I could tell just by the look on her face that she carried the weight of her world.
Only a few minutes earlier I had been sitting in my office when I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and looked out to see a family standing in the church hallway. A father, mother, three young children (two still in diapers) and a young girl. She was maybe 13 or 14 years old and stood holding the youngest child on her hip with a well-practiced stance.
“Hey Pastor…” the father spoke. “We need some help. We’ve got a doctor’s appointment for the kids, and we don’t have anywhere for them to shower before we go. Can we shower here?”
But his calm question and request were met almost immediately with anger from the mother.
“We gotta hurry!” she yelled, “So can we do it or not?”
“Of course,” I replied. “It’s right in there…” pointing to the women’s bathroom which houses a single shower.
Her response was immediate and almost vicious. “Quit screwing around goddamit and lets go!” she yelled at the two smallest children playing tag in the hallway. She wheeled around to face the young girl holding the baby. “Go get them in there and stop standing around!”
The young girl paused if only for a moment…and then went to work. Back and forth she went, between the car and the bathroom, carrying towels, clothes and shoes. Guiding her brothers and sisters in and out of the bathroom while laying out clothes for all of them. Yet all the while her mother screamed, ranted and just seemed to be absolutely overwhelmed by the simple task of showering the children.
I closed my office door thinking my presence might be adding to the mothers anxiety, but could still hear the chaos and commotion. The mother constantly yelling and cursing at anyone who crossed her path amidst the turbulence of having to guide three children through the straightforward work of getting them washed and dressed.
Finally I heard the silence start to return. The footsteps quieted and I went outside to see the family putting items back in their car while the mother continued to yell. But then, just as they had gotten inside, one last demand to the young girl from the mother- “DAMMIT! You forgot the towel! Go get it!” The girl ran past me and grabbed a towel, but as she returned…she stopped. It was only for a moment. But she stopped in the middle of this whirlwind of harshness, pressure and weight that was her life and world surrounding her and she turned around.
“Thank you” she said. I could tell by the look on her face that she carried the weight of her world, but still in that moment, she alone stopped to say thank you. She hurried back to the car and they drove down the alley towards whatever future may wait for them. And I prayed for this family living on the edge of society, and I prayed for the young girl who carried that family. I prayed for her as one who carried gratitude, strength and hope in a way that I could never dream.
This happened all in November of last year, but this week I could not help but remember her again as I read the story of young Mary in preparation for the sermon. In our passage for Sunday, we hear of how Mary, likely a young girl around the age of 15, is told that she holds the weight of the world. She is pregnant but she will be known as carrying a child that is not her husband’s, and that child who will have a life that will bring her great sorrow at his death. But this child is also the Messiah, and the one in whom all the hopes of the world will rest. Mary, a young woman, must be the one to carry gratitude, strength and hope in a way I could never dream.
As we prepare for worship and our last Sunday of Advent, I hope that we are prepared to hear the good news in this story. As we hear the story of Mary, let us remember she is also a reminder and symbol to us about how hope is often found in those who most need it. Like Mary and this young girl, hope perhaps stirs most strongly in those who are carrying the most weight for themselves or the world around them. I hope in our story of the young child Mary that we are prepared to hear the eternal message of God-in-Christ Jesus…that God is always with those who are in need. We’ll see you on Sunday.