Meanwhile, Instead, Anyway: Christmas, the Great Conjunction

Meanwhile, Instead, Anyway: Christmas, the Great Conjunction December 24, 2015

My high school English teacher–the one who showed me the wonders of eliminating ‘to-be’ verbs in favor of stronger action words, and the one who taught me to read for layers of meaning beyond the surface of the page–changed my life in the way teachers do sometimes. Just a few small nudges here and there, and the world of words opened to me in a whole new way. I’ve run into her a few times since high school, and she sent me a lovely flower arrangement on the day of my ordination. She was ‘that’ teacher for me, and remains a voice in my head when I’m writing or preaching.

That said, there was one thing she tried to teach me that I ignore, time and again, in my writing and preaching life– never begin a sentence with a conjunction. Or worse yet–a conjunctive adverb! Oh, the horrors of the conjunctive adverb, marching at the head of a phrase like she runs this piece.

Granted, it’s a good rule when writing something formal like a term paper or a reference letter or, I don’t know, a plea bargain. But for things like preaching and blogging–more conversational in tone–it is difficult, nay, impossible, to establish any sort of rhythm without the occasional offending capital And… aurora-borealis-69221_640

A friend of mine got some bad news this week. Nothing tragic or horrible like a cancer diagnosis or a death in the family.  Just a big disappointment. Like if you trained all your life for the Olympics, and then missed the gold medal by a fraction of a second. That kind of thing. It’s the sort of let down that closes a door on the ‘what’s next’ that you were almost certain of, and leaves instead a big question mark, hanging in mid-air.

Even as I feel sad for she and her family, I know that gold medal moment is still going to happen; just maybe in some other sport. Or at the next Olympics, a seemingly-impossible 4 years hence. This one closed door is just an invitation to a “Meanwhile,” “instead,” or an “anyway.”

When you think about it–isn’t that where all of our best stories begin? With a conjunction?

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Ceasar Augustus that all the world should be taxed… 

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered…

In fact, nearly every verse of Luke 2 begins with “And.” It gives the story we know so well a lilting rhythm–one that would almost rock us to sleep if it weren’t so full of twists and turns and surprises.

Meanwhile, there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night…

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared…

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road…

Meanwhile. Then. And, and, and, God is moving and working in all these spaces between. Crafting an alternate narrative in the darkness. Christmas is the great conjunction. The word–the conjunctive word made flesh, comes to dwell among us. A living reminder that the story is never over when we think it is. No closed door, no broken relationship, no bad news, no death–not even death–is ever the end of the story. With God, there is always a ‘meanwhile,’ ‘instead,’ or ‘anyway.’

Of course, the ‘meanwhiles’ that sound so hopeful today may come back to haunt us later.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. and Mary Magdalene…

Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear…

Many of us will gather in candlelit sanctuaries tonight to hear the blessed “ands” and “anyways” that mean love has been born among us. While we’re there, we may also gather at tables hear those darker “meanwhiles” and “insteads.” Words of body broken and blood spilled; a moment to grieve the violence of the world, and the word crucified. We may take that bread and drink that cup, the bitterness of closed doors and dying hope. But. We take, and we remember, that love comes to us as a child, and plans to stay for awhile. And that, anyway, there is always another meanwhile.

Like a meanwhile, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw… 

What did she see? Nothing much. An empty hole in the earth, it seems. Because even that was not the end. Because once the word is born among us, it finds a way to stay. Meanwhile, instead, anyway, it will change course again and again, and find a way to cling to us and shape us and spin us into the still-unfolding story. The greatest run-on sentence in the history of the world.

And the darkness did not overcome it.

 

 

 

 

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