My prayer for Christmas this year

For me, the Christmas story begins with a prayer. You see it in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It reads, "Then Mary said ... "

By this time, Luke already provided some exposition. We know what is happening or about to happen. An angel visited the unmarried Mary and let her know she was going to conceive and give birth to the Son of God. She learned of a family member that was also pregnant and she traveled to visit. There, she began to worship her God.

I have to stop the story at this point, because outside of Christian culture, it all sounds a bit fantastical. I get it. So put aside what you do or don't believe and place yourself in Mary's psyche.

You are a young lady in a patriarchal culture where women do not have any personal rights outside of their father or husband. Then a spiritual apparition tells you how you are to be the mother of God's son, offspring of the divine. You are told your baby will rule over your nation and his kingdom would never end. Yet you're only engaged. An unwed pregnancy would be scandalous and it is possible that your fiancé might abandon you for fear of shame caused by raising someone else's child. You are also a nobody from a forgotten village where nothing exciting ever happens. It is a small town where everybody knows everyone, so a pregnancy would be impossible to keep secret. Without your future husband's support, you would be fated to a life of extreme poverty.

How would you feel? What emotions would be flooding your senses? Would it be fear? Anxiety? Wonder? Confusion? Awe? Joy? An awkward mix of everything?

We know Mary experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum. She expressed her skepticism when she asked the angel, "How is this even possible?" She showed nervousness and excitement when visiting Elizabeth. In the middle of all of it, she stopped to sing praises.

This is the reason I view Mary's prayer as the beginning of the Christmas story. In our annual celebrations, it seems we have lost the plot. We think of Christmas as mistletoe and holly. We think of wrapped gifts and stocking stuffers, shopping malls and amazon.com, laughter and carols, candy canes and sugar cookies, Santa and reindeer, snow falling outside and a fireplace burning inside. We see the birth of Christ through filters of modern tradition, but Christmas didn't begin with any of that.

Christmas started with hope and fear. It started with dreams and failure, anticipation and loss, happiness and grief, purpose and bewilderment, trust and doubt. Mary stands between these extremes and still she believes in what she was told. Regardless of her state of mind, she worships the God she loves and refers to herself as a humble servant girl. With an unknown future too wild to imagine, Mary exclaimed, "God will show his mercy forever and ever."

Here, Mary's confidence is anchored in more than evidence could ever prove valid. These verses of scripture are more relevant to me now than they ever have been during my time on earth. As I read the Christmas story this year, Mary's declaration has become my prayer of longing.

image courtesy of Crosswalk

She said, "He has done mighty deeds by his power. He has scattered the people who are proud and think great things about themselves. He has brought down rulers from their thrones and raised up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with nothing. He has helped his servant, the people of Israel, remembering to show them mercy."

So I pray.

I pray to remain humble and recognize how much my life has been blessed. I pray to be reminded of God's power. I pray God shows his mercy to those who are hurting, who have lost loved ones to death, incarceration, or broken relationships. I pray the pride of those who see themselves as superior due to wealth, race, gender, religion, or nationality will be broken. I pray those who seek to mistreat immigrants and refugees will be scattered. I pray those who condemn and harass the LGBT community will have a change of heart. I pray those who abuse their authority will lose their seats of power. I pray God raises leaders who will serve against their own self interests. I want to see foster kids gain homes, for the working poor to find relief, for the malnourished to be fed, for the lonely to discover a friend, for wounded communities to receive healing.

For those who exploit any form of systemic oppression, from white privilege to income disparity, from biased legislation to state-sponsored persecution, I pray they reap the fruits of their efforts, I pray they are sent away with nothing.

I pray God helps those who are tirelessly working to help the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner. I pray God shows favor to those who demonstrate kindness to the brokenhearted. I pray God protects those who sacrifice their safety to protest injustice. I pray God shows love to those who love their enemies. Lord, remember us and show us mercy.

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