Monday, December 26, 2016

Pondering:  In the days after the birth, Mary surely ponders

            This advent I have posted reflections centering around the idea of Mary as an older woman looking back at her life and the remarkable ways God worked through her. 
            On Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at Woodstock I suggested that Mary was asking each of us to do our own remembering.
                        How has God touched your life?
                        When were the times you were willing to say “yes” to God?
                        Who have been the unexpected messengers of God in your
            I also shared a second poem I wrote this Holy Season.  I share it now with you.

Mary Ponders

Life moves more slowly now
            More yesterdays
            Than tomorrows
Memories fill hours and days
            Fragments of time past
            Glimpses of times lost
Sunshine and laughter
            Children playing, bodies growing, dreams consuming

For unto you a son is given
            Not sought after
            Not planned for
            Not anticipated
            yet a child, now a woman
            Elizabeth’s wise counsel
            Joseph’s patient concern

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;
for the Mighty One has done
great things for me,
and holy is his name.

Why the dislocation?  Why the registration?
Rome’s authority reaching to the lowliest in the Empire.

            Our crops to feed their Empire
            Our coins to fill their purses
            Our hope to glorify the Caesar

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his
descendants forever.

Travel becoming more difficult now
            More people
            Less room

Memories of an animal-scented cave surround me like a cocoon protecting the life within me waiting, waiting, waiting
            God’s emerging
            Light revealing
            Hope unveiling
            Promise keeping
            Life transforming

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.

Memories fill the hours, the days
            Fragments of times past
            Glimpses of Holy Grace

Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Clara Young, Christmas Eve 2016

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Mary Did You Know?

Words:  Mark Lowry (20th C.)
Music:  Buddy Greene (20th C.)
Arr. Jack Schrader (1942-   )
#192 in Worship and Rejoice Hymnal

1.  Mary, did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?
     Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
     Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
     That child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

     The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again;
     the lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb.

      Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
      Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
      Did you know that your baby was heaven’s perfect Lamb?
      The sleeping child you’re holding is the great “I AM!”

2.  Mary, did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
     Mary, did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
     Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
     When you kissed your little baby, then you kissed the face of God.

      The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again;
      the lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb.

       Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
       Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
      Did you know that your baby was heaven’s perfect Lamb?
       The sleeping child you’re holding is the great “I AM!”

            No, I didn’t know all that would happen in the life of my baby.  I am not so sure I could have born the sorrow while giving birth to my wonderful new baby boy.  When we took Jesus to the Temple on his eighth day for the rite of circumcision Simeon spoke to us.  His words haunted me my whole life:  “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” [Lk. 2:34-35].  I did not know the marvelous joy I would know as his mother when he reached out to those who so needed help and healing (salvation).  I did not know the great sorrow I would feel as the power of the Roman Empire condemned him.  I did not know the wonder that I would experience when I realized God, through my son Jesus, had revealed God’s Own Self to the world and conquered death in Jesus’ Resurrection.  I sit here now as an older woman and ponder these experiences over and over.  And in the remembering I am moved every day into the mystery of God’s Love for me and for all humankind.  I have been blessed beyond measure.

            We know only minimal pieces of information of Jesus’ birth from the Bible.  Luke records a journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem to satisfy a requirement for a tax registration.  Matthew does not refer to the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  In Matthew’s story the beginning point is in Bethlehem.  When the wise men come to pay their respects of Jesus they follow the star to a house where they find Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.    The early non-canonical Infancy Gospel of James includes both the journey and the donkey we always see in nativity sets.  Infancy Gospel of James 17:5-10 gives a very recognizable description:

            “And so he saddled his donkey and had her get on it.  His son led it and Samuel brought up the rear.  As they neared the three mile marker, Joseph turned around and saw that she was sulking.  And he said to himself, ‘Perhaps the baby she is carrying is causing her discomfort.’  Joseph turned around again and saw her laughing and said to her, ‘Mary, what’s going on with you?  One minute I see you laughing and the next minute you’re sulking.’
            “And she replied, ‘Joseph, it’s because I imagine two peoples in front of me, one weeping and mourning and the other celebrating and jumping for joy.’
            “Halfway through the trip Mary said to him, ‘Joseph, help me down from the donkey – the child inside me is about to be born.’

            Our nativity sets usually have a wooden type structure for the stable.  The Infancy Gospel of James suggests that the birth happened in a cave.  The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Palestine was traditionally located at the opening of a cave approximately 10 miles south of Jerusalem in Bethlehem.  That location (and the idea of a cave) have been part of the Christian tradition since the 2nd Century.  The original basilica church of 339 CE was designed so that the eastern section of the octagonal shape surrounded and provided a view of the cave.  The present Church of the Nativity was erected to include the original structure.

            The primitive conditions of a cave (instead of a nice sterile hospital room or home setting) is a reminder that God’s choice to enter the world was fully within the birth pangs we all either caused in our own births or experienced in giving birth.  We tell the Christmas story with beautiful hymns, verses of scripture and candlelight.  And that is good for our remembering.  However it might lead us to almost science fiction imagining – one second Mary was sitting quietly on the donkey looking around at her surroundings and the next second she was rocking her baby.  (“Beam Me Up” travel)  No pain – no fears – no uncertainties – and no fatherly panic on the part of Joseph.  Birthing doesn’t work that way.  The Infancy Gospel of James gives the hints of Mary’s anxiety over the future of her child.  It also hints of her probable discomfort as her time approached.  It will also tell of Joseph frantically trying to find some help in delivering the baby.  According to that narrative Joseph anxiously sought  a woman to serve as a midwife.  In 2014 my Christmas poem focused on the Mary’s journey and Jesus’ birth. 

