Nine Months

 Inspired by Luke 2:1-20

At Easter time, a common saying you will hear is, “A lot can happen in three days.” I’ve always liked that. And I’m thinking at Christmas time we should have a similar phrase, “A lot can happen in nine months.” How does that sound? Nine months before the event that we celebrate tonight, and angel visited Mary to give her some very unexpected news, that she was going to have a baby, even though she wasn’t even married. [Gasp!] Scandalous! Oh, and one other detail, this baby is also going to be the savior of the world. No pressure, right! On the contrary, pressure was probably just one of the plethora of emotions that she was experiencing, and not all of them good emotions! As joyous of an occasion as it was for the rest of humanity, this wasn’t exactly the kind of surprise that she probably would have hoped for at that time in her life. Mary was young, she was engaged but still unmarried, and you can only hide a pregnancy for so long. What was this angel expecting them to do, have a shotgun wedding? This wasn’t exactly good news! This news was going to bring stress, financial burden, societal pressure, let alone shame. This news was going to ruin any plans that they previously had. Not to mention, how in the world do you raise the savior of the world?! Well, a lot can happen in nine months.

Nine months is also quite significant for us as well in our own time, isn’t it. Nine months ago, we got news of a deadly pandemic that had reached our shores. Not the news we were expecting. This pandemic has changed the entire landscape of our lives. Any plans that we had went right out the window. Worshipping together on Easter? Gone. Graduation ceremonies with family and friends. Gone. Vacation travel? Gone. And now, worshipping together in person for a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Gone. And even when these things do come back, it looks like it will be a long time before things go back to the way they were before, if ever. Like Mary’s world, everything has changed this past nine months, and not all of it for the better.

Years from now, when we tell the next generation of our experiences living through a pandemic, we can choose to only tell of what we lost, we can choose to only tell of the struggles, the heartache, how much we hated Zoom, all the things we didn’t get to do. But that’s a choice, and it’s a choice we’ll all get to make, but it’s not the only choice. We can also choose to tell the same pandemic stories, only instead of focusing on what we have lost these past nine months, we can focus on what we have gained. Not that we should ignore what we have lost, but what good will it do to focus our stories there? And more importantly, is that the best way for us to prepare future generations to face their own catastrophes?

That’s not what Mary did. Legend has it that Luke got many of his stories by interviewing Mary herself. I like that legend for a few reasons. Not only does it give legitimacy to Luke’s gospel but I love how it gives us a glimpse into how Mary remembered these events, full of blessings, in spite of their challenges. Who knew better just how much can happen in nine months! When I read this well-known Christmas story, I hear Mary challenging us to focus on the positives, on the blessings, not the negatives. I hear Mary calling us to look forward to what God has in store for us, and not backward on what we have lost. I hear Mary’s excitement at what will be, and excitement that is contagious, and rooted in trust—trust in a loving God who is always working for our good and fighting evil at every turn. I hear Mary’s wisdom, born out of challenging times and a faith in her God.

And so, with Mary as our guide, I ask you, what have you gained, what blessings will you be including in your own pandemic stories? I’m sure there will be a lot of pandemic babies born next year. Maybe a pandemic puppy? How about getting to know people that you otherwise wouldn’t have? Or getting to know people in ways you hadn’t before? What about learning new skills that you never thought possible? Technology that you never thought you’d use but learned anyway because you cared enough to? Spending quality time helping children and grandchildren with their school work, the rewards of which will be reaped for years to come? What blessings will you include in your pandemic stories?

I’ll tell you one story that I’ll never forget. A couple months ago I was at a total loss as to what to do for Christmas Eve. I was feeling the pressure to do something special but had no idea what could be done, let alone safely. Thankfully I wasn’t feeling much pressure to go back to in-person worship but still, I really wanted to do something that made this service stand out from the rest of our Sunday services. And there was the added challenge of not having a music director, but then I remembered that all of our youth love music. They all love to sing or play an instrument. So, I thought, I wonder if they’d like to do something. Nah! They’re all gonna tell me no because they’d be too embarrassed or they’re too busy with school, both totally legitimate reasons. So I just dismissed that crazy idea at first, but it wouldn’t go away. So, I went out on a limb and individually asked them if they’d be interested in singing or playing something for us, as I continued to try and hatch a plan b. Oh me of little faith, because lo and behold, each and every one of them gave me an immediate yes! They didn’t even need some time to think about it! I was floored! And so very thankful. And that, my friends, is the story of how our youth saved a pandemic Christmas.

Nine months after the news of pandemic broke and now we have a vaccine that is in the beginning stages of distribution. It’s going to take a while before we all can get it but it’s yet another example of how a lot can happen in nine months. I wonder what blessings are in store for us this coming year? What blessings will we be thankful for nine months from now? Will we be surprised? Shocked! What challenges will those blessings have to contend with? The future is always unknown. But I can tell you this, God will be with you, full of blessings, in spite of the challenges that are in store for us. And I say, we preemptively begin to focus on that! For we not only have so much to be thankful for now, but we will in the future too. How do I know this? Because of people like Mary, and our youth, who remind us to not only expect the unexpected, but that we never know what blessings will emerge from life’s challenges. Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas, my friends. Amen.

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