You may not know that today is Stir-up Sunday, when Anglicans used to gather to stir up the traditional pudding, so as to be ready for Christmas. It also reflects the first words of today’s collect: “Stir up your power, O Lord…”
So away, Advent coziness and gentle themes of waiting and reflection! Away, traditional talk of Mary and her demure self! Away, Nativity story as a sweet walk on a gentle donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem!
When it comes to Mary, I’m pretty much a Virgin. As an ex-Lutheran. I never got it when my little Catholic friends prayed to Mary, who wasn’t —- God! Even when I learned more about Mary, she kind of put me off: the blue and white purity, the pious hands, the tilted head, the meek and mild aura, although I liked the part about the thinking Mary, pondering in her heart what the heck was going on.
In Scripture, Mary embodies the cultural feminine norms of piety, submissiveness, deference and reflects the one appropriate role for women: mother. But the canticle for today (based on Luke’s Gospel) is the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise which is also a battle cry against oppression: “He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.”
So the Magnificat was banned during the British rule of India;
Banned in the 1930’s in Mexico and in Franco’s Spain;
Banned in 1980’s Guatemala’s when the government decided that Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor were stirring up the country’s impoverished masses;
Banned in 1983 in Argentina after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo whose children all had disappeared during the blood-soaked days of the Dirty War placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the city.
It’s stir- up Sunday!
So what about Mary and Joseph and that Christmas journey, beginning in Nazareth?
Nazareth (part of Galilee) was a small village of 500 people with a size of 50 or 60 acres. North of Jerusalem, a green and beautiful place, Nazareth was also considered by cosmopolitan Jews to be Hicksville, the boondocks, trailer park territory, whose citizens were bumpkins, fodder for ethnic jokes and pronounced Hebrew so crudely they were forbidden from reading the Torah when they traveled to the temple in Jerusalem. Hence Nathaniel’s statement, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
The Christmas story tells us that Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor David to be taxed. But how did they get there? They walked and there’s no mention of a donkey. It would have been too dangerous to travel alone, so they probably traveled in a caravan.
They could either go through Samaria or Jericho. The Samaritans hated the Jews, so that would have been a perilous route so they may have gone farther east through Jericho, although this route was longer and more mountainous—not that Samaria was flat either.
In either case, this was not a gentle Christmas card journey with pregnant Mary posed gracefully on the donkey. By either route it was a tedious, dangerous journey on foot of 80 miles – like walking from here to Mankato – but through Libya.
All we know is that they made it.
So what about you? So what is the journey you need to make this Advent season? What is your Samaria – that rugged terrain that you must pass through—on your way to Christmas? Is it an overload of responsibilities and must-do’s, or that you that you don’t have enough to do? Are we stuck, comparing our lives with those of others, or this Christmas with those of the past and the people who were with us then? Is it a pervasive, unexplained sadness, or a vague loneliness, more acute when everything around screams gaiety? The journeys before us today, individually or as a country, may look perilous. They do to me.
It is stir up Sunday and I am in no mood to calm down in the aftermath of the election and the Cabinet appointments being announced daily. Jesus himself did not calm down when he tossed the money changers out of the temple so we have Scriptural warrant! I believe that the Church has a moral and ethical and Scriptural responsibility to speak out at these times. To realign our life with the Gospel is our task and it begins with not calming down. So ….
Do not tell the student who was sexually assaulted to calm down when she sees sexual assault normalized and laughed about by our leaders;
Or the gay woman traveling with her children to calm down when she is terrified she could lose her parental rights in a state that has repealed legal same-sex marriage.
Or the vicars of neighboring Liberian and Hispanic congregations when their members are terrified that their families will be split up – – even with papers….
Or black friends when the president-elect will not disavow the Ku Klux Klan and when a known racist is given one of the highest offices in the land.
Or your grandson who says that he will have to live inside when he grows up because the air will be too dirty and when he asks why climate agreements signed by 195 countries will be” cancelled.”
After the outrage, what are we to do? We remember that we are resurrection people. Maybe resurrection takes root in in the smallest of things, in responding to challenge as our ancestors did, by saying, “Here I am.”
Maybe “here I am” begins as a whisper than can scarcely be heard.
In Midway yesterday, my car was caught behind another car where three angry-looking black women were taking their time getting their stuff into the car. I was about to do my usual “are you kidding me?” accompanied by eye roll and loud sigh but I didn’t. Instead the mantra: “I hate this but here I am. I hatd this but here I am.”
I paused and waited as other cars stacked up behind me and the honking started.
Then one of the women looked right at me and mouthed “Sorry” and I smiled and mouthed “It’s okay.” Then she smiled and waved.
And in that tiny connection, there was God.
It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things. But it was for me. It was a bright spot in the sadness I have felt for three weeks. That connection with those three women right in front of me, struggling to get along, as are we all.
Finally, this: The poet Ranier Maria Rilke was asked how he survived the dark days, the times of loss and uncertainty, the times when fear had him and him by the throat and hope was hard to summon. “How do you do it, Poet?” they asked.
And he answered with two words: “I praise.”
And that is what else we do. We praise out of gratitude and hope. We praise because we are resurrection people and resurrection is defiance of hopelessness, of defeat, of life-sapping policies and leaders. We act and we praise. That is what we do after we calm down. The late Leonard Cohen put it this way:
“So even though it all went wrong
We stand before the God of song
With nothing on our lips