a few blocks from the bombs. We don’t think bringing people who could be terrorists to our church is right. We need to vote no, before they get here next week.”

(Pause)

The real story of Mary discovering that she is pregnant unravels and upsets our vision of the Christmas story. We don’t want Christmas to be like real life, it supposed to something different, or least that is what we hope to create. The perfect and ideal vision of the perfect family preparing for a new baby. This is the Christmas we try to tirelessly create each year, a diversion from the messiness and struggle of real life. We want to imagine Mary and Elizabeth as calm and peaceful expectant mothers, as if they this is the way the planned to have children all along.

But our version of Christmas is NOT God’s.

God is telling a different story at this time of year. God is telling a real story, about real people. About people who have big problems, and no easy way out. It is about poverty, about unmarried parents, about unwanted babies, about couples too old to raise a child, about judgment and the threat of death. And it is about how God’s people respond to fear and danger.

(Pause)

After Simon’s speech, people started shouting, some in support, others against Simon’s motion. The president had to call for order again.

June stood up to the mic, June was like everyone’s favourite surrogate grandma at St. David’s. “Now Simon, you are just being silly. Syrian Refugees need our help. We have to welcome them.”

Again people started shouting, again the president called for order.

This time Nelly, the director of the Christmas Pageant was at the mic. “I don’t know what to think. I watch the news and all these people are leaving their homes, but then it feels like every week some new act of terrorism happens. I don’t know what the answer is.”

The debate went on like this for 30 minutes. People speaking passionately for one side or the other, with many stuck in the middle.

Jim was standing in line at the mic behind 5 people. His 11 year old daughter Lizzie beside him. Finally it was his turn to speak.

“I don’t actually have anything to say” he said. “Lizzie does. Can she speak Mme. President.” There was more murmuring from the crowd. The president nodded.

(Pause)

Sometimes the real world can get in the way of Christmas. While we try to create perfect memories with seemingly perfect families, God is discarding the rules about pregnancy before marriage in order to send us a messiah. As we stress and worry and prepare for the perfect Christmas, God is sending divine messengers to an old woman and unwed teen mom living in poverty.

God does not wait for the everything to be perfect or to fall into place in order to begin the work of the incarnation. God does not come only when it is safe and there is nothing to fear. God’s activity of taking on our flesh and becoming like us starts now. God comes to us, whether we want God to or not.

Mary’s and Elizabeth’s real life shoves aside our idyllic nativity scenes, visions of perfect Christmases. Mary and Elizabeth show us a real story about real people. A story about shame, and danger and betrayal. But also a story about mercy, and compassion and grace.

(pause)

Jim lowered the mic for his daughter.  Lizzie stepped up, she looked around the room, pulled out a piece of paper to read.

“I am not afraid” she said. “I am not afraid because I would want a church like this to let my family come if we had to run from home or war. The refugees might be terrorists but they might be kids too. Kids like the boy on the beach. Kids like me. Kids who need homes and schools and safe places to live. St. David’s is a safe place. I know that because my parents always tell me that if I am lost, I can come here and people will take care of me. Father Angelo, Father Michael, June, Nelly, Simon. They tell me that you are safe people and you can take care of me. They tell that I am safe here because this is God’s house, and God makes it safe.”

Lizzie stepped back from the mic and grabbed for father’s hand. The two went and sat down together.

(pause)

For when Mary gets past the shame of pregnancy before marriage, when she get past the fear of death for adultery, she with her husband to be Joseph, with her elderly cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah, they all become guardians of God’s promise, bearers of the Good News made flesh.

And it is the same for us, when our fears and worries get out in the way, when we can’t see what God is up to. God comes anyways.  And God bears grace and mercy for the world in us. God makes us the messengers of the Good News of God’s love and compassion for all. God sends Messiah to frightened world.

And because of what God is doing, with Mary, we can sing:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Amen. 

*Part 2 of this series is found here.