To carry a child. What must that feel like? Having never had this experience, I marvel at Mary each and every Advent season. So young, so innocent, and so unsuspecting-she was chosen to carry the Christ-child. How unlikely! The God of Surprises taps the most ordinary, unimpressive of people to give birth to the most extraordinary and impressive of all beings ever to grace the planet. It just doesn’t make sense, does it? How is it that a poor, unwed, teenaged, Palestinian girl was the one God picked?
And can you imagine how Mary felt? The utter shock! Visited by an angel and informed that she, despite the fact that she was a virgin, would carry and give birth to a child who would change the course of history... she had to have been terrified and confused. For what must have been many long months of pregnancy-waiting, wondering, and watching her body and spirit change, Mary received the news of the angel with grace and faith. Somehow, she trusted. She may not have understood-how could she? She may not have been necessarily ready to accept the news, either. But she found it within herself to show up, somehow capturing the vision God had for her and the life she was now carrying inside her very womb. To put yourself in Mary’s position is a profound act of spiritual discernment.
Perhaps this is the process of Advent. To come to an understanding that just as God chose the most unlikely of candidates to usher in a new era, so God does throughout history. Only this time, this Christmas, it’s us God has chosen. It is actually us that God has picked to carry the Christ-child. It is us God has tapped on the shoulders, kissed on the foreheads, and lovingly looked into our incredulous eyes and said, “You’re it.”
What are you carrying deep within? How are you nurturing that which you feel growing inside of you that is just what God needs you to offer the world? What are you about to give birth to? What are the contributions and gifts that you and only you have been called to bring to life?
The miracle of Christmas is not Mary’s alone. The miracle of Christmas is about you and me. It is about all of us carrying and caring for the Christ-child and all that represents: hope, peace, joy, and love. These are the miracles of Christmas that each of us have been created and called to bring to life. Just as our sister Mary was called to do, so long ago, in a poverty-stricken village where no one would have ever expected the Prince of Peace, the Savior, the Christ, to have been conceived.
For if you listen closely, you, too, will hear the voices of angels whispering to you, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...for nothing is impossible with God.” Nothing at all is impossible with God. Talk about Good News!
That’s the kind of Good News that deserves to be shouted from rooftops and mountaintops-the only Good News that has the power to shift the course of history, make enemies friends, extend grace and life in all its abundance, and transform fear into Love. This is the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ-whose example of Light and Love we have been offered and have been given all we need to carry it into a world that so terribly needs it. This is the Good News that Week of Compassion offers our sisters and brothers in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan; youth in Pakistan who are now receiving a peace education; indigenous communities in the Chaco Region of South America who now have clean water; and families in Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri, and New York who have been accompanied back to some semblance of a normal life after experiencing tremendous loss, tragedy, and devastation. In the midst of constant human suffering and need, Week of Compassion is Good News embodied. This ministry is a miracle in and of itself, because those who contribute to it profoundly understand that our offerings enable miracles. They are miracles in the lives of those who receive them, who have also been created and called by God to carry the Christ-child, to bring something beautiful to birth, and to contribute to a world that is also theirs.
In the past eight and a half years of my ministry with Week of Compassion, I have met many-a-Mary. I have met the poorest of the poor. I have traveled to places where, at first glance, it seems as though the darkness has won out over the light. And then I looked closer-to encounter the people inside those dark places, only to find that it was them whose light never allowed the violence, oppression, and suffering to overcome them. Instead, it only made them stronger. They have taught me what it means to live a life of faith, completely surrendered to God, and to wholeheartedly trust in the God who chooses, over and over again, those whom the world rejects.
I dedicate this, my last update as Executive Director of Week of Compassion, to the Marys of the world. There are no words to express my gratitude to them for teaching me that there is truly nothing-nothing-impossible with God. Their capacity to love in the midst of hate, to forgive in the midst of war, to hope in the midst of despair, and to dance in the midst of suffering have changed me forever.
I also thank you, our steadfast and faithful friends and supporters. You make miracles happen. Truly. It has been the honor and profound privilege of my ministry and life thus far to serve alongside you. As I continue my ministry of compassion with our primary partner organization, Church World Service, I am able to let go only because of the tremendous staff colleagues and friends I have been blessed to work with: the Rev. Brandon Gilvin, my associate, the Rev. Dawn Barnes, our administrative assistant, and the Rev. Johnny Wray, our resource development associate. As I take my leave now, Johnny will serve as your Acting Interim Director until a new Executive Director is called this next spring. Needless to say, this is a somewhat bizarre, intense, and emotional season for me. At the end of my every day, it is the response of Mary to the angel Gabriel that I hope also to faithfully and passionately utter, whether as Minister of Compassion or elsewhere: “I am the Lord’s servant.”
I love this denomination with all my heart and soul, and could not be more proud to have served what I consider to be its shining star: Week of Compassion. Please know that your gifts not only change lives, they often save lives. My most earnest prayer and hope is that this ministry continues to give birth to miracles the world over, and that we never doubt that with God, nothing at all is impossible.
May you and yours celebrate the miracle of birth this Christmas season, and may you receive the most profound gratitude and love this outgoing Minister of Compassion can offer you...
Your friend and servant,
The Rev. Amy Gopp Vigne
December 19, 2013
This week's responses:
Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Illinois, Tornado Damage (2)
Iraq, Church Flooding