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!”