Text: Luke 1:46-56 (Mary’s song of love and justice)
Have you ever noticed that many of the holidays we celebrate in Canada have roots in the church but are now mostly secular?
This list would include Valentine’s Day on February 14, St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, and Halloween on October 31. There are still a few church holidays like Christmas that continue to be celebrated by the church. But sometimes I wonder if we should turn Christmas completely over to secular culture as well.
Each year, Christmas gets bigger. One sign of this is a slew of new Christmas movies. Over the past decade, hundreds of Christmas movies have been produced. They are shown in continuous rotation during November and December on U.S. cable networks like Hallmark and Lifetime, and they stream on Netflix, which has a new genre called “It’s Starting to Look at Lot Like Netflix!”
This fall, I listened to several podcasts about these movies. Almost all of them are romantic comedies; and they are often criticized for following a stereotypical pattern. One involves a business-obsessed woman stranded on Christmas Eve in a snowy town where confrontations with a local hunk help her to remember the importance of kindness and simplicity. Another pattern involves various complications at Christmas between an American commoner and the royal family of a fictional European country in which everyone speaks British-inflected English.
I recently watched two of these new movies on Netflix. I quite enjoyed one called “Let It Snow;” and for the other, ” A Christmas Prince,” I leaned heavily on the fast-forward button and considered it as cultural research.
Perhaps the church should hop on this bandwagon. What about pitching the two birth stories in Matthew and Luke as a romantic comedy? Imagine the plot: a teenage girl named Mary becomes estranged from her family at Christmas when she tells them she is pregnant. But her plight turns into passion when she catches the eye of handsome carpenter name Joe. Instead of spurning Mary, Joe offers her kindness and love, and together they journey to his snow-bound hometown. This leads to a risky birth, a flight to a foreign country in the face of the rage of a deranged king, and the magical help of angelic voices, humorous farm-hands, and eccentric billionaires whom they encounter at various points along the way. Perhaps this could be an idea for next year’s Christmas pageant?!
For some people, this notion would sound sacrilegious, but perhaps not for those like me who view the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke as poetic ornaments on the path of love and rebirth as revealed in the Gospel of Mark and the letters of Paul.
Mark contains no stories about the birth of Jesus. But when Matthew and Luke used Mark as the basis for their gospels, they each added a story of the birth of Jesus, and these two different stories inform the religious side of Christmas. A mountain of books have been written about the religious implications of these stories, but for me their importance is more cultural than spiritual.
This is not to say that I don’t love Christmas. I love it all – Christmas lights, Christmas movies, and a kaleidoscope of traditions from every corner of Europe. Together, they make up a mixture that is as irresistible as a rum-soaked fruit cake or a turkey with all the trimmings. We might not want to eat these foods every day. But in the dark nights around the solstice, I am glad that we enjoy such foods when we gather with family and friends.
I will speak more about the joys of the season on Christmas Eve. But to close, I now briefly turn to Mary and her song of love and justice that we heard this morning.
Although I don’t consider Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus to be essential to my faith, I appreciate the song he writes for Mary. It is about poverty, oppression, and hopes for liberation. Partly because of it, I believe we can love Christmas not just for its soulful traditions, but also for Mary’s dream that kings might oppress no more.
So, this week as Advent comes to a triumphant conclusion on Christmas Eve, I hope that we will remember Mary’s song and of how its dream of love and justice is the prelude to a beloved story of a newborn laid in a manger.
May it be so. Amen.