December 23, 2020

December 23, 2020

December 23, 2020
Mark 11:1-11
Rev. Kimberly Goddard
District Superintendent
New River District

Mark 11:1-11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"
10     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


Remember Bob Ross and the “The Joy of Painting”? He was a landscape artist who taught painting classes on PBS for 11 seasons.  Ross was famous for a calm, smooth as silk voice, and his insistence, “We don’t make mistakes, we just have happy accidents.” Or, his encouragement, “No pressure. Just relax and watch it happen.” With an instructor like that, you could believe him when he said, “You too can paint almighty pictures.” Our daughter, Lindsey, who graduates ETSU next Spring with a degree in Studio Arts, took her first painting class at Pleasant View UMC in Abingdon with a Bob Ross instructor.  Lindsey, whose talent and passion has always been art, learned to paint almighty pictures.  Her mother, who sat in on that first class, did not.  Though I never learned to paint peaceful landscapes, and my mistakes were never happy, I still like the idea of happy little trees, lazy waterfalls, and clouds floating above.  Truth be told, after the kind of year 2020 turned out to be, it’s nice to ponder the idea of a “Bob Ross” kind of Christmas.  

The happy kind of Christmas where everything is the way it used to be, and it just makes you feel good; like hot chocolate and marshmallows after caroling on the back of a pick-up truck good.  Christmas pageants with children playing Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, dressed in fuzzy robes and bath towels.  Angels in tinseled cardboard wings and wisemen carrying shiny gift wrapped boxes while the congregation smiles, and parents tap photos with smart phones. Choir cantatas and Candlelight Christmas Eve worship, a church full of people lifting their candles in unison on the chorus of Silent Night. Reading Luke 2 and imagining the first Christmas. Mary sits serenely near a manger of sweet-smelling hay, and Joseph stands close by as the silent sentinel. Shepherds kneel at the manger and wisemen on a distant hillside, one of them in silhouette with arm raised, points to the star casting rays of brilliant light onto the stable.  A moment frozen in time, an almighty picture indeed.  Pleasant, familiar, comfortable…happy.

With visions of “all is calm all is bright” dancing in my head, I settled down to write this devotion.  Then I read the lectionary. At first glance, it seems odd that one of the assigned scriptures, on the eve of Christmas Eve, is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. What does a passage signaling the beginning of Holy Week, have to say to us as our mind’s eye is fixed on Bethlehem and the manger, not Jerusalem and the cross? I suppose the best answer to that question is, not much.  Not when we insist on a still shot of Bethlehem where Christmas is somehow a stand-alone event and Jesus is ever and only the babe in a manger.  Pleasant, familiar, comfortable and happy may be enough in a Bob Ross world, but it won’t get you through a year like 2020.  But we can broaden our gaze. After all, it’s only 6 miles and 33 years from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, just a short turn of the head. When Jesus topped the hill from Bethany to the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday, pilgrims sang an advent song for the coming king and we hear an echo of the angel’s song in Bethlehem.

Hosanna! (Good tidings of great joy, for all people)
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  (Unto you is born this day)
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (in the city of David, a savior, Christ the Lord)
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace, Good will to all)

In the year a global pandemic is killing hundreds of thousands of souls,
When a virus overturns all sense of normalcy and changes even something so fundamental as how we gather for worship,
When unemployment and homelessness and hunger rage,
When our country still debates whether black lives matter,
When immigrant parents and children are lost to each other,
When isolation leads to depression and desperation,
When natural disasters take lives and destroy dreams,
When we work harder and see fewer results
When our own church finds it easier to draw lines of separation and division, than circles of common ground,
When we are exhausted,
And, when we are afraid….

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

We long for the Advent of the King, born in Bethlehem, riding into Jerusalem, coming in the name of the Lord, ushering in the Kingdom of God, not our kingdoms, defeating death, hell and the grave to save us from our sins, and from ourselves.  The Son of the Most High who will come again and reign over Jacob’s descendants forever, and his kingdom will never end.

Now that, is an almighty picture.