And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the six month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:30-38, ESV)
When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness,
She is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. by The Beatles (1970, Lennon-McCartney, really written by Paul McCartney)
Jack Lewis the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD) is a little at loose ends in Advent and the time before Christmas, because schedules have caused us to suspend the Thursday evening Bible studies until after the holidays. The social interaction, culinary opportunities, excitement, shoe laces to be untied and times of comfort on someone’s lap, all combine to make the Bible study a high point of the BBSD’s week. In the Bible study community, if Jack Lewis has not become a Christian, at least he lives under the blessings of God’s kingdom where humans exercise something of the dominion over creation they were meant to have. In this season, Jack usually has about two good days and one bad day. A good day is when Jack Lewis is not too demanding, after he has had his basic ritual of the predator game, he sleeps without anxiety, and greets all visitors that Jack knows with canine courtesy. On a bad day, Jack Lewis demands a lot of attention and he gives his challenge bark to all visitors, even those he knows. The challenge bark is different from the ear-splitting, deafening bark that I have told you about, which seems to mean, “There are Vikings coming up the walkway, brandishing swords and shields, and I will not stop until I see clear signs of panic from everyone (and I mean everyone!) in the house.” No, the challenge bark is a briefer deep bass guttural bark which seems to translate as, “Who are you?” In these moments, what Jack lacks in courtesy, is matched by his conscientious performance of what he sees as his role in our pack.
Jack the Bible Study dog is relearning the protocols of living in a house where Christmas is celebrated. For instance, one does not take an ornament off the Christmas tree and proudly bring it to the pack leader to play with or one does not take the stocking off of the front door and drag what’s left of it all over the front lawn. For Jack Lewis, the blessings of Advent and Christmas are mixed with challenges.
For many of us, the holiday season brings challenges. Shopping, decorating, partying, worry, the blues can crowd out poise, calm, peace and worship. What we need is an inner center focused on the One that we worship, out of which our words and actions flow. One of the various types of Christian meditation is to focus on a word or phrase. The word could be “love”, “peace”, “joy” or some other meaningful word. A phrase might remind us of what we believe about God, perhaps even a biblical phrase or sentence like, “God is love”, “the peace which passes all understanding”, “God is light and in him is no darkness”, “My peace I give to you”, “the Light of the world”, “I AM” or “the LORD will provide”.
I learned the following meditation many years ago. Let me guide you. Find a place free of distractions, and a comfortable position, or you can walk if you prefer. Set aside about 10 minutes. Relax and slowly turn your heart toward God. Be present to him. We are going to take a portion of a Bible verse, break it down and just live with whatever associations come to us with each phrase or word: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a, ESV) Let’s proceed like this:
“Be still, and know that I am God.” – Ponder and feel. Consider what this means for your life.
“Be still, and know that I am…” – Ponder and feel. Lean back in God’s ‘arms’.
“Be still, and know…” – Ponder and feel. Let trust and confidence arise within you.
“Be still…” – Do it.
“Be…” – Consider how over time this word can point, for you, to all the meanings of the whole sentence.
Now come back to your everyday world slowly and gently. Try to bring awareness of God with you into all your activities. Thank God for what you have seen and understood.
It is hard to believe that the Beatles’ song, Let It Be, could be written in a culture that has no Christian memory. The words, “let it be” echo Mary’s words in response to the angel’s announcement of Mary’s call as a virgin to bear the Messiah, the King to rule in David’s line, the Son of God. Also, several other phrases in the song seem to be direct quotes from the Psalms. The choice of the name, Mary, can’t be ignored either. However, Paul McCartney insisted the song was about a dream of his mother, who died of cancer when he was 14 years old. Mary, his mother, whispered to him to “let it be”, that everything would “be alright”. The religious overtones of the song, in the studio, seemed obvious enough to John Lennon that he tried to dial them back. Let It Be was performed by three of the Beatles at Linda McCartney’s memorial service. (1)
In any case, there is a wide canyon between “let it be” and “…let be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38b, ESV). A great space yawns between “take it easy”, “it’s all good”, “no worries mate”, “chill”, “don’t worry, be happy”, “everything will work out”, on the one hand, and “I am the Lord’s servant; I trust You; do with me as you will, or as you have promised (and announced); and I offer myself to be an instrument of your kingdom, an instrument of revolt against the evil and disorder of this world”, on the other hand. There is a big difference between trusting your life to the universe and trusting your life to a loving, wonder-working God. There is a big difference between ‘whistling pass the graveyard’, mere psychological comfort, and joining the revolution, expecting to meet God and his guidance, as we step out moment by moment, in obedience. After all, as the angel said, “…nothing will be impossible with God”!
If you find belief in miracles, like a virgin birth, difficult, I ask you to suspend disbelief for awhile, and to try on Mary’s attitude. Let’s make Mary’s words, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”, our mantra this season of Advent and Christmas.
(1) To verify the Beatles lore, see the book, “The Gospel According to The Beatles” by Steve Turner (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2006). Find the song, “Let It Be”, in the index, for page numbers. This is probably the most accurate, fair and profound book about the Beatles and their beliefs.
This post was powered by the CD, “Divine 3.0 – Songs for Christmas” by The Violet Burning, by the CD, “Songs for Christmas” (2014) by Branches, the CD, “Midwinter EP” (2013) by The Western Den, the single, “Oh, Holy Night! (Single)” (2013) by All Delighted People, the CD, “Advent One” (2014) by Already Not Yet, the song, “Let It Be” (2000) by the Beatles, and the CD, “Christmas” (1993) by Bruce Cockburn.