Every year, as the Christmas season rolls around again, I feel impelled to dig into my archives, to see what might deserve saying a second time.
This column goes back to 2005.
I was driving from Kamloops back to Kelowna, normally less than a two-hour drive. A storm had coated the highway with ice. It took me over an hour just to get to the turnoff that led south towards Kelowna.
Just before the turnoff, the road tilted left. I could feel my car slipping sideways on the ice as I crept around yet another accident. Even the cop directing traffic couldn’t keep his feet under him.
Then, as I was about to accelerate gently ahead, I heard a tap at my passenger window. A pale, waiflike face peered in at me, bundled in a woolen scarf.
“Could you give me a ride?” she asked. “It’s real cold out here.”
I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers, but these seemed to be exceptional circumstances. “Hop in,” I said.
For over two hours more that night, we probed slowly through the darkness. Towards home for me, towards a visit to a relative for her. She was pregnant. Almost ready to give birth. She knew the father, but didn’t want to spend her life with him, so she was going to have the baby on her own. I heard about her rather strained relationships with her mother. And with her brother, killed in a needless car accident a year before.
But her child’s life was going to be different, she insisted. Her child wouldn’t suffer estrangement. Her child would not grow up disadvantaged. This mother was going back to school, getting her Grade 12, so that she could get a decent job…
Don’t mess with my baby!
As the road and the night rolled by, I realized I had Mary in my car. Mary was probably not her real name. I deliberately didn’t ask. Because I didn’t want to get involved. Just like the innkeeper and the other B&B operators in Bethlehem. Who didn’t want their lives and establishments tainted by connection with a single mom, an unwed mom, a poverty mom.
And no, before you leap to conclusions, I’m not suggesting that this hitchhiker was a virgin, nor that Mary the mother of Jesus hitchhiked to Bethlehem. Details differ; situations stay the same. A young woman, whose pregnancy changed her perspective dramatically.
Now, with a baby coming, this woman saw the world differently. It was no longer a cup of pleasure to be drunk to the full. It was a place where injustice needed to be fought, where relationships mattered, where love became the primary motivation.
And if things were going to get better, she had to do something about it.
I hear the same themes in Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55, often called the Magnificat from its opening words in Latin) when she too went to visit a relative. This is no gentle maid, meek and mild. She speaks of “scattering the proud… bringing down the powerful… lifting up the lowly, and filling the hungry, sending the rich away empty…”
This is one tough woman. “I am woman,” she would sing, like Helen Reddy. “Hear me roar!”
Read the Magnificat again, and think of my pregnant hitchhiker as you read it.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week, I wrote about decorating my church for Christmas, even if there’s no one attending services during this Covid-induced shutdown. The range of responses varied widely.
Janet Hicks King protested: “Jim, it is an outrage that churches remain closed. Especially at Christmas. Will no one protest? Will your congregation not demand to be let in? If not, why not… Why has everyone become so submissive?”
Arlene Erickson explained why churches are shut, and stores are open: “Churches are closed because they are social groups. Shopping is personal and supports the economy.”
Bob Rollwagen offered an alternative to shutting down: “Our sanctuary has been decorated beyond belief. For the month of Dec, open house in the form of private walk through experiences for family groupings every twenty minutes to read and view the Christmas messages. The Christmas Eve service and communion have been put in the can and ready for virtual presentation. It will be different but it will be COVID Christmas.
“My church locked down day one, has stayed locked down, pivoted very quickly and is continuing to reach out and respect others by not causing irresponsible grouping. You know what happens every time we try to open -- hugs, kisses and careless celebration.
“The vaccine is our next challenge. My church is not planning anything for 2021 because no one knows how good the vaccines are, how long they last, who is safe, who should wear masks, what kind of medical reactions will occur and so on. I will get the vaccine when it comes, likely in June. I hope it does a better job than the flu vaccine has done for thirty years.
“My biggest disappointment is the politics being played with people’s lives.”
Bob Wallace commented, “The tradition of setting out the season artistically is as much our offering to God as it is to thrill the congregants. It is, after all, an act of offering to Creator.”
