Luke 1.46-55

Holiday Letter, circa 3 BCE

Third Sunday of Advent

This month’s Smithsonian Magazine has an article about the history of holiday letters, those newsy bits that many folks send out with their Christmas cards.  There seem to be two distinct schools of thought about them:  you either love them or you hate them.  In 1954 the Atlantic Monthly sneered, “No Christmas letter averages fewer than 18 exclamation marks per page,” and Ann Landers derisively called them “brag rags.”  But then again, even the venerable and beloved Christmas card, first introduced in the 1840s, was at the time considered a vulgar time-saver, so perhaps it has always been thus.

And so it is that I have to confess the Froggatt family is among the guilty parties; in fact the writing of our annual Christmas letter falls to yours truly.  But in self-defense, I will say that since ministry is such a peripatetic vocation, and we have moved from Connecticut to New Jersey to Michigan to Connecticut to Massachusetts back to Connecticut, a letter is a useful way of staying in touch with far-flung friends.  Honestly, if I had to write a family update in every single one of the cards we send to all the friends we’ve made in each of those settings over the years, there would be no time left in Advent to write a sermon, unless of course the sermon were yet another holiday letter.  Hmmm…

Come to think of it, with the Smithsonian article fresh in my mind, and since I am in the midst of sending out the annual Froggatt family missive, I wonder:  if the holy family, if Joseph and Mary sent out such a letter at this time of year, what might it say?

“Dear friends and family, we hope this year’s annual Hanukkah letter finds you well.  We haven’t had much time this year to prepare for the holiday, since like so many of you, we are in the midst of a long and difficult (and, in our opinion, unnecessary) journey – more about that in a bit.  In fact while we did pack the menorah – we wrapped it up tight in a bundle of rags to keep it safe - candles are difficult to come by on the road from Galilee to Judea.  This holiday season, it will have to be the thought rather than the light that counts.

“We aren’t sure where Caesar Augustus’ census is taking you, but we are currently on the road to Bethlehem.  You may remember that Joseph’s family is descended from David, which explains why we are on our way in this holiday season to royal David’s city for the census.  Hah!  Do you believe that?  Census?  If you ask us, this is just an excuse for our politicians to find yet another way to tax us.  They call it “enrollment” – we call it “fattening up the one percent.”  No wonder so many of our neighbors would rather avoid citizenship altogether.  Who can afford to render unto Caesar the precious few denarii we are barely able to scrape together?

“But a holiday letter is no place to go into politics, so we’d rather share our wonderful news with you:  Mary is expecting our first child.  In fact, she is almost to term as we write this; wouldn’t it be ironic if our baby comes while we’re in Bethlehem?  From the great King David to humble young Joseph to our little one?  Now there’s a house and a lineage!  We know this news might surprise, and perhaps even shock you, as we are not yet wed; it certainly came as a surprise to us, and to be candid, Joseph is still trying to get his head around it.  No need to go into details – this is, after all, a family letter – but let’s just say he has good reason for his confusion.  Still, we are excited about welcoming our little Jesus.  Yes, he already has a name!  We know it’s not customary to have both a gender reveal and a name reveal before the baby even comes, but we have already chosen his name – or, more accurately, a name has been chosen for him.  Strangest thing; Mary has been having crazy dreams during her pregnancy, and she woke up one morning not too long ago with a vivid memory of angels and oracles. She dreamed that Gabriel came to her – yes, that Gabriel – and told her she was gravid before we even knew ourselves; and on top of this she dreamed that our baby’s name was going to be Jesus.  Which, when you think of it, is pretty odd, since there is no one named Jesus in either of our families.  She awoke shaken and upset, understandably so – who wouldn’t?  Neither one of us could believe the dream, so we went to see Mary’s dear and trusted cousin Elizabeth.  Elizabeth is not only older, she is also wiser, and we’ve come to know she can be trusted in even the most outrageous of circumstances.  It turned out to be the right thing to do; Elizabeth told us we should trust our dreams.  We had no way of knowing this at the time, but as it turns out, Elizabeth had been having similar dreams.  In fact she dreamed about her own son John before he was even born, the same way Mary did, so clearly Elizabeth knew a little something about dreams.  She encouraged Mary to believe what she had seen and heard, just as it had been told her, and it sounded to us like good advice.  And sure enough it wasn’t that long afterward that it became clear to us both that Mary was indeed expecting and we’re going to have a baby, and the shock of the dream gave way to excitement about our new family.  Jesus is a fine name.

“If only we had known back then that we would be so displaced and uprooted so close to Mary’s delivery.  There are literally hundreds of us migrants in this incredibly long caravan making our way to Bethlehem’s border.  Word has it that more than a few of them plan to remain in Bethlehem at the end of our trek, even after the census is complete:  although it isn’t much more than a village, Bethlehem offers so much more opportunity than many of them have.  We are among the fortunate, as Joseph has a trade and it’s a good one, but so many of our company live hand-to-mouth and can’t even provide for their own children – Bethlehem is truly a city of hope and represents a far better life for them than the hardscrabble ones they currently live.

“Of course, who knows what we will find when we get there?  Joseph says he knows of an inn that might have a room for us, but with so many people coming to the city at the same time, we are a little worried that there won’t be anything left by the time we get there.  And what happens then if the baby suddenly decides to come just then?  We can’t very well birth him in some random roadside barn, now can we!  Though we suppose, if it gets chilly, we can always use some of these rags we used to wrap the menorah to swaddle him and keep him warm.  Imagine:  the cloths that we’re using to wrap one kind of light soon to surround another, the light that our first baby will bring to our little world?  Hmm…  our little world.   Whatever kind of world is he coming in to?  We wonder about this often.

“But still, we know that the God of Israel who has always been near to us will be with us regardless of what the future holds.  And besides, it is the holidays, we have so much to celebrate, and we pray you do as well.  Please accept our best wishes for a chag Hanukkah sameach, or Happy Hanukkah, from our small but growing family to yours.”





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