What Script Do You Want?

Who are you in the Christmas story? Who do you want to be?
There’s that scene in the classic Christmas special, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown,” where Charlie Brown, tasked with directing the school Christmas play, has Lucy hand out the scripts. Snoopy is cast as all the animals in the play, sheep, cow… penguin. That’s before teasing Lucy and finally giving her a doggie kiss. Lucy loses it, screaming for a disinfectant or iodine. There are a couple shepherds, including Linus who refuses to get rid of that stupid blanket, per Lucy’s demand, using it as a shepherd’s headscarf to protect himself from Lucy’s five reason knuckle wrath. “You wouldn’t hit an innocent shepherd, would you?”
Anyway, if Lucy were to hand you out a part in the Christmas story, what part would you be? What part would you want?
Maybe you’re Mary, the leading woman of the story. She is a complex character with so many emotions running in her throughout the story. From why me, O God? To how can I do this, O God? From “yes, I accept your call to birth a king, O God? To her prayer, her song about God which is a highlight of the story.
“Mighty One… holy is thy name, and thy mercy is for generations and generations to those who fear and revere thee. Thou has worked power with thy arm, thou has scattered those who are arrogant in the thoughts of their hearts. Thou has pulled dynasts down from thrones and exalted the humble. Thou has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
Here’s the most essential thing about Mary – she carries God inside her. She carries the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah, in her very being.
Maybe some of you are very close to God. Maybe you feel a profound connection to God and bear Christ in your words and deeds to the world. If so, Mary is your character, your character to be. She carries God inside her. Yet her greatest gift is that she bears this Christ to the world.
Maybe you’re Joseph. Joseph is being asked a lot of God, too. To be the father yet not the father of this Immanuel, this God-with-us. To face the ridicule of gossipers and naysayers in town. To be given an essential task in assuring that all goes smoothly in the sojourn to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to back to Nazareth.
Maybe you have a lot on you like Joseph. Maybe your life is full of stress, busyness, demands. And maybe despite this, God nonetheless asks you to be first and foremost a leader, a servant in the way of God, leaving behind the worldly stress and demands. Well, Joseph maybe the character you are meant to be.
Maybe you are a shepherd. Maybe you’re simply living your life. Working for a living. Paying the bills, maintaining the house, raising the kids, being a good citizen. Maybe you had bigger dreams but circumstances influenced you to live the meaningful yet selfless life of steadiness and dependability. Yet you are called to something even bigger, something so sacred and transformative it defies description. You are called to discover what the true life is, what the true way is all about. You are called to see Love in the face of the Child lying in the manger, saving the world by his mere presence.
Maybe you are one of the wise men. Yes, they don’t come to the story right away. They arrive in the last quarter of the story when Jesus is 2 years-old. They come to Nazareth, the Holy Family’s hometown after their life as immigrants in Egypt.
Maybe you are not particularly a Christian. Maybe you hold to a different faith, are otherwise content, as well as intelligent, even wise. Yet you are not living your best life, not living out the faith you hold to. And then you follow a light in the darkness. The light brings you the Child. You see his beauty, strength and power, that they derive straight from the heart of God, Love and Truth. How can you not be changed in the wake of such a moment? Your faith, the one you came with, remains but is moved to another level, to the next level where a child shows you the meaning of it all.
There are a couple other characters who are not usually mentioned. You don’t see them in the nativity scenes in your neighborhoods. Their names are Simeon and Ana. They are characters described later in Luke 2. After Jesus is born, the family travels a short 5 miles to Jerusalem. The custom was that when a child was around 5 weeks old they were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented and acknowledged as one of the flock of the Yahweh faithful. This presentation of baby Jesus at the Jerusalem is described in Luke 2. As they present Jesus at the temple, two of the elderly faithful, a male priest named Simeon and a female prophetess named Ana, greet him. Not only do they greet him, but they acknowledge that this Child is the Chosen One, the One who will change it all, and they take this One into their hearts.
This is how Luke 2:27-32 describes Simeon’s role:
27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”
Maybe you are Simeon or Ana waiting for the answer to your questions. Maybe you are searching for a life that matches your best hopes and dreams. Maybe in holding the gift of Christmas in your heart, you feel the kind of peace that never lets you go and that allows you to move through the world with that peace that passes all understanding. Maybe that’s why you are here this Christmas Eve.
Or maybe you are a simple villager or a guess at the Inn who hears about a child’s birth around back and you go to see the beautiful newborn who enlightens the world around him.
Whoever you are, for whatever reason, there is one common truth we share. We are here to see the Child. We are here to see the One who is the good news to a weary world.
I close with the climax of that Peanuts version of the Christmas story. For it reminds us, no matter who we are or where we are going, of the One we are meant to look to and be like. 

Mary: Advent's Representative

A common phrase mentioned when discussing Advent is the phrase “expectant waiting.” It is an interesting phrase. It brings to mind two things that are good fodder for what I’d like to say in this Reflection. 

