I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You!

Good morning. Or may I should say, “Happy Festivus!” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the world of Seinfeld, Festivus is a fictitious holiday; it’s celebrated on December 23rd and it’s supposed to be an antidote to the commercialism of the secular Christmas season. Of course, this being Seinfeld, it’s an absurd response to the situation. For instance, the Festivus celebration includes a section called “the airing of grievances,” in which the participants lay into one another, telling everyone else how they’ve been wronged. It goes something like this: “Beverly Dame, I’ve got a bone to pick with you!” No, not really. And I would never, ever call you out in front of the congregation or wag my finger at you, Bev. Well, unless it’s for a cheap laugh.

For the record, I would never, ever call any of you out in that way—it’s the most un-pastoral thing I can imagine. As your pastor, I’m called to love you; it’s actually part of my job. Shaming any individual member of this congregation like that is almost the opposite of love. So, trust me, if I tease anyone from the pulpit, I get their permission first.

Of course, that kind of shaming is at the heart of the “airing of grievances” in Festivus. That’s the absurdity of the premise and why it’s so funny. In theory, Festivus is a response to the over-commercialization of Christmas. But instead of creating an even that celebrates, say, love, joy, or peace, Frank Costanza created a holiday about shame and rage. It’s funny, because we experience these emotions, too, though we don’t always know what to do with them.

In this morning’s readings from the Gospel of Luke, Mary is also dealing with a lot of emotions, but she knows exactly how to handle them—she sings a hymn of praise to the Lord. She is filled with joy and gratitude for the presence of God and the child that she is carrying. God’s grace is being enacted in and through the baby in her womb.

Isn’t that a beautiful thought? Mary is literally carrying God’s mercy, bearing it into the world. Mary knew the truth about the child she was carrying, yet I think many people around her may have found Mary’s joy to be absurd. According to the scholar, John Dominic Crossan:

Jesus Christ was born around 4 BCE.2 This year was an unforgettable and challenging year for the Jews. When Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, Jews rebelled all over the land. The Syrian legions under the direction of Rome crashed the Jewish rebellions and burned the city of Sepphoris in Galilee and reduced its inhabitants to slavery.3 Jesus grew up in Nazareth about 4 miles from Sepphoris. Those who could not hide from the Syrian legions “were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived have lost everything.”4 [1]

It's impossible to know if Joseph and Mary witnessed this, but certainly they would have known what happened. Certainly, they knew the price of standing up to the Roman Empire.

Mary bore the shame of being pregnant before she was married. She would have seemed unworthy of the honor of carrying the Son of God. The Jewish people longed for deliverance from Roman domination. They were waiting for God to intervene. They bore the shame of defeat and they feared Roman violence. They wanted to repay that violence and restore their pride. Like Mary, they hoped that the world was about to turn. Yet we know that Jesus didn’t drive the Romans out. The idea of a savior that didn’t drive the Romans out would have seemed absurd to many people. But the coming of God’s kingdom is not brought about through violence, it comes through weakness, through a humble child born to an unwed mother. How crazy is that?

Speaking of crazy, I’ve heard a lot of people complaining that some radio stations won’t play the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” No lie, I’ve been involved in conversations about this song at least three times in the last two-and-a-half weeks. The conversation always goes something like this:

“Can you believe they won’t play ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ on the radio anymore? It’s ridiculous!”

“That’s absurd! Who would complain about song like that?”

“I know, right? They’ll complain about ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ but they don’t seem to mind that violent rap music.”

There’s never any resolution to this conversation, just a general sort of agreement that “they” have taken something away from the rest of us. “They” are rarely defined in these conversations, though I think “us” is usually everyone who’s in on the conversation. And perhaps “they” have taken away some of our joy in this season.

Let me confess my own bias in this situation. I like the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I like the harmony and the musical back-and-forth between the man and the woman in the song. But I don’t particularly enjoy the conversation about the song and why some radio stations choose not to play it. I think the conversation about the song is a symptom of our isolation from one another. When I hear this conversation, I hear Frank Costanza shouting: “I’ve got a bone to pick with you!”

