Years ago, on a Friday night when we didn’t have any plans, Katharine and I decided to bake cookies. I got in my car and I drove over to her apartment and she preheated the oven, but we knew we didn’t want to eat all the cookies ourselves, so I called some friends. They were our married friends.
We had been dating for a while, but we were not yet engaged, and when I had them on the phone I didn’t tell them we were making cookies. I just asked them if they’d be home later, and if we could drop by because we had a surprise, and I hung up the phone.
Katharine looked at me, and said, “You know what they’re going to think?” With this dumb look on my face, I said, “Bringing cookies over?” She said, “No, they’re going to think we’re engaged.”
I doubted her at first, but when we knocked on their door, they opened it really slowly, both leaning out together, waiting for some big announcement. Katharine held up the cookies quickly with her left hand in view, and I’ve never seen anyone so disappointed in cookies.
We are curious creatures, always wondering, “When are they going to get engaged?”, or “What’s that large box wrapped up underneath the Christmas tree?” Curiosity is good. It is a gift unless we allow what we do not know to get in the way of what we do know.
There is always a certain amount of mystery around life and around faith. As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “We see in a mirror dimly.” But then there are certain things that we do know, as Paul also writes in Romans, “Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed . . . .” What was hidden has now been revealed. What was secret has now been told.
The ways of Jesus reveal to us the ways of the love of God, revealing the strength of patience, kindness, gentleness, meekness, generosity, compassion, and hope over the struggles and concerns of this world.
The story about Mary at Christmas is filled with mystery and revelation. Gabriel comes and reveals many things to her: You will have a baby, and his name will be Jesus. He will be called “Son of the Most High.” He will sit on the throne of David. He will be holy.
But our faith is always wrapped in mystery, like, “How will everything be different because of this good news?” Perhaps that’s why Gabriel led with, “Now, don’t be afraid.” Even though there was mystery, Mary said faithfully, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord.”
Curiosity is good. It is a gift unless we allow what we do not know to get in the way of what we do know. Take, for example, what scripture says about caring for the poor. There is plenty of mystery all throughout the pages of scripture, questions that we need to ask, but questions that we cannot fully answer.
But there is no mystery about what scripture says about caring for the poor, where in Isaiah 58:7, it says, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house?”, or in Luke 14:13, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor . . .”, or in 2 Corinthians 8:15, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
Now, there are other questions that we find all throughout Scripture, questions that we need to ask and that we need to ponder, even if we cannot fully answer them; but where the love of God has been revealed to us, we need to follow the example of Mary, saying, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord.”
In order to see the big picture, we have to first see the small picture, and in our faith, we call that incarnation. The Word—big picture—has become flesh—small picture. The big picture is full of mystery, but the love of God is revealed to us through the ways of Jesus. That is the picture of Christmas! We don’t want what we do not know to consume us so much that we end up avoiding what we do know about the ways of Jesus.
In 1977, Jim Henson created a show based on a book by Russell Hoban. The book was based on the short story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O’Henry. The show was Emmett Otter’s Jug Band. I remember watching it every single Christmas.
It was about Emmett and his mother who were just scraping by trying to make ends meet. Emmett’s mother would make money by doing laundry for other people using an old-fashioned wash tub. Emmett would make a little extra money by doing odd jobs around people’s homes, fixing odds and ends. My favorite song in the entire show was “There Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub.”
After a hard day’s work, working long hours, Emmett and his mother would get back into their small john boat and row back across the lake going home, and they would sing together to cheer themselves up, remembering what was good around them. They would sing, “at least there ain’t no hole in the wash tub.” As long as there was no hole in the wash tub, it meant they could continue to make ends meet.
Well, one Christmas, unbeknownst to one another, they both decided they really wanted to get a nice Christmas gift for the other to express their gratitude and their love for one another. There was a talent show in town where the prize was $50, and you could buy a really nice Christmas gift for $50!
Without telling each other, they both entered the talent show, but they both had a problem. Emmett’s mother needed to buy fabric to make clothes to wear to enter the talent show. Without telling Emmett, she sold his tools to get money to buy fabric. Then Emmett needed a stand-up bass for his jug band, and the only way to make a bass was to turn over a wash tub and to poke a hole in it, which is what she used to make money.
Well, they both—thoughtfully and not lightly—took a chance, because of the love they felt for one another. They entered the talent show, and they played and sang beautifully, but they both lost to the Riverbottom Gang, a group of troublemakers who created a band called The Nightmare.
They were both devastated! Not just because they lost, but they didn’t know how they were going to tell each other what they had done, or how they were going to make ends meet.
Well, fortunately, the owner of a local restaurant attending the talent show heard both of them sing and hired both of them to play regularly at his restaurant—better than a $50 prize. They loved to sing, and they loved to sing together.
There are plenty of questions in our faith and in this life—plenty of mystery that surrounds everything that matters the most. We should ask those questions. It is good to ponder those questions.
But wherever the love of God has been revealed to us, and where it calls us and invites us to love others, we should take a chance along with Mary, saying, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord.”