Today we get to hear about holy messages–some delivered by the mouths of prophets and some delivered by angelic messengers. Last Saturday a messenger of the Lord appeared to me. Okay…it wasn’t an angel. It was a musician. And he didn’t appear to me. He was streamed to me on the internet. His name is Chris Thile, he is the host of “Live From Here” and he taught me a new word I’d never heard before.
Well…not a word…it’s more of a few words mashed together.
I’ve heard of the holidays. In fact, every cashier I’ve encountered these past few days has wished me a happy holiday as they hurriedly tried to finish my purchase with a line of 10 customers behind me. My pastoral colleagues have offered blessings for the “High holy days” that are only a few days away.
But Chris Thile taught me a new term… High-low days.
Or in his words,
“That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. The steam room to ice bath cultural whiplash of high to low…I’m talking about the sublime prayerful meditations for peace against the backdrop of the snowmanish ornament made out of marshmallow, shellac, and an unholy amount of glitter.”Chris Thile, Live From Here
It’s how we can possibly be listening to a Christmas music playlist and hear For Unto Us a Child is Born
immediately followed by
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas!
The high of these high-low days can be felt in energy of this season–the go go go. Just ask a driver for the postal service of Amazon (that is if you can stop them as they run from one place to the next)..or the Pavlovian response you or your family may have when the doorbell rings and a brown package arrives. Or ask an accountant as they’re trying, trying to close out the season…
And match that with the low energy of the high-low days. The deep desire to have a lowly manger scene of calm and long for a silent night moment. A deep longing to slow down–to hold a sleeping child in your arms as they turn their hopes and trust over to you–and perhaps in turn we could close our eyes with the deep trust of turning our cares to the Lord.
And let us not forget about the high hopes of the season. The Advent desire of having hope, peace, joy and love–how it can manifest in our lives. Whether it is seeing and reconnecting with a loved one or simply giving thanks for another year with the people we love. Perhaps some of those presents smartly wrapped under the tree are answered wish list items for which you’ve been longing. Maybe even the high hopes of this season will propel you into 2020 with gusto!
Oh but the low of the high-low days. It comes at some point when we’re awakened from our eggnog induced fog to the things that aren’t quite right. The way your distant relative always makes you feel less…or foolish… or says something and oh man…if you thought quick enough you could have had the perfect comeback to throw at them. Or days where we look around and our grief just feels greater. And we don’t know if we may be betraying to joviality of the season by being true to our tears and sorrow.
These high-low days we are challenged to hold both–joy and sorrow–gratitude and grief–hope and fear–and to hold them with equal weight–as we bear the weight of this season.
“O come o come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…”
These words have rung through halls, churches, and homes for centuries.
We wait in these high-low days.
Perhaps we can learn how to navigate these high-low days from a friend in the faith. Our friend Joseph. He seems to be surfing on the high-low wave! The high of getting ready to begin a life with his betrothed, Mary. The low of hearing the news. She’s with child…and the child is not his. The high energy of having a dream with an angelic guest. The low, and humbled, stance this faithful man had to take in order to discern God’s will for him.
To this last point, how tempting it could have been for Joseph to make Mary’s pregnancy about him…about his status in the community, about his high expectations, about his own plans. What a low knee he must have taken as he prayed and discerned his small, but vitally important role in God’s story of salvation.
Think about it, the story of salvation would have been very different if he had not said yes to God. Who would have fulfilled the prophesy of the Savior being born in Bethlehem? Who would have assured that not only Mary, but this infant child (son of God for sure, but still a vulnerable and helpless baby) would be protected? It all rested on Joseph—who didn’t choose this. But God chose him–to carry the light of hope that is the Christ child.
In the Gospel of Matthew, when we hear about the birth of Jesus, we hear him described as the “Son of David”–that’s King David as he was born in David’s family tree. We hear Jesus described as the “Son of Abraham”–reminding us that Jesus is the promise to all the descendants of Abraham. He is the righteous offspring who in turn make us righteous in the eyes of the Lord through forgiveness and grace. We hear Jesus described as “Son of God” and even “Son of Man”… but never, ever…son of Joseph.
And after Joseph protects Mary and protects the newborn babe…our Holy Scripture never mentions him again.
And yet…Joseph is a valued servant of the Lord. And he can teach us something, if we pause long enough to perceive it. Joseph listens for God in the midst of turmoil and in the midst of questions. He listens for God in the midst of his high-low days. And because he listens and perceives, God’s story of salvation unfolds.
Friends, it’s not only this time of year that features high-low days. You know and I know that high-low days can come at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Tax day, or just a regular Saturday. But in the midst of our high-low days we wait for the Lord.
Rev. Dr. Mark Oldenburg from United Lutheran Seminary phrased it this way, the importance of this time of year is that “it’s a time when we pick up and carry those glimmers of reconciliation, of liberation, and signs of the kingdom.” And we carry these glimmers that guide us through the high-low days. These glimmers of God’s goodness are a light for others in the midst of joy and sorrow–gratitude and grief–hope and fear.
And in these high-low days there’s a word that we can hold onto. It’s an old word. An Aramaic word. And that word is “Maranatha.”
Actually it’s two words mashed together–and when you divide maranatha one way it proclaims joyfully “Our Lord has come.” A high moment that reminds us that no matter what, the Lord has come in the person of Jesus and is with you always till the end of the age.
And when you divide maranatha a different way it cries out the prayer, “Come O Lord”. Come O Lord when low days occur. Come O Lord and send peace into our hearts and homes and nation. Come O Lord as your kingdom may come into its full glory.
Our Lord has come, Come O Lord.
And may the Lord’s blessing and grace be upon you in these high low, holiday, holy days ahead.