It Is Not This Day

I'd like to quote an inspiring speech given in a recent box office hit. A few of you may recognize it. But knowing what movie it is - is not important. Instead what I want to focus on is the recognition of one's place in the movement of history and the critical part each and every person plays in the final outcome - that in this story - ultimately affects the fate of all humankind. One of our heroes says to all those gathered:

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of men fails
When we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship.
But it is not this day.
An hour of woe and shattered shields and the age of men comes crashing down.
But it is not this day.
By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand."

These were men who faced sure death, outnumbered and surrounded by the enemy more than 100 to one. But their task was to draw attention away from two of their number who had gotten behind enemy lines. And though the outcome seemed certain, they had faith, they believed, and they acted as one who knew he had been chosen for this moment and this task.

And such was the faith of Mary, pregnant with the child of God. Think about it. This young woman, engaged to Joseph, is - in the eyes of her society - in big trouble. According to Israelite law, she should have been dragged outside the gates and stoned to death. And even though Joseph kept his engagement promises and married Mary, you know how people are….talking and whispering whenever she went to the marketplace or passed her on the streets. The beginning of their married life together was threatened by death. If not physical - then character slander. Only a few insiders like Elizabeth would have found the Holy Spirit story believable. And, as we know, the child was at risk because of Herod's fanatical purge of children under the age of two. Their social station was the lower working class who had no privileges in Roman eyes.

And yet, Mary sings of how future generations will call her blessed. That God has looked with favor on her, done great things for her. And she rejoices in the face of such unfavorable odds. How? How can she take such a precarious situation and say, thanks God, this is great!

Mary was fortunate in that she knew the story of God from the very beginning of human history. She knew the interplay of God with her ancestors. She knew that God chose people from all walks of life to be his servants and changed their lives forever. As a child she would have rehearsed over and over again the list of faith filled events much as we have in the New Testament book of Hebrews. By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice. By faith Enoch was taken. By faith Noah, warned by God, built an ark. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out, By faith Jacob blessed each of the sons of Joseph. By faith Moses' parents hid their son. By faith Moses chose to share ill treatment and led his people out of bondage. By faith the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the Israelites marched around it. By faith Rahab the prostitute received the spies in peace although she could have been tortured and killed by the people of her city. And the list goes on with Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the prophets. This litany of faithful people would have given Mary the strength and courage to accept this challenge from God and consider it a blessing though it was sure to bring with it heartache and separation of families. Mary's song continues by telling how those who do not embrace God's will for their lives eventually are brought low by God's almighty strength and power. To be chosen by God for this task of motherhood affirmed for Mary her place in God's unfolding purpose for the universe.

Kids and parents too, when you open the cover of a Bible, there is a page that we usually call the presentation page or dedication page. When someone gifts you with this book and writes your name on that line, they are saying that you have a place in the great epic adventure of men and women and their creator. They are saying that the adventures contained inside these pages are valuable for you as you prepare for your future with all its inherent dangers and excitement. They are asking you to read it, learn it, and find the heroes within that give you strength to accept whatever task it is that God will set before you.

In the alternate gospel reading for today, Jesus says, I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

Jesus is the man who began as Mary's baby. He understands full well that the message he has to share will not be accepted by everyone. He knows quite well the political situation of his time is balanced by a mere thread and anything could set off a power struggle that could bring death to himself and his people. But he knows the message has to be shared. People have resolved their problems the human way for thousands of years and we continue to have war. Jesus' sacrifice and his way of life even today just don't seem to gain sufficient inroads in people's lives to stop the violence.

What is the fire that Jesus spoke about bringing to the earth? So many think of it as the end times destruction, but I believe it has to do with the Holy Spirit, faith and the fire that can burn within each and everyone of us.

Our world faces the same kind of political upheaval and possibility of war as did those in Jesus' day and every generation before and after. And each one of us will face these crises in different capacities. Some of us will as soldiers, some as diplomats, some as nurses, doctors, teachers, factory workers, homemakers, mothers, students, policemen, road crew, athletes, etc. But you will come face to face with moments that will demonstrate to the world the heritage to which you belong and how firmly you grasp the faithfulness of God. As Christians we know that there will be men and women who will falter and fail in the task set before them. But if we hang on to the valor and courage of the men and women in this book and cling to the strength and example of Jesus Christ, this will not be the day that we fall but the day that we accept the challenges of the world with the our faith on fire. AMEN

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