Now let’s be honest: Do you really think that the same radio stations that play violent and explicit rap songs were going to occasionally play “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” until someone called to complain? And how do we know that the people who complain about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” are not also calling up radio stations to complain about violent or explicit rap music? In fact, we don’t know.

I have actually heard the other side of this conversation. I first heard it in seminary. A bunch of us were eating lunch one day. I was the only person in the group over the age of 40; I might have been the only man at the table. I was also the only person at that table who liked the song.

The young women at that table all said that when they heard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” they felt queasy. They described the song as “rapey.” They heard the man’s words as coercion. They weren’t sure that the woman in the song had the space to decide whether or not she wanted to stay the night. They felt that the man was a little too insistent.

I have to admit, I was taken aback. I’d never heard this complaint before. On that day, I’m glad to say that I had enough sense to listen. I didn’t try to debate the merits of the song or explain to these women why their response was misguided. I simply listened.

I listened because I know that one in four women will be assaulted or raped at some point in her life. This is not a new statistic. I learned this over twenty years ago. What is new is that more women are talking about their experiences now. Many women have chosen to come out of the shadows of shame and fear and share their pain. It’s not easy to hear their stories, but we must listen.

Listening is an act of love.

We get upset about a song like “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” because we like the song and we think that someone else has taken our joy away from us. We complain about the changing tastes of young people, and we pick a fight about a secular song. A song about a man who’s trying to convince a woman to spend the night. It’s not a song about the coming of a savior. The savior for whom we are to watch and wait in this season of Advent.

It’s clear, from our Gospel reading, that Mary isn’t having any difficulty watching and waiting for the coming of the Lord. Mary is rejoicing. She is responding to God’s love that’s literally growing inside of her. There’s a really important word in Hebrew, hesed. It has several translations, including loving kindness, steadfast love, and faithfulness. Even though she is poor and she bears the shame of pregnancy out of wedlock, she knows that she’s experiencing God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Mary knows that God is about to lift up His faithful servant, Mary. And so, she sings out in praise to God who uplifts the lowly and feeds the hungry with the best food. Mary doesn’t wait for the birth of the Messiah, she rejoices in anticipation; her faith compels her to act in the present, rather than the future. She asserts that because God has lifted her up, God will lift up all the lowly, all the outcasts. This is the culmination of the watching and waiting of Advent:

Advent reminds us of a critical component of faith—that faith is as much anticipation as it is response. That faith is not just looking forward to fruition and fulfillment, but [faith] finds ways to manifest the culmination of God’s promises in the present. That faith trusts in God’s future while at the same time insists on making God’s future present for all people.[2]

Yes, Advent is the season of watching and waiting. It’s the watching and waiting for the birth of the Messiah and it’s a time for reflection. It’s a time for us to figure out how we’re supposed to live into the hope, peace, joy, and love of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s a time for us to practice the hope, peace, joy, and love of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find and feel the love. Our feelings of hope, peace, and joy are easily shaken, and we’re all really good at wagging our fingers and saying, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you!” But that’s not how we restore hope or peace or joy or love.

We gain love by giving love. We restore hope, peace, and joy by practicing love. Remember, listening is an act of love. It doesn’t cost you any money to listen. Listening is a step on the path to reconciliation. So, listen to people who have different opinions from you. Women, listen to men. Men, listen to women—and I don’t mean, “yes, dear. Yes, dear.” Really listen. And most of all, listen to people from different generations. Seek to understand them, rather than persuade them. Show your love by listening. Thanks be to God. Amen!

Benediction

Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that God never turns away from us. Remember that in these uncertain times, we are called to watch and wait. Remember that the world is about to turn, and we are called to respond in faith. So, go forth and be instruments of God’s love and peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!

[1] John Dominic Crossan. God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. (New York: HarperOne, 2009), pp. 109-110. Paraphrased and quoted in Niveen Sarras, “Commentary on Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)” retrieved from: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3917


[2] Karoline Lewis, “Hardly Waiting,” retrieved from: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5267


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First Presbyterian Church of Freehold

732-462-0234

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118 West Main Street

Freehold, NJ 07728

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