Just Between Us
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
When Charlotte was 13, she was asked to write a reflection for a daily advent devotional being written by Westminster church members. And she was given the text we heard in Luke’s gospel; the Annunciation to Mary.
It’s a brilliant reflection, says her mother. It’s too long to share the whole thing. But in it, she says if this had happened to her, ( if she had been told she was going to responsible for God’s son) she would have been so frightened she would have run away from this massive problem to a small warm welcoming island…(on the coast) and wake up to the smell of freshly baked banana pancakes. I would have been forced to go to this island because if I carried on with everyday life, people would judge me as they do to all the unusual people on a daily basis.
At 13, Charlotte was all too aware of judgment that people face by other people on a daily basis. At and roughly 13, as Mary might have been, Mary too was all too aware of what society would do with an unwed mother.
Towards the end of Charlotte’s reflection, this particular paragraph caught my eye…
Looking back on this passage now, I think Mary might have felt important and wanted, She might have felt she was part of something special. That’s what we all strive for, to be accepted and to be part of something special.
Important and wanted….part of something special…
What Charlotte was articulating whether she knew it or not, was the struggle we all face, between the public and the personal. On the one hand, we face a world, a community, a culture. What will people say, what will people think? And on the other hand, we face the deeply personal intimate nature of God. And often the two clash…What we know to be deeply true, intimately just and right… is at odds with what the world values.
In this way, first century Palestine was no different than 21st century Marin county. We have rules, ideas of what is ok, normal, what is supposed to be, and we categorize what is strange, odd, weird, or unacceptable. The world is as full of judgment today as it was then, but the punishment for being at odds with society looked quite different then.
In first century Palestine, for a girl to be betrothed, but not married, and to be pregnant, would have meant public shaming, punishment, and possibly stoned.
(Deut. 22:20) If a man marries a girl who is claimed to be a virgin, and then finds that she is not, “they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death”
To say Mary was afraid of what society might do or think or say is an understatement. The same is true for Joseph, as we read in Mathew, to put his own reputation on the line is to put his entire families reputation on the line, and risk being ostracized in a culture where honor and shame are everything. The actions of one affected the entire community. Cleanliness and holiness, being righteous and just was not an autonomous act. Your duty to God and neighbor were one and the same.
But we’ve mostly lost sight of that in our culture. We think individually. As long as we’re not hurting anyone directly, our individual rights supersede what it might mean for our neighbor. We look out for number one and expect others to do the same. That’s primarily our culture, and it often contradicts what’s at the core of our faith…
In Paul’s letter to the community of Thessalonica, Paul gives thanks to this body of people that has endured and remained faithful amid persecutions of those who were harshly judging them.
Rejoice always Paul writes….…Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
There is no compartmentalizing this faith. I’ll pray here, work then, attend church on Sunday if I’m not too tired…For Paul, our entire life is born in Christ…as a holistic approach to faith..our whole being, flesh, and blood, rejoice in Jesus Christ.
In Luke’s gospel, in only a few more verses that we didn't hear, Mary’s spirit will rejoice…
“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.
I’m sure Charlotte hadn’t looked at those following verses when she wrote her reflection, but it turns out her instinct was right….that despite Mary’s fear…Mary knows she is important, wanted and part of something special.
That truth is born from the most intimate experience of God.
At a time when the world was ruled by kings who were exploiting the poor the weak and the vulnerable…
…a girl with no royal lineage, no name, no title, no status,
finds herself in the holy presence of God…an angel.
A holy being, a pillar of light, a personified angelic being with wings, whatever your imagination wants to conjure up, go there…and hold there…Just sit with that…
A teenage girl is visited by an angel. Can you stop there, and for a moment forget the rest of the story? Can you remember being all of 13 years
This is our God and this is us. God finds us, right where we are. There is nothing needed, no right place, no “if” I do this, “then” God will do that. If you’re wondering how it all works, start by wondering with Mary at the magnitude of a God who comes to you, exactly as you are, wherever you are, to bring you the birth of a Christ Child born for you. God finds favor with you, exactly as you are.
In her book, Mixed Blessings, Barbara Brown Taylor relates the story of a young girl named Sharon, 5 years old, telling the Christmas story. "Then the baby was born," she said, "And do you know who he was?" She whispered, reverently, "The baby was God." Then she leaped into the air, turned around, and dove into the sofa, covering her head with pillows. Barbara Brown Taylor says: "It was the only proper response to the good news of the incarnation, and those of us without pillows over our heads may wonder if we really heard it yet."
This kind of intimacy with God is more accessible for
It’s deeply personal…. incarnation, made flesh…through the power of the holy spirit, God enters in…for you…for you…personally….because you’re wanted, important and you bet you’re part of something special.
and nothing you do… can make it any truer….except maybe to accept it, wonder about it, choose it and proclaim it.
The world will surely think we’re nuts to believe in it. An incarnation of God through the power of a Holy spirit..that came into a young girl who had never been with a man…It’s scientifically impossible, it’s illogical, and the story has been misused to create fear around our own sexuality, I could go on…why would we proclaim any of this to a world who we know will reject us for believing it?
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, otherwise known as Mother Teresa, who decimated her entire life to Christ… once said this about the world….
People are often unreasonable… and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
What you spend years building, someone may destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough:
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is all between you and God:
It was never between you and them anyway.
Mother Teresa knew this.
Mary of Nazareth knew this.
May you know this….deeply and intimately, in the dark… As it was between God and Mary, may it be between God and you….that a baby will be born for you.. and for a world that will at times reject him. Accept him anyway….in the final analysis, it’s all between you and God…