What About a Nine Month Pregnant Pause for Peace?

A sermon based on Luke 1:31-45
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on December 1, 2013
by Rev. Scott Elliott

During Advent a Sunday school class drew pictures of the Nativity while listening to a CD of “Silent Night” and other Carols. One five year old brought his drawing up to the teacher. She was quite impressed. The baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph looked very nice, as did the animals and angels and three magi.
But then she noticed a plump bearded man beside the manger. “Jimmy,” the teacher said, “Santa wasn’t at the birth of Jesus.” “Oh that’s not Santa,” Jimmy replied, “that’s Round John Virgin.” . . .

In fairness to that little tyke I need to disclose that for the longest time I thought “Round yon Virgin” was “Round young virgin” in reference to Mary’s tummy.

I mention all of this to get more than a chuckle. In our collective minds around this time of year we begin to think of Mary in the final stage of her pregnancy, with just a few weeks left she would certainly be round and showing by now, so it would be eight or so months ago when the spark of Christ began to grow in her.

As today’s reading tells it, it was such a powerful spark that way back then, early on, both Elizabeth and her unborn son were deeply moved by the tiny embryo as it began to grow into the baby Jesus we celebrate this time of year.

In the verses that follow today’s reading, right after Elizabeth and John respond to the embryonic Christ, Mary sings aloud her amazing song that we call The Magnificat, which we will be talking about next week when we lift up Mary and that song.

A lot goes on months before Jesus is born! Interestingly counting back from Christmas nine months is gets us roughly around our Easter season, so if December is when Jesus was born, it’d be about Passover – now our Easter time– when Mary first learns she is pregnant.
And we can imagine that it is sometime around Pentecost when Elizabeth and her unborn son and Mary are each deeply moved by the being Mary has in her womb, and the promise just that little Christ spark offers.

Now, as far as I know we don’t have an earlier in the year “conception of Christ” or a “noticing Christ in the womb” holiday. We just sort of put it off to celebrate all at once, treating the pregnancy, the anticipation of Jesus’ birth as if it lasted only a month, when really in our story the hope of Jesus’ arrival was pending for months.

I’m bringing up all of this timing stuff because, if you haven’t heard by now, I love the Christmas season. I am even stranger than most about it because I actually like to see Christmas things arrive in the market place.In August I’ve been known to intentionally go to craft stores to sneak a peek at some early Christmas sparkle. And every year I begin to listen to snippets of Christmas music well before Thanksgiving. The thought of Christmas, the sights and smells and sounds delight me, because they remind me that humans can treat one another so much better– and do so with the compassion and care that come with the hope of this season.

I love the sensory recall of these holidays when we collectively unfetter the Spirit of love and it always comes galloping in and about, just as it’s doing now this Advent. This makes me happy. I find it very Spiritual.

So I like the early signs of Christmas. I know that may go against the grain as an applauding the commercialism of Christmas, but I cannot help it. I find much hope and promise in the harbingers of this season.

Advent is a time of year when communities and families and strangers turn to one another with greetings and gifts and good words. Folks focus on love and the world is better for it.

I am convinced that the Spirit of Christmas is a glimpse of what the world is supposed to be like all year long. Not the glitter and commercialism, but the kindness and love, the discussions and longings for peace on earth good will to all.

There is so much hope this time of year, on so many levels. We hope for peace. We hope for a new world. We hope for God’s will. We hope for close family connections. We hope for care and compassion for not just family, and not just friends, but even strangers and outcasts. We hope for peace on earth good will to all.

The hope the Holidays offer in our collective religious and secular stories become reality this month as hope turns into action. Care and compassion – love– the desire for the well being of others becomes magnified and much more of an experiential reality. For a month, for one twelfth of the year, we start acting in the Way that God calls us to act all year long in every aspect of our lives. So, in my opinion the sooner people start tuning toward the hopes of the season and focusing on care and compassion and the desire for the well being of others, the better.///

What would happen if we actually celebrated the hope and the promise of Christ’s arrival from the calendar time of Jesus’ conception until Christmas? Nine months of anticipation and focus on the love? How much more would be given to the needy and the imprisoned? How many more visits and songs would be shared with shut-in elderly folks? How more focused and important might family be nine months instead of one? How many wars, battles, conflicts and fights might be put off with Grace extended in the anticipation of the Prince of Peace’s arrival? Forgive the word play, but nine months of a pregnant pause for peace seems preferable to me.

I know we are all wondering would it be exhausting or exhilarating to be “up” for nine months like we are at Advent? That’s a fair question. By the tenor of what I’ve said so far, you know I’d be betting on exhilarating. And even if it was exhausting wouldn’t it be worth it? Love pouring in and filling the voids as it does at Advent. The promise and hope of peace unfolding. Why it’d be God’s will being done on earth nine times more than it is now. Imagine that! I have no doubt it’d be worth any extra work or hours or loss of sleep, or even resources for that matter.
I’m not suggesting we buy more things or give more presents, or even put up lights and trees for nine months. I’m suggesting we focus on God more and love more and long for peace more. I’m suggesting care and compassion and the desire for well being be our mantra the majority of the time, if not all the time (which is actually Jesus’ plan).

