Advent IV: Blue Christmas

Advent IV: Blue Christmas

Luke 1.26-38, 1.39-45, 1.46-56

Blue Christmas is a concept many of us would choose to skip on this journey of our Advent preparations. But feeling blue can be a normal part of the holiday season for many folks. Some folks suffer losses, whether it’s a job, a reassignment, a divorce, or a death, which may cast a shadow over the festive energy of the season. Some struggle with a recurring bout of depression and loneliness or an illness that derails holiday planning. For some of us the blues are not a stranger to the Christmas season. Some will struggle with a lack of funds to purchase gifts for family and friends.

From time to time I remember Christmas past that were truly sad moments in my timeline. I recall working with Hospice during Christmas week 2010, and experiencing 9 deaths during the 24 hours following Christmas Day. I remember the week before Christmas 2006 when I was working as a church secretary finishing up three bulletins for services when I got the call that my aunt had died after dealing with cancer for just six months. The funeral was Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas my 6-year-old son would be hospitalized after a difficult tonsillectomy. In 2013 I struggled with an illness that was debilitating. It left me underinsured during the months around Christmas. With the high-priced doctor treatments our savings dried up, and we had no ability to pay our debts or purchase presents for Christmas for our children.

These holy memories of Blue Christmas taught me the importance of growing my faith, hope, and love. Blue Christmas requires of us a kind of faith, hope, and love that moves us beyond our everyday spiritual strength. When we have struggled with challenges during the festive season of Christmas, then we know more about what it means to have faith, hope, and love in God that things will get better.

Luke’s Gospel captures a glimpse of a story that holds faith, hope, and love in the midst of challenges. To be sure Luke writes to inform the believer or “lover of God” of the precise, diligent, and accurate account of Jesus’ life story. Young Mary offers us three key ingredients to healthy active faith in the midst of challenging circumstances: faithful humility in surrendering to God’s plan, hope in God’s promises of a future, and heart-felt love of God in spite of difficult circumstances.

Read the words from Luke 1.26-38.

Faith is defined as a “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” Faith doesn’t require proof! If you are looking for proof of God’s plan, you may find yourself like Zechariah. Zechariah was looking for proof, and his voice was taken from him. Other words that describe faith include trust, belief, confidence, conviction, and optimism. The opposite of faith is mistrust. Who do you trust? What do you trust in? In our story today Mary doesn’t base her faith of humankind, but on God alone.

Mary demonstrates faithful humility in surrendering to God’s plan. Mary says it this way, “I am the Lord’s servant, let it be with me just as you have said.” (Luke 1.38). When Mary is confronted with God’s plan, she requests the details of the plan, not proof that the plan is valid. Mary is ready to take the leap of faith to be the servant who receives God’s blessing. She doesn’t correct God, or demand an apology from God. She receives the word of instruction and welcomes the consequences of God’s plan.

Paul writes in the letter to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, and the proof of what is not seen” (Hebrews 11.1). Faith requires from us a trust that God’s plan is a reality beyond our sensibilities. We cannot imagine how young Mary was blessed with the challenges of this pregnancy. But we can imagine the incredible faith required of her to live into being the mother of the Messiah!

Read the words from Luke 1.39-45.

Hope is defined as expectancy or desire, trust, intention, and optimism. Other words that define hope are goal, plan, dream, and aspiration. The opposite of hope is pessimism and despair. In our story Mary places her hope – all of her expectancy – on God’s plan. Mary says it this way, “Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her” (Luke 1.45).

When Noah was faced with devastation, he hoped for something better (Gen. 8.1). When he built the ark and gathered the animals, he had no concept of what lay ahead of him or the world around him. But Noah walked by faith hoping in God’s plan for the future.

When a seed is planted in the ground, we hope for the growth that will come from that seed. John says it this way, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12.24). Hope requires of us the faith to believe that God will bring something good from the seeds that have been planted. To be sure the seeds must die before new growth occurs.

Read the words from Luke 1.46-56.

Love is defined very clearly in the these Scriptures. C.S. Lewis offers reflections on the four loves found in the scriptures in his little book entitled “The Four Loves.” There is family’s emotional love, friendship’s intellectual love, romance’s physical love, and the spiritual holy love known as agape. We know ourselves when we discover our need for love. God designed us to be loved and to love. First and foremost we are called to love God. Mary says it this way, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my Savior” (Luke 1.46-47). Sometimes we fill our love for God with other kinds of love – physical, emotional, and intellectual loves. Young Mary demonstrates for us the simplicity of loving God from a heart wholly devoted to God’s plan.

When we think of faith, hope, and love, we usually think of the passage from 1 Corinthians 13.4-13, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

When we are faced with a Blue Christmas, young Mary offers us the voice of faith, hope, and love that can ground us in the most challenging moments. Mary had no idea what was ahead for her. She was filled with great joy and most certainly was filled with wonder. A conception of child was more that a moment of rejoicing but a lifetime of challenges of personal growth. She would soon learn that being the mother of the Messiah would mean the massacre of many infants and toddlers on the streets of Bethlehem. There would be sleepless nights of traveling across the desert into the land of Egypt as refugees. If she knew what suffering would happen, perhaps her joy-filled response would have seemed out of place. But God always holds together the greatest joys and the deepest sorrows together in his infamous wisdom.

So if we are looking for wisdom in how to be the Church in challenging times, Mary demonstrates for us the greatest of wisdom: faith, hope, and love! Paul would one day echo her sentiments, adding that wisdom requires of us a profound love for God! Jesus once stated that we fulfill the great laws of God when we love God whole-heartedly and our neighbor as ourselves. Let us have faith in God’s plan for our lives. Let us hope for the fulfillment of God’s plan. Let us love God whole-heartedly! May the God of all peace secure our hearts this season of preparation as we make holy memories that will last forever.

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