Make haste! Make haste! This seems to be the general theme of Christmas for me this year. And, I am not even talking about Christmas shopping, because frankly Paige does most of that. Life in the church amps up at Christmas, and so as a pastor my life amps up, too. Plus, this year I have added “gifts”, an increased workload without Thadd, a call committee just starting, sanctuary renewal obligations that have grown again and ministry planning for a new event in January . Make haste! Make haste!
So, it caught my eye when I noticed that Mary was making haste, too. She has the Christmas runs, just like me. I think there has to be a better name for that. Mary makes haste to her cousin Elizabeth’s house. The teenage Mary had heard that her elderly cousin was remarkably with child. God had brought another miracle to her poor and lowly family. Another blessing from a generous God to a class of people that most thought God had forgotten and long ago stopped blessing.
Mary and I differ though in where our haste leads us. Mary’s haste leads to great joy. My haste leads to exhaustion, impatience and short temper. I can’t wait for the world to slow down. Mary is excited that the world is speeding up. I am praying for peacefulness. Mary is singing a song announcing disruption and conflict. I want to preach a sermon to myself, that I expect you want to hear, too, stop and smell the roses this Christmas season. Mary is amping things up as she runs from one place to another.
A year and a half ago, you people gave me a great gift, a three month sabbatical. I spent the first two months of that summer pretty much doing nothing. I am kind of a hyper guy so there was some question in my household on whether I could do nothing very well. Let me tell you, “Nailed it!” Beyond resting, there was one thing I wanted to accomplish on sabbatical. I wanted to think seriously about how best to be your pastor in the five years to follow. So in about the middle of July, I started to read some books and articles, attended two retreats, and began to write down my ideas. As my sabbatical was coming to an end, I was making haste to finish. I produced a seventeen page document outlining the best steps I could take to lead Messiah into the future.
Don’t get me wrong, for the first two months of my sabbatical, doing nothing was good. But making haste in the last month to complete that document was what really brought me joy. The time spent researching, interviewing pastors, attending conferences and staying up late to write, stimulated me. I was both receiving a blessing from God, the space for this thoughtful consideration of my leadership, and sharing a blessing with God’s church. I was making haste, but it was a joyful thing, not an overwhelming thing that leaves me grumpy and impatient. I made joyful haste, excited about God’s promised future.
Mary’s haste was filled with joy. This might be unimpressive to you if you believe it would be easy to be filled with joy if you have been chosen to carry the Messiah, the savior for God’s world. Yet, that is reading back into the story, from our vantage point. Teenage Mary was making haste, filled with joy at a time that was likely precarious and frightening. It is doubtful that few people were buying her story that a “Holy Spirit” got her pregnant. Her village neighbors knew how the world worked. Surely they gossipped among themselves that she was pregnant from an overly eager Joseph, who couldn’t wait till the wedding day. Some probably whispered that it was the neighbor kid Benjamin whose family didn’t have enough money for a dowry for Mary. We know of rumors that it was a Roman soldier in town who believed that raping young women was one of the few “bonuses” of being stationed in that backwater place.
We discount her joy if we miss her act of faith to receive this child in the womb as a great gift rather than a great burden. Mary’s joy comes from her trust in God and God’s future. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary makes clear that Mary’s acceptance was a great act of faith. This is in contrast with how her elderly husband Zechariah, a priest, greeted the news from God that his 60 some year old wife would get pregnant. He greeted this news as a burden, not a blessing. There was no joy in Zechariah at the news and rather than sing like Mary, he was tongue tied.
Even though Mary’s present circumstances were about as far from ideal as a fifteen year old peasant girl in first century Palestine could imagine, she trusted that her future was bright. Even though conventional wisdom held that the best she could hope for the child in her belly was that he become a carpenter like the man who agreed to raise him as his own, she trusted that he would become the promised savior for God’s people and God’s creation. Mary couldn’t wait for the good that God was doing through her, so she made haste to the home of her elderly cousin Elizabeth to share her blessing. Mary’s haste was a sign of the enthusiasm she had for the life God had given her, an unmarried pregnant peasant girl.
Making haste is not the problem. It is not even the purpose of our haste that is the sole problem. What is important is whether we see the receive the purpose for our haste as burden or blessing. Our answer reveals whether we trust the future to be good or bad. It is easy to see obvious blessings as good gifts, like my sabbatical, three months off with pay. It is far more difficult to receive as blessings what appear to be burdens. To do this, takes great faith in God who has called our future good.
Ryleigh was born with great hope and received with celebration. She was the long prayed for little girl, to compliment her two elementary aged brothers. She was beautiful and at first appeared healthy. In the weeks that followed it became clear she was very sick. She spent most all of her life in intensive care at Children’s Hospital. Her mom sat by her side all day and her dad with the boys drove up at night. For months, their life was upended as their boys sports and activities and the expectations of their employers all had to take a back seat to the needs of Ryleigh. Their very busy lives before Ryleigh became unimaginably full and demanding after she was born. Daily they made haste to keep the wheels on the car that was their family. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and me, their pastor visited often, too. We all sat around Ryleigh’s crib, knowing but not saying aloud there was little chance of Ryleigh to ever live the life we all had expected her to be given. Ryleigh never had a first birthday.
Her funeral was full of the tears and questions that you would expect. However, her parents while not joyful, were not overly distraught either. Peaceful would be the best word to describe them. They talked about how Ryleigh taught them the importance of family, faith and church. They shared at her funeral that her death had brought them closer together as husband and wife and closer to the church and community that blessed their marriage and family. They did not see her life as a burden. They did not shake their fist at God at the unfairness of it. Instead they used their own limited resources, strained now by all of the medical bills and had a craftsman build a big, beautiful baptismal font for their church as a way of giving thanks to God for the gift Ryleigh to their lives.
What’s making your life full of haste this holiday season? What is making you grumpy and impatient? Maybe they are those things that need to be let go, that have riddled your life with trouble long before Christmas 2014. But maybe, what is filling your life with haste are gifts that until now you have only thought of as burdens. God is at working fixing what is broken around us by sending us all gifts that are a part of that purpose. These gifts will likely speed up our days and complicate our lives. Yet, receiving them as blessing and not burden will lead us to great joy rather than anger and disappointment. May all of us make haste this Advent receiving the greatest gift from God, a savior, who promises us the brightest of futures. Amen