Advent 4
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Beyond Impossible

Anne startled me this morning in worship when she introduced our scripture reading from Matthew that describes Mary's visit from the angel Gabriel who tells her that she is going to become pregnant with a child who will be a saviour, Jesus. Instead of directing our attention to Mary's willing embrace of God's work in her, or to Gabriel's prediction of Jesus' significance to the world, Anne asked us all to make a connection between Mary's life and our own. "Think of a time," Anne said serenely, "when God has asked you to do something that seemed impossible or unacceptable according to the standards of the world. Did you submit to that request? What made it possible, or impossible for you to do that?"

Then she went on to read the scripture. I looked around the room as she read, and no one seemed particularly stunned by what Anne had said. Only at KC, I thought in some amusement. People have been talking long enough and seriously enough around here about having a "calling" from God that they are able to consider that there is a connection between Mary's life and their own without falling off their chair in fright.

I'm not quite there yet. I have yet to receive a visitation from an angel who identifies himself as such, and who delivers a message to me direct from God. Whenever I talk about a call from God, I describe myself as getting nudges, as getting an inkling, or of trying to figure it out. I think of that as being modest, but now I'm wondering. Maybe my tentativeness is really just a way of protecting myself from the kinds of life-alteration that God's call often demands.

After worship, I had lunch with Caitlin, a friend of our congregation who is spending the year in Portland, Oregon, as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Among the many impossible things she's done since September, Caitlin has twice broken up fights between guests at the cafe where she works and figured out how to feed six adults for a month on less than what I spend feeding my family for a week. She described these things to me in a totally matter-of-fact way, and I found myself thinking again about Anne's invitation, and Mary's response.

Each year, around this time, I run out of steam. I had energy through more of December this year than I often do, despite an unusual amount of complaint and an unusual number of business-related meetings here at KC. I was powered, in large part, by my intense anticipation and excitement about our first-ever "Jazz Advent Liturgy" which was, in my experience, just about the Best Thing Ever. But after that service was over, I had to face the things I don't particularly enjoy about this time of year--gift buying, travel, and family differences. Now, I find myself saddled with my annual despair about ever having a Christmas that reflects, even remotely, the values that I believe were at the heart of Jesus' message and mission. It seems impossible to change anything, and so this time of year I tend to go into the mode of just waiting until it's over.

But after hearing from Anne, Mary and Caitlin, I'm feeling nudged--dare I say called? In God, nothing is impossible. So, I'm praying for some wisdom, some courage and some insight into how to welcome Christ this year, and not just celebrate Christmas.

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