Reflection January 1, 2023

“Moments, Not Seasons” by Rev. Chelsea Page

Luke 2:15-20

After the Christmas story in the scriptures, it’s interesting that not a whole lot happens. The shepherds knock themselves out running around Bethlehem telling everyone about the message they received about this wonderful baby, and then they go home and Jesus fades into obscurity for another 30 years. Matthew explains this by having Jesus and his family move to Egypt for a while where they can be safely forgotten. But in Luke, all we have are a few childhood stories about Jesus in the temple, which show him to be a deeply loved and deeply weird child. Anyone know any children like that?

In a way, it’s kind of nice to get a break after all the excitement of Christmas. Jesus’s family probably needed that nice long break from fame, the way we need more than the week between Christmas and New Year’s to recover from and process the big events of the previous year. But it does inspire in me a ravenous curiosity to know more about Jesus’s upbringing. And specifically, about his mother. What kind of person was she?

It’s easy to imagine that Jesus was brought up by a woman who had a strong contemplative bent, someone who made time to be by herself to reflect on her life. It would line up with Jesus’s own contemplative, prayerful character as a grown man. And Luke says that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” On the surface, it appears that Mary, Jesus’s mother, was in the habit of reflection and prayer as a girl. I know when I was young I kept a diary and wrote a lot, far more than I have time to journal today, and I daydreamed a lot about angels too.

However, after the busy and tumultuous year we have all had, I can’t help but read Mary in this scene as less meditative and chill and more shocked and possibly even traumatized. What if she was a typical extroverted teenage girl who was simply knocked back on her heels by the blinding visits from angels and shepherds, not to mention the extreme birthing process she went through? What if she was forced into a time of sitting back and letting it all sink in? I’ve never imagined a “dazed and confused” Mary before, but I kind of like her. Or at least, I can relate.

So in just a moment, I’m going to invite you into a time of journaling and reflection, to ponder the events of your past year and treasure the possibilities of the coming one. It’s so important we take moments like this to let things sink in, because these moments are fleeting. Like the shepherds’ amazing night of divine inspiration, the revelations that come to us at special moments in our lives like Christmas and New Year’s quickly fade into the background of daily life as time goes on.

One thing I loved about the Advent we just had, is that we spent four weeks contemplating hope, peace, joy and love, not as the culmination of the year, but as the beginning of the church’s new year. In Advent we go against the consumer grain of the Christmas season by holding onto hope, peace, joy, and love, not as rewarding peak experiences to cultivate at year’s end, but as tentative whispers, signposts along the path of a new beginning, moments when our spirits show us that we are on the right track.

Allow me to share a moment like this that I experienced during Advent.  One day during worship in December, after the children’s chat when the kids performed their Christmas song, our member who organized the Christmas bazaar came up to me and said that an elderly member had bought a chocolate bar for every child who was there. It was such an outpouring of love from the heart of someone who wanted the kids to know, “We are glad you are here.” This seems like such a simple gesture, but it genuinely moved me to tears and reminded me of what ministry is really about.

As the year turns and we look forward to a new year of intentions, it’s easy to get caught up in striving after happiness and peace, setting goals that we hope will bring us to another year’s end feeling better in some way. The best advice I ever heard about New Year’s resolutions was, figure out how accomplishing your goal would make you feel, and put your focus on doing small things each day that make you feel like that already.

Because the truth is, none of us are promised whole years of love, whole seasons of hope, nor even a lifetime of peace and joy once we have finally accomplished our goals. Rather, these spiritual gifts show up in our lives as moments. Moments of clarity, of connection, of heart-opening divine presence, which feed our souls and whisper to us – here. Stay here for a second. Whatever it was that made space for experiencing this fleeting feeling of wholeness in your life – that’s what matters. Keep opening in that direction, and it will come to you again. I wonder how often the shepherds were recalled to their Christmas joy in subsequent years, remembering that night and wondering about the child who was growing up in their midst unseen.

So now we’re going to pass around some journals and pens and give you all time for personal reflection and writing about the year that has passed and your vision for the year to come. Some of you may be in the habit of making space for contemplation like this in your lives, and for others the self-focus may feel new and uncomfortable. All that’s okay. Remember we don’t even really know how the amazing holy Mary would have felt about this exercise.

But let’s take the next five minutes to journal about the whispers of hope, peace, joy and love you are hearing in your life right now, as you face a new year with all its painful challenges and all its new promises. If you’re not sure where to start, maybe just label one page with the phrase “Last year’s biggest moments” and another page “Welcome, new season of….” Feel free to doodle if that works better for you. And if you are feeling too – whatever – to write or draw today, just take this time like Mary did, to sit back and ponder the questions in your heart.