I really liked the sermon I preached yesterday. I preach week in and week out, and the fact that I, personally, like a particular sermon does not necessarily have any correlation at all to its merit or power. Preaching is a strange thing. It’s not just writing, though that’s important, and it’s not just public speaking, though that can help. There’s an essential component of knowing your congregation, like being an embedded journalist except you don’t even have the benefit of the journalist’s objectivity because you’re all up in one another’s lives. And then there’s the part about how the Holy Spirit will sometimes hijack the whole thing, with or without your knowledge. It’s weird and I mostly love it, and I am also pretty happy this morning that I don’t have to preach again for three weeks.
Anyway, I liked the sermon I preached yesterday. The resources we’re using this season come from A Sanctified Art, and yesterday’s focus scripture was from Luke 1, when newly pregnant Mary packs up and travels to stay with her also-pregnant cousin Elizabeth for three months while fetus Jesus gestates. Mary shows up on Elizabeth’s doorstep and Elizabeth can barely contain her excitement. She dances and sings, the baby in her womb leaps for joy, she declares Mary – a pregnant, unwed, teenage cousin whose presence at Elizabeth’s far-away house is probably because she couldn’t stay at home in the whirl of shame and surveillance and accusation – to be “blessed among women.” And the commentary and reflections got me thinking about how there was absolutely no way that our spare nativity scenes, which almost always feature only Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, are accurate. Where are all the other people?!
We know, from history and even scripture itself, that the holy family was surrounded by friends and family, cousins and community from the very beginning. Mary lived for three months with her cousin while she was pregnant. If Joseph was “descended from the house and line of David” and had to travel to Bethlehem to get counted for the census, wouldn’t his brothers and cousins and aunties ALSO have had to make that journey? Didn’t they ALSO need to find some sort of AirBnB or Mennonite Your Way while they were there being counted? And even if the aunts and uncles had to bunk down in the next stable over, wouldn’t they all be crowded around the manger once that tiny baby was born? Wouldn’t they have been bringing Mary strong teas and cool cloths while she labored? Wouldn’t they have taken Joseph our for a walk or a drink while he waited?
And, we know that when Mary and Joseph did return home to Nazareth, they wouldn’t have bought some single family starter home to begin their life together. They almost certainly lived in a compound of extended family with three or four single-bedroom houses arranged around a central courtyard that had an oven, a cistern, a millstone and some goats. Co-housing at its purest. It is pretty ridiculous, when you think about it, the way we’ve photoshopped community care out of the nativity stories. It is pretty ridiculous, actually, the way we’ve erased communities of care from our own lives.
Last week, y’all shared dozens of places you’ve seen hope this year. I’ll write about those tomorrow. Sharing those experiences was an act of community care: I asked for help, and you provided. I have been the recipient of so much community care over the years, welcomed at so many thresholds and cared for by so many communities. I bet you have, too. The startling realization of preaching that sermon, though, is that Jesus – Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Savior of the World, King of Kings and Lord of Lords – was cared for, too. That over the course of Jesus’ own lifetime on earth, from before he was born until after he died, he was the recipient of gracious welcome and community care. He was fed, burped, rocked to sleep by people other than his mother. He was watched out for, corrected and redirected by aunties and uncles. He grew up with brothers and cousins and a passel of other kids, and he learned from teachers and grannies and probably a priest or two. He had 12 BFFs who committed to walking across Galilee with him for years, and in every town they entered, some cousin or stranger provided a meal and a place to spend the night. When he died, a rich stranger gave up his own cemetery plot so that Jesus’ body could be properly buried.
And that is hopeful: that even the Savior of the World relied on the care of his community; that his own life was saved over and over and over by people who understood that we belong to each other, in very tactile and material ways. That Jesus’ life was filled with teaching and preaching and healing other people, yes, but it was also all made possible because other people rocked and fed and taught and healed HIM. That even Jesus never even attempted to do it all on his own, so maybe we should give up trying, ourselves.