an I have a moment of honesty with all of you? I am asking for permission to be honest and show you some of my scars; is that okay? I’ve had a difficult fall. The fall is always hard for our family. Chris is gone a lot for work; of course I support him 100%. But, this also means that many nights it’s just me and Ellen. And I love being a parent, I really do. She’s a complete and total joy. But, she’s also 2. The fall has been difficult. And as we’ve transitioned into winter, some of those difficulties have followed. As we get closer and closer to Christmas day, I can feel my anxiety starting to go higher and higher. It’s not fun. Just the other night I told Chris “I’m not right.” I will be right. I’m not sharing this with all of you so that you worry about me. I share these things with you because if you feel even just a little bit like I do, you’ll know you’re not alone. It has been hard for me to get into the Christmas spirit. Even as I was writing this sermon, the fact that my shopping isn’t done was still hanging over my head. The irony that in the season of Advent when we talk so much about waiting and anticipation that I seem to rush around more than normal is not lost on me. In a time that is touted as being “merry and bright” sometimes it is less than merry and bright for some people. My anxiety finally manifested itself the other night in the form of a nightmare where my sister got kidnapped. It was one of those dreams where I woke up exhausted because I had spent the entire time looking for her. Mercy!
While most of you have been busy shopping, purchasing, wrapping, preparing, checking and re-checking, cleaning, cooking, baking, and all the other activities that go into the holiday that you might have forgotten about yourselves. I know I have. Maybe you’ve come to church thinking that this is the one place you can escape all of that stuff. But, even that is exhausting for some of us. There’s the dressing up. There’s the pressure to appear perfect even though we’re anything but. We may hold hands with our spouse despite the fact that the last words we spoke to each other were filled with anything but love. We drag our children along and tell them “going to church is good for you” when many of us struggle with our own faith. And we settle into our pews (our own pews) slap on a fake smile, go through the motions, and hope no one notices the stress we’re carrying. Then we hear the story of Mary. Great, one more happy person I get to hear about during this holiday season. Of course Mary is happy, she’s pregnant with Jesus! She’s so damn happy she’s singing. When’s the last time I was so over-the-moon happy that I sang with joy?? Mercy!
But what if, seriously, what IF Mary’s song could also be our song too? (No, I’m not going to make you sing.) What if we look past the joy of her song and look at reality? It’s easy to first think that Mary is singing for joy, and she is. But, it’s not just joy that she is with child. Her joy comes from something deeper: change. I can’t believe that I’m talking to Lutherans about singing for joy over change. This seems contradictory and almost like an oxymoron. Mary is singing because by being chosen as the bearer of the redeemer of the world, her status has changed too. God has looked with favor on her even though she is a woman, even though she is a teenager, even though (in the eyes of her society) she didn’t matter before this moment. And it’s not just Mary that is being changed. The world around her is being changed by this too. Mercy!
The powerful are being humbled. The hungry are being fed. Those who are low are brought high. The rich who always cry “more more more” are sent away with empty hands and pockets. And this isn’t in a future time. Mary is singing in the present tense: God has already made these things happen. On top of all of this, God has shown to Mary and to us one very important and crucial thing: mercy. When is the last time you experienced mercy? Let us not confuse mercy with being blessed or a blessing. We use the idea of “blessed or blessing” almost judgmentally or as a statement of status. Many of the Christmas letters we get this time of year talk about being blessed with vacations, retirement, a visit from old friends, or even the blessing of new vehicles. This isn’t how God works! A blessing is forgiving sorry sinners like us over and over and over. Being blessed is being loved despite the amount of times we screw up on a daily basis. I digress…
When is the last time you experienced mercy? Would you know it if it happened to you? I don’t know about all of you, but the present I need the most this year is mercy. I guess moreover I need to remember that God’s mercy has already been given to me in the cross. I once heard this phrase “you’re forgiven. Start acting like it.” Maybe you will experience mercy when you screw up your mother in law’s cookie recipe and she later shares with you the story of screwing up the recipe of her own mother in law. Maybe you will experience mercy at work when instead of being chastised for something gone wrong, your boss takes the time to sit down and make sure you know how to do the job correctly next time. There are so many times in our lives that we experience mercy and we just need to recognize it.
God has handled us with mercy. God has handled us with great mercy. If I think of the number of times and number of ways I have messed up and strayed so far from God that I don’t think I’ll ever make it back to God it can get overwhelming. And then I remember mercy. God’s mercy is like a kiss from a parent on our boo-boos. That scar may still be there, but it no longer bleeds. God’s mercy is what allows us to sit in these pews week after week and finally get up the courage to turn to our friends, our family, and one another, and say “I’m not okay” and still know that we are loved. God’s mercy is what pushes us forward to this table and be fed even if we don’t believe we deserve it. God’s mercy is what encourages us to sing “alleluia” even at the grave.
Maybe you aren’t feeling it either this holiday season. Maybe the holiday spirit hasn’t found you yet. Maybe you’re even dreading all the celebrations and festivities. My brothers and sisters, be gentle on yourselves. God has found mercy with you. God has found mercy with you. Above everything else, thanks be to God, God has found mercy with you. With us. With all of us. In a world and a time where not a lot of other things make sense, God has found mercy with you. Wait for the Lord whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart!