“Love’s Ups and Downs” Reflect: A Journey of Light- Love

1 John 2:29-3:3, Luke 1:39-56

Rev. Tasha Blackburn

December 23, 2018

You don’t need me to tell you that much of life is an imperative. There are things we simply have to do. We have to earn a living. If we are under 18 we have to go to school. We have to pay our bills. We have to feed and clothe ourselves. We have to raise the kids. Along with these most basic of have tos, we know it doesn’t end there. We have to do the dishes; we have to call the plumber; we have to email our friend back; we have to trade out our toothbrush every now and then. We have to. We have to. Many, many hours of our lives are taken up with imperatives.

If the folks that we read about in Advent could hear about our imperatives, they would probably chuckle at us and say, “That’s nothing: try getting your imperatives from the angel Gabriel.” For the Christmas story is filled with angels sharing “have to” messages. Joseph is told he has to marry his fiancé Mary. He is told he has to name his new child Jesus. Similarly, Zechariah is told he has to name his son John. Angels tell shepherds they have to go to the manger to see the child. Wise men are told they have to go home another way. Jesus’ new parents are told they have to flee to Egypt. And all of them, shepherds and parents alike, are given the most adamant imperative of them all: they have to stop being afraid.

There is a lot these people have to do on that first Christmas. An angel has told them to do it, so they must. If we think that Christmas is a season when our imperatives become too much, we can think back on that first Christmas and know that ours is no comparison. Which doesn’t mean it is not sometimes stressful. Along with our regular imperatives, in this time we add things like: I have to write Christmas cards; I have to find a present for great aunt Betty, and even more demanding: I have to make things perfect; I have to feel a certain way. If we aren’t careful we will become overwhelmed by the imperatives of it all. We can find ourselves confessing like Steve Martin’s character in the movie “Parenthood.” When he is racing to yet another obligation and his wife calls out to him saying, “Do you really have to go?” And he responds gruffly, “My whole life is ‘have to’.”

Not one of us has not been there ourselves. Not one. So please, please do not pass over this brief and simple moment between Mary and her cousin. Because you need it, we need it. In the midst of all the imperatives that swirl through and surround this story and this time, it is important to notice that no one tells Mary she has to go to see Elizabeth. The angel tells her that Elizabeth is expecting a baby but he leaves it there. He does not say, “And you shall leave with haste to see she who is also with child.” No. Nothing like that. No one makes Mary go. She does not have to.

Here we are on the doorstep of Christmas and we have this beautiful exchange between two women who are not forced into anything. They simply cannot help but be together. It is an ordinary moment in the midst of angel commands and divine pronouncements. No one made her go. And yet she went. Mary travelled about 91 miles to see and stay with Elizabeth. It doesn’t sound very far in a Chrysler but 91 miles on foot is nothing to ignore. And she didn’t do it because she had to. She did it because “have to” had become “HAVE TO.” She did it because she needed to be near Elizabeth and Elizabeth needed to be near her. She did it because of love.

It is like when you have your summer vacation planned and your budget set and your money set aside, and then you get the call that someone you love is getting married. What you thought you had to do falls away because you HAVE TO be at that wedding. Or like new parents the world over who are so weary with their baby’s crying. At 1 in the morning it is, “I have to feed the baby.” And at 3 in the morning it is, “Now you have to feed the baby.” But at 4:30 in the morning, when the cry sounds different, a cry that speaks of pain and hurt, both parents fly out of the bed and race to the baby’s side. Just try to stop them. There is no way you could. Their “have to” has become a “HAVE TO.” The response to your friend on the phone, the rushing to the child’s side: it is “HAVE TO;” it is love.

Of course what God is doing for us at Christmas is this very thing, writ large. Let’s not lose that simple and profound truth in the midst of the heavenly host soundtrack and the smells of the manger and the promise that valleys will lift and mountains will fall. One of the very first lines of Mary’s song points to it completely. “my spirit rejoices in God my savior,” Mary sings, “for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” That’s it. That’s the line: “for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

That word “lowliness” that Mary uses to describe herself, that word was a very particular word. It meant a woman who’d been shamed. It meant someone who was worthless, and, even worse, someone who was a disgrace and an embarrassment. It is an old-fashioned enough word that we might think it sounds a little genteel. It is not. It is a terrible word, a terrible descriptor she gives herself. Perhaps one that others have given her as well. And Mary says that what has happened to her is that God saw all of that in her, all of that lowliness—that shame and disgrace—and he favored her anyway. No one made him. It was not an imperative. He just HAD TO. It was love.

That is Christmas. God hears our cries and there is nothing that can stop him from coming to us. He sees the lowliness in us and he favors us anyway. He doesn’t have to. It is simply who he is. In fact, God doesn’t know have to. He only knows HAVE TO; he only knows love. “See what love the Father has for us that he should call us his children. And so he does.” That is Christmas.

Here at the doorstep of Christmas, don’t rush over this most human of moments because it is wedged between angel imperatives. There is such mystery and glory in ordinary humanness as well. For we are created by God and, in so many ways are like the animal world that surrounds us. Except that scripture tells us that, unlike the animals, God put the imago dei into us. God put the image of God, a part of his very own self into us.

And we have wondered and imagined: what is that image? What is it we have of God in us that we should be protecting and fostering? Well perhaps it is simply that spark of a moment when have to becomes HAVE TO. When obligations and imperatives fall away and we simply must come together. We simply must rush to one another, we simply must rush to God. Maybe that is the image of God that he placed into us: when we HAVE TO; when there is love. Amen.