The first thing that comes to mind, and maybe its influenced by the Christmas story itself, but I think about what it means to be a pregnant woman. Expectant waiting is indeed what pregnancy is all about, at least that’s what my wife and mother of our son tells me. In fact, in writing to our son about her experience of expectant waiting, she said this:  

How were those nine months of pregnancy carrying you inside every moment of every day and night? They were the best of my life as I felt a gentle connection to God, to Source, to the universe. If you can imagine the beauty and serenity of a sunrise or sunset, that’s how I felt. Your dad and I felt such joy and anticipation in those months. Every day we talked to you and about you. 

These could easily have been the words of Mary. 

The pregnant reality of Joy and anticipation. A perfect way to describe what seems to be at the heart of Advent. Yes, there is waiting, but it’s filled with the joy that what will soon come wrapped with the joy of love, light, and life.  

There is a lovely little vignette in Luke 1 involving two pregnant women. Elizabeth pregnant with John and Mary with Jesus. When Mary comes to visit her fellow-expecting cousin, she greets Elizabeth. And Elizabeth responds by sharing that little Johnny at their moment of greeting one another leaped for joy in her womb. This is what Elizabeth says in Luke 1, “As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy” 

There is the joy of the child waiting in the womb, yes. Yet there is also joy in the waiting. There is serenity in the process. 

Mary, expectantly waiting, is experiencing a nine-month long epiphany. She is carrying within her womb divinity, as our tradition teaches us. She is carrying within her an anointed one, anointed one being the literal meaning of the word “Christ.”

It is no wonder she gives us some of the most powerful words that we have. In Luke 1 we have what has been deemed Mary’s Song. Indeed, something so potent and honest could only be the creation of someone experiencing the presence of God.  

“Mighty One… holy is his name, and his mercy is for generations and generations to those who fear him. He has worked power with his arm, he has scattered those who are arrogant in the thoughts of their hearts; He has pulled dynasts down from thrones and exalted the humble, He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:49-52) 

The second thought inspired by the phrase “expectant waiting” is the Quakers practice of silent worship. As you may know, most Quakers don’t do liturgy at all. No order of services, no hymns, no sermons, no offerings. When you attend a meeting at most Quaker meetinghouses, the worship that is done is done in silence. It is called, silent worship. And expectant waiting is what is often used to describe what happens in the process of silent worship.  

One sits in silence and waits to experience the full presence of God, our silence being merely an invitation that says, I am now here to listen, O God.  
Mary with Jesus inside is a great metaphor for Quakers of what it’s all about. You may have heard the term “Inward Christ” or “Inner Christ.” We are called to be like Christ, that is the Christian’s reason for being. Many Christians would agree with this.

The Quakers however suggest that we don’t have to search outward on how to fulfill this call to be like Christ. There is nothing missing to be found. There is an inward Christ, an inward light, the Holy Spirit of Christ, that moves and breathes into our hearts. The task is to nourish and care for that inward Christ. We are to love the inward Christ into being, as Mister Rogers might say. The result is that the inward Christ is delivered in real time, giving way to Christ-like decisions, actions, and words.   

Though not a Quaker, Meister Eckhart, the 14th century German mystic famously put it well: 

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son is I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us. 

However, the means to doing all these things, nourishing and caring for our hearts where Christ lives, loving Christ into being, delivering Christlikeness in the world, the way is the method of expectant waiting.  

Yes, I realize it seems counter-intuitive to us westerners that the means to doing the ultimate work of faith is to do nothing, just expectantly wait. Yet that is the case. The means, the method, to grasp true Christlikeness is to let go and let God. I let go of the desire to make it happen on my own terms and my own time. I let go of my meaningless jibber-jabber, my busy work that gives me an excuse to avoid stopping and listening to God’s still small voice. I let go of my need to intellectually know more and more instead of experiencing what can’t be fully known.  

Without this letting go, the wait would be not be expectant but an anxious, even torturous wait, certainly not serene or joyful. And letting God means letting God do the communicating for a change, letting God do the heavy lifting, letting God work through our emptied selves, letting God show us the meaning of love and light, letting God bear in us God’s self, defined by love, peace, and justice.  

As we close, let us again look to Mary, a daughter of God whose womb carries the Son of God. Let us look to Mary as a model. In Luke 1, it is said that Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, came to Mary to inform her of the miraculous, overwhelming news that she’d be the carrier of God’s utter gift of love to the world. Mary asks how since she is not married and is still a virgin. This is Gabriel’s explanation: 

The angel said to her,  

“A Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the offspring will be called holy also, a Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) 

Mary responds with some of the most gracious words imaginable. Her words provide us with not only a wonderful prayer to close with, but a powerful prayer for Advent when we practice the expectant waiting of letting go and letting God: 

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)