In June 1941 the United States shut down all visa applications for anyone entering the US who had close relatives in Germany. It was during this same time that Otto Frank was applying for visas for his family to come to the US. Otto Frank was the father of the Anne Frank, whose well read diaries depict the atrocities of Auschwitz and the holocaust. Think of how very different her story might have been if the US had granted her and her family visas.
Clara Williams was born in 1885. In 1928 she enrolled at New Mexico State University, taking only summer courses in order to teach black kids in the public school system during the school year. Because she was a black woman her professors at New Mexico State University would not allow her in the classroom, so she took notes from the hallway. She graduated nine years later with a Bachelor’s Degree in English at the age of 51.
This fall a couple of women started an online campaign called “Together Rising” to raise funds for Syrian refugees. Much to their surprise they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Its taken them months to figure out how to use the money, contacting refugee organizations around the world for assistance. What they learned is that women refugees want strollers and warm clothes for their families. And so that is what they are doing, sending strollers and warm clothes to refugees.
Mary, whose story we hear in the Gospel this morning, like Clara, Anne, and refugee women around the world, faced many challenges in life. Mary was a refugee, giving birth to Jesus in a town not her own, without the comfort of home and family, then on the run to Egypt to escape death from the angry and jealous Herod.
We live in a broken world. It has always been broken. Yet, for people of faith, even in the brokenness, God’s love, God’s hope for God’s creation manages to squeak through. For Christians, our story begins with Mary.
One of the primary images of Mary portrayed by the Christian tradition is that of a poor, submissive, passive girl. However, if one listens to the story in Luke one hears something quite different. Mary is brave and confidently accepts the role of birthing God into the world, despite a very uncertain future in doing so. She stays with her son, God in the flesh, to the very end, despite the dangers of being at the foot of the cross where she too could have been crucified. This Mary is hardly weak, submissive, or passive.
The Greek Orthodox tradition calls Mary - Theotokos - God Bearer.
Images of Black Madonna’s appeared between the 12th and 15th centuries. Some Black Madonnas were created using dark pigment or stone, others turned black with age and patina. Some think that the Black Madonnas have a historical link to pagan goddesses of the earth - like the rich black soil of the earth, the black Madonna depicts Mary as the one who birthed God into the world.
Unlike Mary, most of us do not have profound experiences of God moving us into action in the world. It’s not that God isn’t trying to move us, its more likely that we are just too obtuse, too human, to recognize God’s way of moving in us. I’m willing to wager than no one in this room has ever had an angel wake them up at night and tell them that God has a message for them. Still, terrifying as that would be, at least it would be clear what God wanted.
As individuals and as a Christian community most of us have not had to face the same kinds of life threatening challenges that Anne Frank, Clara Williams, refugee women, or Mary, the mother of God, faced. But in other ways it is challenging to be a church in the world today.
One part of the challenge, of course, is understanding how to be attentive in order that God can speak to us and through us.
Often, when we are able to hear God speak it is through either the broken places in our lives or through our passions. Recently we’ve come to recognize that we are a church that feeds people. It’s something we’ve done for a long time, but recognizing that feeding people is one of our passions helps to focus us. How do we feed people in mind, body, and spirit? Take for example our help to build a school in Liberia, the creation of an exterior plaza that is a welcome place of respite for humans and animals alike, Blessings in a Backpack feeding hungry school kids, our food pantry that feeds nearly 30 families a month, the increased accessibility for walkers and wheelchairs in the church, the Holiday Market supporting local artists, the organ refurbishment and the joy that comes from appreciating fine music, and our ongoing initiatives to increase our awareness of racism and the other biases that exist within us. These are just a few of the ways that we strive to feed people in mind, body, and spirit. These are some of the ways that our soul sings out in response to God, and even though our response does not come as a result of the threat and risk like others have faced, it comes nonetheless, with the confidence that we can be part of God’s healing presence in a world of pain and suffering.