Thrown Together: Luke 2:15-21
#ThrownTogether is the Podcast for January 1, 2017. A roadside motel in Texas, with an abandoned “garage” out back, is the setting for Mark Kurowski’s reimagined birth of the Savior. What happens when some undocumented workers show up after seeing a vision? Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Undocumented #Migrants #Birth #Mary #HolyName #Random #PostModern #Purpose #Life
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 1/1/2017 The Solemnity of Mary and the Feast of the Holy Name.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 2:15-21.
Imagine, if you will, you are watching the news and there is a story from a small town in Texas. A reporter is standing on a dusty road across the street from a decrepit motel that is amazingly still in operation. She motions with her arm slightly behind her, like reporters do, as she tells you that behind the motel in a shed that is called a “garage” there are hundreds of undocumented field hands gathered to worship a baby that was born in the garage.
The reporter continues to tell you that all of the field hands say that while they were working in the fields, picking whatever, they all saw a vision of angels worshiping in heaven. Then the angels told them to go to this small town in Texas to behold a baby born to a 12-13 year old girl, whose boyfriend gave her a promise ring, and to worship a baby who is now wrapped in some old shop rags that were left behind before the garage closed. These migrants were bringing presents, bowing before the baby, and celebrating God.
The reporter goes on, “Lester, the girl, who remarkably is a poor descendant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, says that this connects to a vision of an angel she had nine months ago saying that she would give birth to a child that was actually the product of the Holy Spirit coming over her. So, she is claiming to be a virgin who gave birth. And one more thing, Lester, she said that the child should be named, “God saves.””
Lester says, “In other news, the President-elect tweeted about the event…” I can see both the reporter and Lester Holt shaking their heads.
I just want to give some context here as to what kind of situation Luke is reporting. Luke gets all of the necessary things in: Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy, angels testify to his birth in a spiritual event, and people, especially poor outcast people, come to celebrate his birth because they had a very real spiritual experience that told them to. Luke reports that they fulfill the commandments of the law, they are obedient to the governmental authorities, and they trust God in their lives. This is no different than Lourdes, Guadalupe, or Medjugorie, or any of the other sightings of Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mother.
All the people involved in this story trust that God is active in the lives of humanity. They believe that the proper response to God being active in our lives is glorifying him and celebrating him. All these people see the fulfillment of a report by angels in the events of a poor girl, her boyfriend, a garage behind a motel in Texas, a baby born wrapped in shop rags, lying in an old tool chest. These are people who “put it together” that what they had been told by the angel and these events were one and the same.
This ability that these shepherds have to see the Father’s hand in a manger in Bethlehem concerning a baby born to a Virgin and her Fiancée is more than just a matter of perspective. It is a way of life. This way of life sees beyond what is. Its foundational assumption is that God will and does work in our lives. This way of life assumes that there is more to who we are and what we are doing than just birth, life, and death. It is a way of life that assumes that every life is precious because it plays an important part in the eternal plan of God. Being born is being launched into a reality that already exists, has been in the process of being renewed for two millennia, and calls us to find our place in it. We don’t have to make our own reality, because God is reality.
Seeing what is and diminishing it to something understandable is what humans do. It is a way for us to control our situation. In the last ten years, the post-modern concept of making your own reality through the crafting of your own culture has launched a saying we find in our young people, “That is SO RANDOM.” Without realizing it, anything that is good, joyful, exclamatory, amazing, and outside of their own individuality is called “random.” I once had a talk with a girl at the University where I was a minister about Jesus, how he was born in a manger, as both God and human, so that he could live our life, then die for our sins so that we would not have to face judgment for those sins. She looked at me and said in a whisper, “That is SO RANDOM.”
Random means that we are the center of existence and that we believe our lives to be the measuring stick of all reality. Our own way of living need not have any connection to others and their lives in a random world. In a random world, everything is individualized and customized to the point that basic human functions no longer have any commonality.
All that matters in a random world is that my life makes sense to me. That is all well and good until you consider things like, how will you work together with others? How will you relate to someone in a relationship when things get hard? On what basis will you discipline your children if their reality is just as good as your reality because all of life is random? Finally, how will you bury your own dead body and what should we do with it if all life is just random? Why don’t we just put your body out to the corner with the rest of the trash if life is just random and there is nothing particularly special about you?
The reason why I am doing this is because I have always wondered about this verse: “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” What does that mean, “she pondered”? Pondering means that you think things through thoroughly and deeply. Yet, so, she just thought about the baby, the shepherds, the manger, the angels? Does it mean that she said to herself, “this is one special kid!”? Again, the word in the Greek here helps us to understand what is going on, along with what Luke does in his gospel.
The word that people have translated as “ponder” is “sumballo”. “Sum”, the prefix that was connected to the root word here in Greek means “with”, “together”. The root word is “ballo”. It literally means “to cast, to throw.” So, together, it means to “throw together.” For our consideration, the meaning would be something like, “She connected the dots,” or “put it together.” Nine months previous, an angel appeared to her telling her this moment would happen.
St. Gabriel, the archangel, came to her. He laid it all out. This child would be called “Son of the Most High”, which would mean that people would be coming to worship him. This is why Joseph didn’t chase the shepherds away with a staff. He had been told by Gabriel, too. These scraggly shepherds coming and speaking of angels coming to them was no surprise. It happened to Mary and Joseph, too. It was not a shock that the Father in heaven was working in their lives because they expected it.
The expectation of God working in our lives is central to the Gospel of Luke. Every person associated with the birth of Jesus in Luke is a pious person who is moved by the Holy Spirit. They believe that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives. It is not a private affair, either. It was my New Testament professor at Duke, the wonderful Mickey Efird, who pointed out that the Gospel of Luke is the Bible’s musical, everyone is breaking out in song. Yet, these are not just any songs, they are songs that sing of how God acts over and over in our lives, in their lives.
I understand how if we diminished the role of the Holy Spirit, took away the mystery, dismissed the spiritual, and made things simple: you are born, you live, you die, then life would be fairly easy, and fairly scary. Life would be about getting what you need for yourself. Our role in caring for others, caring for the earth, caring period would be easily denied. Yet, that is not what we know and believe. We believe that God is intimately involved in our lives. We believe we have purpose. We believe that we are born into a reality where God is saving the world through the Son of God, Son of Mary. She put it together that the birth was the active Word of God made flesh, appearing to us all.
The question is, do we believe it? Do we walk through our lives expecting God to be there, talk to us, walk with us, shake his head at the people who make life hard for others, who kill, who destroy? Do we celebrate with the shepherds all the babies born in all circumstances who could be the one who changes the world for the better? Do we glorify God for bringing people and things into our lives that make our rotten situation better and more palatable? Do we anticipate that there is something good around the corner from the Lord?
Mary did. We should. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian