In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Merry Christmas! Welcome to Christmas in July at your cathedral. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the Emmanuel, or “God with us.” We believe that Christ’s humble entrance into our complex world as a tiny, vulnerable baby, has power: but what is that power exactly
Today I’m going to focus on Luke’s gospel. The story of Mary and Martha is a well-known one. In our modern context, we often read with modern gender stereotypes. Although the text never says it, for example, we often place grumpy Martha in the kitchen, while devout Mary passively kneels at Jesus’s feet, listening to his teachings.
Yet Mary is at Christ’s feet along with his other disciples, who were mostly men, and was learning from him. In those days, it was rare and likely scandalous that Jesus was teaching women.
And as we see in verse 38, this is Martha’s home – Martha is the one welcoming Jesus. Luke is referencing house churches, which, as he writes in the book of Acts, were often run by powerful women. Scholars also note that the Greek word Luke uses for the work Martha is doing is the same word for the service of a deacon in the early church and the book of Acts. Like Mary, Martha is a disciple of Jesus.
Why then does Jesus appear to scold Martha? We see in verse 40 that Martha confronts Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Martha is upset with Mary, and instead of taking it up with Mary, she takes it up with Jesus. I’m reminded of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, who, although he has been working diligently, does not get the big celebration that his brother does. Martha seems to feel passed over by Jesus.
Jesus’ reply in verse 41 is very, very gentle. “Martha, Martha,” he says, “you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus isn’t scolding Martha for doing her work, the work of ministry. Jesus is instead giving her a gentle reproof: Martha is “distracted” by many things. In Greek, the word used here means to “be pulled (in all directions at once).” I don’t know about you, but that sounds familiar. Martha’s many acts of service have become her focus, leading to anxiety and resentment towards her sister. Instead of reaching out to Mary, she complains about her. Martha’s anxiety and resentment is threatening her relationship with both her sister and Jesus.
In the program I’m doing right now at Penn State Hershey Medical Center called Clinical Pastoral Education, we talk a lot about anxiety. And to be clear, it does make a lot of sense to feel anxious in our world and at a trauma hospital – it’s a stressful place. But what the program encourages us to explore is how our own anxiety keeps us from being present with those who are suffering and those we are serving. And is also asks us to consider the source of our anxiety. For many of us, including myself, that anxiety comes from a fear that we aren’t enough and a desire to prove our worth.
I think Jesus is saying to Martha, “I’m right here.” There’s a reason, after all, that shepherds left their flocks by night and wise men traveled from afar to come be by Jesus in the manger. “Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus says later in Luke’s gospel, “if God so clothes the grass of the field, how much more will he clothe you.”
The power of Christ’s humble incarnation is that we are enough. We are enough, because Christ is enough. In coming to us in the flesh, our flesh, God has invited us into relationship. God has revealed God’s self to us, and we are invited to kneel like Mary, at the side of the manger, at Christ’s feet, and at the foot of the cross.
“Mary has chosen the better part,” Jesus teaches us, it “will not be taken away from her.” It’s so easy to be distracted, even in the work of ministry, from what truly matters. How are we, like Mary, resisting the anxiety of this moment in our lives and staying focused on Christ’s teaching? And how are we, like Martha, bringing our fear and anxiety to Christ, and laying it at his feet.
On this day in mid-July, I want to leave us with the words of one of my favorite Christmas hymns, “In the Bleak Midwinter:” “What can I give him,/Poor as I am?/If I were a shepherd,/I would give a lamb;/If I were a wise man,/I would do my part;/yet what I can, I give him –/ [I] give him my heart.” Amen.
 Bovon, Francois, et al., “Martha and Mary (10:38-42),” Luke 2: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 9:51-19:27 (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2013): 70-71, Project MUSE: muse.jhu.edu/book/45978,
 Bovon, “Martha,” 70-71.
 Bovon, “Martha,” 70.
 Warren Carter, “Getting Martha out of the Kitchen: Luke 10:38-42,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58, no. 2 (April 1996): 272. https://0-search-ebscohost-com.librarycatalog.vts.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=lsdar&AN=ATLA0001013879&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
 Bovon, “Martha,” 71.
 Luke 2:8-20
 Matthew 2:1-12
 Luke 12:27-8
 Luke 10:42
 Christina Rossetti, “112: In the Bleak Midwinter,” The Hymnal, 1982: Service Music: According to the Use of the Episcopal Church, (New York: Church Hymnal Corp, 1985).