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December 28, 2008

A wedding at Christmas

I hope all of you had a joyful Christmas Day. Ours was pretty quiet - just Mark, me, Hadley, John and Emma. Mark cooks on Christmas Day - I'm a pretty lucky woman aren't I? - and this year we had our traditional beige meal. We have turkey - white meat only - mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole topped with so many fried onions that you can't see the green of the beans, rolls and butter. It's all beige, it's all fattening, and it's all delicious! Christmas is often about tradition. As the birth story of Jesus continues today, Luke tells us about the tradition that Mary and Joseph followed - they went to the temple and dedicated their son to God.

But I got to do something new and different this Christmas too. I got to perform a wedding. It was a very joy filled thing for me to do. Although it meant more work for me around the holidays, I enjoy doing weddings. Katie Olivier was the bride. Katie grew up at this church and I have known her since she was a little girl. The church was beautiful with all the poinsettias, the bride was beautiful because brides always are, and the day was beautiful because it was a wedding day.

I believe that when you perform a wedding, you get to participate in a worship service that celebrates the holy. When two people come to promise their faithfulness to each other you get to hear and see something holy - because the couple's relationship is built on love, and trust, and intimacy - much like the relationship we can have with God.

In the season of Christmas, where joy and hope abound, it is especially meaningful to be a part of a wedding ceremony. In a culture where fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and where the stresses and strains of planning a wedding can make even the best of families fight with each other, sometimes I think it is amazing that couples even want to get married anymore. But before God and witnesses, I pronounced to Mike and Katie the beginning of their shared commitment. I introduced them as Mr. and Mrs. Michael Runge. I invited them to express their love with a kiss. The guests applauded. The moment floated with hope.

Advent and Christmas are times of hope. As we get ready to celebrate a new year, we are hopeful that the next year will be better. We are hopeful that 2009 will be the year that we will finally lose that weight, that our health will improve, that our economy will improve and that this is the year that we will finally stop all those bad habits that drag us down. But is this really hope or is this being optimistic? Author Miroslav Volf helps me to understand the difference between optimism and hope. He says that "optimism is based on the possibilities of things as they have come to be - hope is based on the possibilities of God irrespective of how things are... Hope is grounded in the faithfulness of God and therefore on the effectiveness of God's promise." Prospective married couples must feel a mixture of optimism and hope when they plan a wedding. They are optimistic that they will have a happy and loving marriage. But they are hopeful because they trust God to be with them on the journey. And if we are to make changes in 2009 we will need God to be with us on the journey to change as well.

The theology of hope and the metaphor of marriage surface throughout our Isaiah reading today. When the Israelites return to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon, joy returns to the people with all the hope and promise of a marriage. The rebirth of Jerusalem also includes the promise of a new life. When the little boy plants his carrot in the book that I read to the children, his brother and his parents are not optimistic. But he pulls out the weeds and he waters the plant and then one day " a carrot came up, just as the boy had known in would."

This image of the carrot, just like the promises of a wedding ceremony, emphasize new life and growth. Isaiah calls us to cross the threshold of hope, where wounds are healed and new lives are created, where impossibility yields to God's ability to bring new life and love into the lives of his children. And it calls us to remember and continue to consider the new life that God has brought forth in Bethlehem.

When you participate in a wedding right after Christmas Day, imagine the abrupt change of gears, the stresses and strains involved, for both the couple and their families. Yet also consider the joy of such a life altering event. Wedding traditions are kept, just like Mary and Joseph kept the tradition of dedicating Jesus to God . All the planning, all the stress, all the feelings of nervousness and doubt eventually give way to the ceremony. And out of it all, the history of the world is changed as lives embrace, and as couples experience for the first time the covenant relationship of marriage.

Like the carols that linger on this first Sunday of Christmas, our scripture passages celebrate God's desire to be with God's people in a new way. Like a wedding ceremony, the words of the service and the vows that are taken promise a new way of life for a young couple. New life, new relationships, celebrating love, being hopeful about the future - it was and is, a great way to celebrate Christmas this year. Amen.

Source: Feasting on the Word - Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary - Year B, Volume 1.