Two Mornings, An Advent Story of Mary: Part Six

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It came time for Mary’s walk to end. On most days of the week she would return to the house to help her mother with daily tasks. But today was Sabbath, the day of rest. No work would be done. She and her family would gather with the other villagers in synagogue.

Her town was too poor to have a building for its synagogue meetings, so they would be held outside. Men, women, and children gathered to pray and to sing and to hear readings from the Torah and the prophets. Leadership was provided by some of the men, including her father. But everyone joined in the songs and the prayers. And while the gathering began with some degree of formality and order, it would eventually transition to free-wheeling conversation in which anyone could take part. During this time, people would talk about what was happening in their lives, share hopes and fears, and comment on the Biblical passages they had heard that day. Mary was fascinated with the conversations about Scripture, and actively took part in them. She asked insightful questions, and imagined new ways to tell the old stories.

Lord, fill with us with wonder and delight in the stories of your love. Amen.

Two Mornings: An Advent Story of Mary, Part 5

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Mary stopped to watch as a bird hopped from spot to spot, gathering its early morning meal. “The birds are our teachers,” she thought. “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them.”

Her thoughts continued, “The birds teach us to trust in the goodness of God. We do well to be content with the simple things, the necessary things; and to concentrate on the good that surrounds us, and not lament what we do not have.”

Such contentment was important to Mary, for life was hard in her village. She noticed every day how hard her mother worked, caring for children, running after them to keep them safe, playing with them, and teaching them how to do things. And all the while carrying water from the town well to their home, and gathering firewood, and pounding grain off the stalk, and shaping grain into flat bread, and all the dozens of other details that went into caring for the family. And she knew her father worked long hours in the hot fields, in order to grow the food they needed. He also worked odd jobs, doing whatever he could to supplement the family income. They were not wealthy people, but then no one in their village was. Life was not always easy, but they managed to get by, with enough to eat. In that, she knew their good fortune; she had heard tales of famine that had hit other places. They did not have much, but they had enough. For that, Mary was grateful.

           Lord, teach us to watch the birds. Teach us to be content. Amen.

Two Mornings: An Advent Story of Mary, Part 4

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While enjoying the variety of birds and flowers around her, Mary thought: “What glorious diversity God has built into creation. And what is true of the natural world, is also true of the world’s peoples.” She began to think about people who lived in places other than her own village. What were these people like? How did they dress? What language did they speak? How did they spend their time, earn their living, and raise their children? She heard stories about a few of these “foreigners,” including some called the Magi. It was said the Magi lived in a country far in the east, and that they were a people filled with curiosity, who delighted in studying many things, including the stars. “It would be fun to meet them and talk with them,” Mary thought. “But we in Nazareth never journey far from home. And why would the Magi travel here? From time to time, I have heard that some of them have visited the capital, Jerusalem. But they would have no reason to come to our small towns. I suppose I’ll never meet them. Still, it’s fun to think about. I could learn so much from them.”

Lord, help us to have conversations and to build relationships with those unlike ourselves. Amen.

Two Mornings: An Advent Story of Mary, Part 3

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When the morning rainbow had faded, Mary began walking. She enjoyed this quiet time of day; it gave her a chance for thoughtful pondering before daily hectic activity began.

As Mary walked, she paid attention to the birds and the flowers. They were among the reasons she arose early every day. She enjoyed seeing the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. She was continually fascinated that each day, each week, each season brought something different, as the rhythm of life unfolded. She looked forward each spring to the coming of certain birds, with their wonderful song. And she anticipated the days when each kind of wildflower would show off its burst of color.

Inspired by the birds, she sang:

Bright-colored tanager,
Sweet-voiced warbler:
Sing the praise of the Lord!

Ubiquitous catbird,
Shining-blue bunting:
Sing the praise of the Lord!

Honk-sounding geese,
Rattling kingfisher:
Sing the praise of the Lord!

Chattering blue jay,
High-flying nighthawk:
Sing the praise of the Lord!

Screaming red tail,
Soft-voiced eagle:
Sing the praise of the Lord!*

Lord, unite our voices with all of creation in singing your praise. Amen

*These birds, of course, are out of place in Mary’s story, as they are found in 21st century eastern Pennsylvania, and not first century Israel. But whatever birds Mary could have seen, I imagine her delighting in them.

Two Mornings: An Advent Story of Mary, Part 2

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As Mary watched the rays of the rising sun, she noticed the ground was wet, and the air carried the sweet smell of recent rain; a few drops were still falling off the edge of the roof. The clouds had begun to break, and when Mary looked west, her mouth dropped and shaped the words, “Wow! A sunrise rainbow!” Then she thought, “I’ve seen late afternoon rainbows in the east before, but this is the first I’ve seen at dawn in the west. What a wonderful gift from the early morning rain and sun!”

Watching the rainbow as it faded, she recalled the story of Noah; and how at the end of the great flood, God had placed a bow in the sky, saying, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you. Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood; and never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Reflecting, Mary thought: “That’s God’s promise to all creation; not only to humans, but to every living thing. It is a sign of God’s concern for all that exists.” Then she recited these words:

Gracious God of our future,
giver of our hope and joy;
Source of life, spring of promise:
Touch us with your gifts this day.

Give us eyes to see your work
Glistening all around us;
Open our hearts to perceive
The gifts you place among us.

Thank you, Lord, for daily gifts. Amen.

Two Mornings: An Advent Story of Mary, Part 1

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Mary’s favorite time of day was early morning. As always, she awoke before her parents, sister, and brothers, and quietly made her way to the door of their small house. Once outside, she looked east to catch the first light of the rising sun.

She recalled that her Uncle Zechariah often spoke of day’s beginning by saying, “The dawn is a sign of God’s compassion, breaking the darkness, and enlightening us to live God’s way of righteousness and peace.” His words had inspired Susanna (Mary’s sister) to write a poem that Mary now recited:

Gift of Godly mercy,
breaking in the sky;
Rays of bright light shining,
bringing new day nigh.

Gift of Godly mercy,
ending dark of night,
guide our feet on pathways
that are true and right.

Gift of Godly mercy,
shining on each day;
may new light inspire us
in God’s peaceful ways.

God of creation, help us to see each day as a gift from you. Amen.

Two Mornings: An Advent Story of Mary, Introduction

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Happy Advent 2017!

Beginning tomorrow, and continuing on the remaining weekdays of Advent, I will tell a story called “Two Mornings.” In this story, I imagine two days in the life of young Mary of Nazareth. On the first of these two mornings, Mary goes for a sunrise walk, after which she participates in her community’s synagogue assembly. On the second morning, Mary again goes for a sunrise walk, and has a surprise encounter with a stranger.

It is my hope that this story will help us see, with fresh eyes, the wonder and marvel of what God is doing in the world.

Heavenly Parent, guide our journey as we travel the days of Advent. Open our ears, our eyes, our minds, and our hearts, that we will be touched with your gracious love. This we ask in your Son’s name, and through the power of his life-giving Spirit. Amen.