Early in my priesthood I got an urgent text from a couple who had recently joined the small church I pastored. Alarmed, I met them early at the coffee shop where our weekly Bible Study group gathered. When Josh and Mike joined we started reading Mark’s Gospel and after two months we were nearing the end. When Mike and Josh got to the coffee shop they looked a little like they’d been in a minor car accident; shaken and trying to get their bearings. I asked if they were okay and they didn’t say yes or no. Instead, Josh said “We don’t know what we’ve been doing.”
Then Mike launched into the story of their ten years as a couple. They’d both grown up in traditional, middle class families they loved and they were one hundred percent committed to making their parents proud. To compensate for being gay the two of them had just been more athletic about living perfect lives. They worked sixty hour weeks to be able to afford a beautiful home. Their magazine shoot ready, three bedroom colonial had a well maintained garden and an immaculately kept lawn. Both Josh and Mike were known for being impeccably dressed, punctual, hardworking and courteous. They were deeply involved in civic life and created planters that dotted Main Street with splashes of red and white geraniums to attract attention to local businesses. Their families were proud and anyone who knew them adored or admired them or both. If there had been an official competition at life, they definitely would have won. That’s why I didn’t get what kind of spiritual crisis I’d just walked into.
Mike asked, “Why have we been working like maniacs to make mortgage payments so we can live in a house that’s three times too big for us?! And then after my sixty hour work week why do I spend hours weeding the yard? What’s it for?"
Then Josh said, as if nauseated by a half-eaten can of sour cream and onion Pringles, “We don’t want it anymore. We want that.” He pointed at my Bible on the table. As a result of reading most of Mark’s Gospel, Mike and Josh explained that many of their priorities were rendered ridiculous.
Six months later they’d sold their beautiful colonial house along with almost every piece of its carefully chosen furniture and moved into a one bedroom condo where someone else mowed the lawn. Instead of staying late at work, Mike and Josh were leading weekly prayer groups and Bible studies at two nursing homes, taking the kids in the church’s youth program bowling and bringing communion to the hospital.
When the angel Gabriel comes to propose to Mary her plans have already been made. There were familial obligations to meet, community expectations to measure up to and it was all fine until God interrupted. Gabriel whispered in Mary’s ear about conspiring to scatter the proud, lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things and thereby be a blessing for the people of every generation to come (Luke 1:46-55). He made Mary’s prior plans sound like a box full of nothing but packing peanuts.
That’s why Mary says “yes” to Gabriel even though she knows she’ll get the hairy eyeball forever from everyone in Nazareth. Married to Joseph or not, they’ll do the math and realize she was pregnant long before the wedding. And that’s just the beginning. Later, when she’s insisting that Jesus listen to her because she’s his mother, Jesus will tell her that his family is anyone who does the will of God. (Mark 3:33) I imagine this makes her so livid it might be why she disappears in the Gospels until the crucifixion when Jesus makes what he said true. He gives Mary to the disciple he loved and tells her, from now on, to be his mother. The last time we see her she’s in the upper room, praying with the disciples and becoming what Jesus said- the mother of everyone who lives by faith.
The incarnation is God interrupting our regularly scheduled broadcast by showing up in the flesh, but just like all of the hotels in Bethlehem when Mary was in labor, there isn’t any room for Jesus in our plans. And it’s as easy as it was on the first Christmas to ignore the Christ child if you want. In fact, to keep on track and make your deadlines you probably should.
But if you stop and look at Jesus too long chances are good that he’ll make you love him. And if you love him he’ll make your old life seem suddenly barren while he’s busy breaking your heart to make it bigger so there’s room for him in it.
If you give Mary’s baby an inch he’ll take a mile and thank God, nothing will be the same.