I was honored when Rev. Hong Phally invited me to preach at her church on December 26th, which was only the second time I have preached here and the first time for me to preach almost entirely in Khmer (Hong Phally helped me with specific words and a bit more at the end when I started getting tired, but I was pleased that the congregation seemed to understand me). I reflected on the preparations that Mary made to welcome the baby Jesus.
There are many children in Cambodia (over 50% of the population is 20 years old or younger), and of course there are many preparations to be made in anticipation of a baby. Yet the Christmas story is so strange, I feel quite a bit of pity for Mary and Joseph and Jesus about the situation where they found themselves, and thinking about this story brings up the feelings of pity I have for the families I work with in Cambodia.
Pity is a very strong cultural emotion in Cambodia and it is evoked in many conversations I have here. Reading the following poem by John Donne got me thinking about this question of why I feel pity. I am inspired by Mary, who did not feel ashamed by her situation but rather rejoiced in her opportunity as she sings the Magnificat. She couldn't prepare a lot of "things" for the birth, but she prepared her heart and she was not ashamed by her situation to invite God into her place. We too can take inspiration from Mary to prepare our hearts, to not feel ashamed but to do what we can with who we are and what we have.
Immensity, cloister'd in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come.
But O ! for thee, for Him, hath th' inn no room ?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from th' orient,
Stars, and wise men will travel to prevent
The effects of Herod's jealous general doom.
See'st thou, my soul, with thy faith's eye, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie ?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee ?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
~John Donne (1572-1631)