I know I’m in the minority of those who get all smiley and giddy when the orange and black of Halloween starts mixing with the green and red of Christmas. I really do not care that love piggy-backs in on un-pristine commercialism, and that the idea of peace hitchhikes in on it.

According to our Bible stories Jesus began in the womb of an unmarried and therefore criminal-at-the-time mom, he arrived in an un-pristine stable and spent his first moments in the feeding tough of animals. So why not let his message come in on un-pristine commercial greed if it gets the job done?

The point of the season, whenever it starts, of course, is not things, but rather the hope on wings that love and peace sings to our hearts and annually brings to our being-ness.
And here’s the thing, all this love and peace stuff is counter-culture the rest of the year. It’s a radical departure from our usual way of doing things and thinking. At Christmas time it’s okay to care about the needy and the sick, and to do something about it. It’s okay to want to help the poor and care for even those in jail and their families and do something about it. By golly it is even okay to say something cheerful to a stranger and do it. And we even think about calling or writing our estranged family members. At Christmas we even dare to long for real peace.
It’s all a bit revolutionary, what the book we will be studying in Adult Forum calls “subversive.” Truly the Holiday season subverts, disrupts and undermines our established system of doing things.

Love’s actually paramount, commercialism is there too for sure, but, it is there all the rest of the year, in fact one could argue eleven months of the year our culture’s paramount focus is commercialism. It’s just this one month that love’s the trump card. Love, one could think of as, like the tortoise sneaking past the cocky rabbit of commercialism. And at the end of the year, Love wins every year, again and again! So actually Christmas is what’s sneaking in, not commercialism. Christmas is what’s hitchhiking– hopping a ride– steadily winning the race in the usual way we do stuff.

We are all so used to the Christmas stories that it’s sort of hard to hear them as subversive.The Adult Forum will be looking at this type of stuff in-depth from now through the Twelve Days of Christmas, but we don’t have to dig too deep to see some of the radicalness of this season. 2

I just went on and on about how it makes love paramount and shakes us up each year to be a bit more like we are supposed to be the rest of the year.

This is not some modern liberal commie plot. The Christmas story began as a far more subversive text than it is today. It’s was more subversive because the world was an even harsher place. Today we almost take it for granted that the non-powerful have rights, that slavery is bad, that mistreating others because of the way God made them is awful. That was not the case in First Century Rome, a whole lot of folks were expendable to the powerful, and only a few were powerful. It was a much crueler world in many respects. See, the Christmas story was initially intended as a challenge to the powerful like Herod, Rome’s appointed King of the Jews. It’s no accident the Magi honor Jesus, not Herod. Or that Joseph and Mary with God’s help out smart Herod. Consequently the real King of the Jews (to Christians) is not only born, but lives to be the light of the world. In the Christmas story God opposes Rome’s appointed King and love wins.

The Christmas stories further challenge Caesar. Before Jesus Rome’s declared son of god, Caesar, was called “lord,” “prince of peace” and “savior of the world.” Those were names given to him. But in it is Jesus – a peasant baby– not Caesar, whom God and the people in the stories declare as the real Son of God, Lord, Prince of Peace and Savior of the world. 3
The Christmas stories in the Gospels pit God’s non-violent Way to peace through Jesus, against the violent way through Rome over and over again.

So, you see, the Christmas stories were revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. The Gospel writers and the early followers of Jesus were choosing and promoting God’s way of doing things over and above earthly power’s ways of doing things.

It is remarkable that every year we make the subversive choice to do stuff more God’s Way than Rome’s way. There’s so much hope in that. We celebrate, lift up and joyfully laud the Way of Jesus’ revolution of love and compassion, we walk on the road toward peace on earth good will to all. We hold up the wonderful, mystical, powerful Nativity stories and we embrace them and the result is that love flows and peace on earth good will to all becomes our expressed wish.

Like I said, I want it to last more than a month and I will take as much of it any way I can get it, even if it rides in early in stores and commercials. At any rate, I am delighted to declare that officially Advent is here! Advent that time of year where we can hear and taste and smell and touch and feel more of heaven breaking in. And it all started with the conception of Christ by a teenaged girl two thousand years ago, and comes to fruition with the birth, life, death and resurrection of her child and God’s child. The one we Christians know as King of the Jews, Son of God, Lord, Prince of Peace and Savior of the World. The one Mary and Joseph named Jesus. The one we name Christmas after and follow more closely in Advent, a very Holy-closer-to-God time of year.

Let us hope the Spirit of Christmas one day lasts all year long. AMEN.

1. Hodgen, Michael, 1001 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking, p 62
2 We are studying the remarkable book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan called The First Christmas (2007).
3 The First Christmas, p. 38