Bob then quoted provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. "Faith is not a building," she said Monday. "It is not about Sunday mornings, it is about every day. It's not about rights, it's about community. It's about responsibility to our fellow citizens."
Diane Levison agreed: “The wonderful truth about worship is that there is no requirement that it take place in a building. It does seem to me that until this pandemic ends or its dangers are substantially lessened, we can lovingly worship God anywhere without endangering others by unknowingly spreading the virus. Jesus didn't require a building in order to pray and share His love, and maybe we're being challenged these days to follow Jesus in completely new ways.
Tom Watson noted that in “the U.S. the Supreme Court agreed with right-wing Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups that New York State had no right, even in a pandemic, to restrict their right to gather in worship. In Steinbach, Manitoba, the pastor of the Church of God Restoration has urged the followers to disregard public health orders, and has also held anti-mask rallies, all in the name of freedom of religious rights.
“Both those positions are, to me, ludicrous. If we want to think in terms of what's ‘essential’ it's more essential, even more worshipful, that we do our part to protect each other from the devastating virus. Christmas will still be Christmas even if we can't gather in our church buildings for in-person celebrations.”
JT: The signboard for Knox Presbyterian church in New Westminster said, "Thou shalt not Covid thy neighbour's life."
Peter Robertson: Here in New Zealand, we had a short period early in the year when we were not able to gather for corporate worship and so we had on-line worship, zoom gatherings and all sorts of ingenious methods of keeping each other supported. I really feel for you approaching Christmas and not able to worship together. We have long passed that time and consider ourselves so blessed to be in a country that went ‘hard and fast’ and can now enjoy being Covid-free in the community. I pray that the time will soon come when you also can gather in your church family. We will offer special prayers for you in our small Methodist Church in Te Awamutu New Zealand, where we have been so blessed.”
Randy Hall: “You are expressing the common grief that so many of us are sharing these days. I, too, remember the days of childhood and youth when Christmas Eve and Christmas was a coming together of family and friends. In those days Christmas had a mystical quality about it.
“Then came the days of being a parent and enjoying the thrill of seeing our children immersed in the mystery in that same way that we enjoyed at their age. Now our Christmases include watching our grandchildren respond to the myths and truths of the season.
“But not so much this year. This year Santa wears a mask or sits behind plexiglass or Zooms. This year, outside manger displays seem more important because inside f the churches are empty. This year it is not ‘Rachel weeping for her children’ but children weeping for their parents and grandchildren and friends taken by COVID. All the world seems caught up in this deep sadness of loss and change and fear.
“As a retired pastor I offer you a pastor's gratitude for decorating the church for Advent. You make me remember the dedicated church members who, each year, faithfully and fully faithful, brushed off the dusty boxes, unpacked candles and wreaths and paraments. Like you, they helped usher us into this Advent season of preparing ourselves to remember Emmanuel - God with us. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. Christ. Do not dare to leave these candles unlit, even if you are the only one who sees them. We've never more needed even the thought of them burning in the places where we will soon, once again, gather to celebrate that God is with us.”
Given the story in today’s column above, the only possible paraphrase would be the Magnificat from Luke 1.
My body grows round with wonder;
my soul swells with thanksgiving.
For God has been so good to me;
God did not say, "She's just a girl."
Once I was a slip of a girl,
but now I am woman,
one who can bring forth new life.
In all generations, I am blessed.
How could anyone miss it --
this new life in me is divine.
It is holy.
God grants new life to all who have not lost a child's wonder;
they will be born again, and again, and again.
God watches over them;
God's fierce love fills predators with sudden fear.
The miracle of birth levels our human differences:
tough men become tenderly gentle,
learned professors blurt out baby talk,
politicians fall silent in awe.
But the small and helpless are wrapped warmly in soft blankets;
they are held lovingly in caring arms;
they drink their fill with eyes closed.
The rich, for all their wealth and status, can go suck lemons.
That is how God deals with all of God's faithful people,
all who do not put their faith in themselves.
So God has always done,
so God will always do,
from Sarah's miracle, to mine.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)