A Certain Kind Of Madness
Someone once wrote: "It is no small thing to one day take one's life in one's hands and offer it, not looking back or too far ahead, but trusting in the present. To some this is madness, to others a waste. But to the person who is offering it is the event of a lifetime, an event by which the history of humankind grows."
On this last Sunday in Advent, we gather to remember and celebrate just such an "event of a lifetime". It is the event of Mary's saying, yes" to God. Not her saying "well, I suppose"...or "if you say so" or "well I don't much like this but you're the boss"...or any of those kind of remarks we make when confronted with something we really have to accept and don't want to. Rather we remember Mary saying:
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Luke 1:38
That statement, that acceptance, characterizes "a certain kind of madness" found in believers of God. Think about it for a minute...there's really not much at all in the Bible, in the history of God's relationship with God's people that make much sense at all. It's all madness:
There's the madness of Noah, building a big boat in the middle of dry land. Building it big enough for family and animals to withstand a long voyage…
There's the madness of Abraham...taking his wife and household, breaking all ties with his past, and traveling to an entirely new country and home.
There's the madness of Sarah giving birth in her old age...then of Abraham nearly killing that child Issac as a sacrifice...there's the madness of Issac in oldage befuddled by goats hair and the smell of wild animals, giving a deathbed blessing to the wrong son;
... the crazy story of Jacob marrying the wrong woman, and still working another seven years to get the right one...
... there's the whole Joseph story: being sold into slavery by jealous brothers and rising in esteem in that foreign land until he was minister of agriculture; then welcoming those same brothers and feeding the family and giving them a home...
... there's the child floating down the river who becomes the Pharaoh's son and later his enemy...who leads the people of Israel out of slavery into wilderness wanderings...
... there's the prophets, when they're not nagging at the people of Israel with prophecies of destruction and doom, they are proclaiming the love of God with prophecies of salvation and glorys those prophets were crazy' Jeremiah walks around with an oxen's yoke on his shoulders; buys land when everyone else is selling; makes a clay pot and then smashes it. There's Hosea marrying a prostitute and when she runs off, he buys her back and affirms his devotion.
There's Micah, author of the words of the first lesson, asserting in one chapter the destruction of Jerusalem, and then in our lesson, asserting the reign of a great king who will be barn in that nothing little town of Bethlehem.
Nor does the craziness, the madness stop with the end of the OT. The Gospels are full of the same sort of madness. Elizabeth pregnant at old age; Mary pregnant as a virgin; John, still in womb kicking at the presence of the still unborn Christ; the birth of the King of Kings in a stable; the angels singing to shepherds; the Wise Men coming to find one foretold by astrological signs.
It's strains our belief. It stretches all credibility. It seems madness. Yet we are not exempt from this madness, it exists even today, across our land and around our world:
--- homes and stores and churches are filled with crosses and stars and trees and all sorts of decorations which have their meaning in this astounding pregnancy and birth
--- stores and streets signs and newspapers flash the message "Merry Christmas" from October through December…reminding every person around of the name of Christ...the anointed one.
--- words of good will are sent and called and given all across our land gifts are bought in loving care for that special family member or friend.
--- hymns are sung, candles lit, programs held, heads are bowed, prayers repeated, as millions who bear that name of Christ come together in worship and adoration.
--- and at funeral services (like the one Friday), we declare our steadfast faith in the resurrection...the most crazy idea of all. We do so, we can do so, because of the promises of God that have been fulfilled...such as the birth of Jesus; and we can do so, because of our confidence in the fulfillment of those promises yet to come.
Yes, there is a certain madness that affects all of us at this time of year, and it's got nothing to do with the moon or eating lutefisk or the shortness of the day.
It's got to do with God...and with the maddening way God continues to declare His love...no matter what craziness we or this world get ourselves into. Oh many do reject God's love, and for them the prophets still call out words of repentance and change. But many also respond, in the maddening ways of faith and obedience and service, and those who do, enjoy the incredible blessings of love and forgiveness and salvation and hope.
Some of those who respond, are able to express their response in words that become classic, repeated again and again and again for the benefit of the many. The Gospel contains some of those classic words, they were spoken by Mary and have come to be know as the Magnificat, from the Latin for "my soul magnifies". In her words, Mary expresses her song of joy, her affirmation of faith, her declaration that God has acted, and is acting still, and will continue to act on behalf of God's people.
Listen again to her words:
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." Luke 1:46-55
Notice the verbs: God has regarded, has had mercy, has shown strength, has scattered, has put down, has exalted, has filled, has sent away, has helped, has spoken, has remembered the promise.
Like Mary, we look back and we see what God has done; and we rejoice.
Like Mary, we look ahead and we see what God has promised; and as we wait, we believe. Amen.
Daniel Behnly Marshfield, WI