“Just Say Yes!”
Matthew 1:18-25; Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy; Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
By Rev. Don Ludwig. December 22, 2019
GOSPEL READING Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel(which means, God with us).” When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
ANOTHER VOICE Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy; Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
“The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but, as the Archbishop poetically phrased it, “to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.” As we will see, joy is in fact quite contagious. As is love, compassion, and generosity. So being more joyful is not just about having more fun. We’re talking about a more empathic, more empowered, even more spiritual state of mind that is totally engaged with the world.”
Christmas IQ Test Opener: Five questions in regard to the Christmas story will be asked and shown on the front screen. Congregational members will be asked to respond before the answers are given.
In my sermons this Advent, I have focused on the perspective of John the Baptist, and then Joseph, and now I want to spend a few moments reflecting on Mary. Journalist Phyllis Tickle tells a story about a time when she was leading a seminar about the authenticity of biblical stories. Someone asked a dreaded question about John Shelby Spong’s interpretation of Mary the Mother of Jesus, not being a virgin. A heated debate erupted with people on both sides of the question. Phyllis recalls seeing a 17-year-old boy in the back of the church—very intrigued, somewhat perplexed – wanting to ask a question but afraid to join in the charade. When it was all over, Phyllis saw the boy in line to ask her a question—When he got to her he said, “I was wondering why everyone got so upset about whether Mary was a virgin or not. I know that it had to be true – whether it happened or not – it is just so beautiful!’
Sentimentality or Cynicism?
Whether it happened or not – it is just so beautiful. It is easy to become either sentimental or cynical about Mary – we progressives are most often both. There is reason to love Mary, the mother of Jesus. Unfortunately, the reasons are often clouded by the “Immaculate Conception” debate. Doctrines have been written to say that Mary was perpetually a virgin and born without sin. Mary has also been loved by progressives as a sort of first-century teenage female singing in the Magnificat about the overthrow of the social order where the hungry are fed and the rich sent away empty-handed. I like this image…even while I am sure it’s slightly misguided. Others still, disturbed by the irrationality of the whole thing see Mary and especially the Virgin Birth as like, a fairy tale for the gullible. Something ignorant people believe in because they haven’t learned to use human reason or listen to NPR enough.
I am reminded of a tale of virgin confusion: A ten-year-old, under the tutelage of her grandmother, was becoming quite knowledgeable about the Bible. Then one day she floored her grandmother by asking, “Which Virgin was the mother of Jesus? The virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?”
It is easy to become cynical about Mary as a Virgin birthing Jesus as the Son of God — but let’s not let our cynicism become an excuse to walk away either. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. As Progressive Christians, it seems to me, we should find a way to view Mary and even the Christmas Story itself without Sentimentality or Cynicism. I know people get hung up on believing the virgin birth thing, but for me, the harder thing to believe was that the Angel Gabriel actually found someone to say yes! I mean what would you have said? As a teenager, your greatest fear is that you don’t want to be targeted or talked about or made fun of — you don’t want to stand out, you want to fit in! But Mary, based on very little solid evidence or information, said I am God’s and I am willing to do whatever it takes to make a difference. She said yes.
Just Say Yes
Mary’s yes, was not an easy one. It bore many consequences – yet, she leaned into God’s good future with joy and trust of a new reality to come. She leaped off the page and did something new. She created possibility. As the Dalai Lama phrased it, “Mary was a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that rippled out to all those around her.” I think Mary deserves our consideration not because she was perpetually full of nothing but virtue, virginity, and pure receptivity, but because her “Yes” changed the world as we know it.
Mary teaches us that saying yes is more than a Sacred duty – it is more than doing what is right – it is about TRUST – trusting that God can do this thing – God can again be born in me, in you, in this broken mess of a gorgeous world. In the 4th century, St Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “What was achieved in the body of Mary will happen in the soul of everyone who receives God’s Word.” In other words, you carry in your body the blessing of God and having faith like Mary allows you to trust the God inside of you. This God Immanuel who wants us to LOVE each other only like a mother can. This God inside you wants to make the impossible possible. All that is required? Like Mary, just say yes!
Congregational Member Sharing: Members will be invited to briefly share their response to the following.
As we are coming to an end of Advent, I want us to take some time to share with one another.
- Where have you discovered possibility in your own life or in the life of this church?
- When have you said “yes” to something that you did not necessarily want to do? And how did that yes create possibility for you?
Closing (wrap-up after congregational sharing)
As the 17-year old boy in Phyllis Tickles church said, don’t let sentimentality or cynicism get in the way of living into the beauty of the Christmas story. Take on the faith of Mary – let it be your reservoir of joy—your oasis of peace – your pool of serenity.