Clara Young
November 6, 2014

Today the world turned upside down
Whirling    -    Crashing
Into my day
Into my life

No longer a child
Not yet a woman
Still a daughter
Promised to be wife
Now to be called “mother”

“Favored One” the Messenger says
Unclean   -    Unworthy
Are the cries I will hear
And what of Joseph and my dreams?

No one need know yet
If this is to happen
It will begin quietly
I must see Elizabeth
I must go away

“Rejoice!”  “Chosen One”
Comforting   -    Reassuring
God’s promise within
Our hope before us

Tiredness overcomes me
Kin are worried
Daily sickness takes me
My constant companions
Joy, fear, worry, anxiety

The women know, men suspect
Exposed   -   Redeemed
Joseph will not abandon me
Tenderness is love’s sacred chord

Rome strangles us
Rule, regulations, obligations
“Count them all”
“Tax each one”
Away again – Bethlehem awaits

The roads are people-burdened
Dusty   -    Noisy
Leading to the past
While within is all our future

My legs are swollen
The baby kicks
The donkey gives a bumpy ride
My weight overwhelms me
Loneliness surrounds me

Bethlehem at last!
Cramping pain  -  Fearful thoughts
Not here – not now
Yes here – please now

Joseph stay near
Birthing pain consumes me
Hay, blood, sweat, fluids and . . .
Yes, the cry – the loud exulting cry
The child is born

God within me – God with me
Birthing God   -   Mothering God
Emmanuel – “God With Us” - born this day.
Let the whole earth rejoice.

Let the whole earth rejoice indeed!

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pondering:  Advent 3 – the journey

            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.  He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:1-5

            How does someone remember a journey?  Is it a point of departure and an arrival destination?  Is its significance the time of the year, the dates, the events going on at the time?  Stories are beginning to form about Jesus’ birth around all these criteria.  Sometimes they don’t even agree with known facts.
            No matter.  For me the journey was a nine-month physical experience grounded in a profound spiritual connection to God.  My journey would end in a stable attached to an inn.  The journey of knowing Jesus would begin for all of us at the same place.

            The beginnings of Luke’s account of the nativity are so specific it is logical to assume a date certain in history.  The problem is the dates do not match.
·         Herod of Judea was born around 40/37 BCE (Before Common Era/Before Christ’s Birth).  Herod of Judea died in 4 CE (Common Era/Christ’s Birth)
·        Quirinius became governor or legate of Syria after this time in 6 CE.  It was then that he authorized a census of Judea.
·        There are no records extant of any registration “of the world” (or the world of the Roman Empire under Augustus).
·        Josephus, a renowned Jewish historian of the time, has no record of a census for tax purposes during this period
·        Herod would not have needed to have a separate tax census because he was already in charge of tax assessment and collection for the Roman Empire and as a Jewish king, he had access to the names
·        The Roman system of registration had no requirement to return to the place of birth for registration.  Property was registered locally and only Joseph was needed to accomplish that.
Luke’s storytelling reminds his listeners (the early Christian church in his
region) that the story of Jesus is grounded in the same realities as their story (and our story).  Jesus was born in a political world, just as we are.  For Jesus it was the political world of the Roman Empire imposing its will on a conquered nation.  Everyone needed to be accounted for so they could be watched for dangerous behaviors that might threaten the Roman Empire.  Everyone needed to be counted so they could be taxed.  Jesus’ world was and is a familiar setting.  The picture Luke pains is of a disruptive event in the lives of ordinary residents of a small nation. 

            But his narration points to something beyond the Roman Empire’s oppression.  This disruption is Holy.  This story is about God becoming known in a baby born in a manger.  Luke’s use of names and situations only serve to ground the story in the flesh and blood of reality.  Our journey of faith begins in HOLY DISRUPTION.

            As the story goes Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem to satisfy the requirements of the Roman Empire.  This would be a walking trip amidst throngs of people – some going one way, some another.  Mary, almost full-term, is carrying the baby within her in the midst of swarming humanity because he will be the Christ for all humankind, not just the powerful and protected.

            Luke will tell the story of many women in his gospel.  He begins with Mary who is not left behind while Joseph does his official business.  No, contrary to practice and imagination, Mary will be with Joseph for the purpose of registering property assets.  Mary too will be counted. 

            Luke will tell of the Ascension of Jesus in Acts 1:7-8.  “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

            For Luke, Joseph and his property count.  Mary counts.  And in the meaning of the birth Luke describes – the whole world counts including us!

            In 2010 I wrote this poem.  May it be a reflection of your Advent journey.

“Wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Can that be true?
            The innkeeper said
                        “no room”
                        “no room”
Young Mary journeys with Joseph
            along dusty roads
                        with throngs of travelers
                                    without a welcome here, there or anywhere.
Just to be counted
            One……………….Two………………When will it be Three
A journey
            A familiar journey
                        A God-sent journey
Destination: Bethlehem
            So still we see thee lie…     
                        “no room”
                        “no room”
More than a counting
            A birthing
God’s birthing –
                        God will all those counted and ever to be counted
God’s welcome
            We count
God’s welcome
            Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey…
Our welcome?  Is there room?

Grace and Peace

Rev. Clara