Servant of the Lord
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
As you know, there are four Sundays in Advent. You may have noticed a general pattern of the readings over the years. On the first Sunday of Advent, the gospel passage is a prophecy about the coming day of the Lord, reminding us that Advent is not only a season of expectation of the birth of baby Jesus, but also expectation of the second coming of Christ. The second Sunday focuses on the ministry of John the Baptist. The third Sunday compares John the Baptist and Jesus. And the fourth Sunday focuses on Mary.
While Christians have widely differing views of Mary, there is no argument that she was a woman of bold obedience and faith.
This last weekend I was able to celebrate the lives of two other women of bold obedience and faith.
Geraldine Marks is celebrating her 103rd birthday this Wednesday, so friends were invited to come visit her home yesterday. Mrs. Marks has been a faithful leader of South Hills Presbyterian Church for generations; even during the last weeks at South Hills, her smiling presence was constant and inspiring. Thanks to Piccola Ford-Levine and email, the people of South Hills still have a connection, and they gather and share news of the family on occasion.
Even as she nears 103, Mrs. Marks was alert and gracious, enjoying chocolates, reminiscing about South Hills, and advising young adult women who grew up at the church. I was reminded again of a comforting assertion by Rev. Ivan Walks’ son, that the ministry of South Hills is no longer contained in the building on Fremont Street, but it continues through the lives of all its members—and all the generations they raise.
But speaking of the building, since Mrs. Walks lives a few blocks from the church, I went by to see how it’s doing. I saw a member of the new church working in the yard, the buildings nicely repaired and painted. As a couple of South Hills leaders have commented, they are comforted that the building has passed on to another spiritual community, even though they are not Christian.
On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at Arcadia Community Church to give thanks for the life of Maha Hakim. This day was marked by tears as well as praise, for Maha was an incredible leader of Arabic Evangelical Church who died after being hit by a car. Maha’s ministry was focused on children and youth, but she was known as a can-do person, one of those women who are critical for any church ministry, because she got things done, with faith and with love.
Though I didn’t know her personally, I knew of Maha because she was the lead organizer for a children’s camp that Arabic Evangelical offers each summer. In these camps, hundreds of kids, mostly from families who had recently come to Southern California from the violence in the Middle East, gather and see that they aren’t alone, and they can connect with each other and with God in a safe, fun and supportive environment.
But of course, this was just one small part of Maha’s ministry. Story after story was shared on Saturday about her outreach not only with children and youth at Arabic Evangelical, but also in the world—one of the speakers was a Latino pastor who shared in Spanish about his partnership with Maha and her family to share the Gospel with children of all backgrounds.
Surely Maha’s love for children and her God have been magnified in the lives of her family, her church, and especially all the children and youth who have come to know the love of Jesus Christ through her. My heart goes out to her husband and three children, her extended family including pastor Hisham Kamel, and Arabic Evangelical Church. There will continue to be the question of how this woman of God could be taken from us in the prime of her life. While this question was acknowledged in her memorial service, the overwhelming message was affirmation that Maha is now welcomed into heaven, at one with the Lord. I ask for your prayers for Arabic Evangelical Church, and especially for the young ones who will miss Maha so much.
As we honor these women by name, there are countless others whose love goes unrecognized. Tomorrow evening, there will be a memorial service at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena to honor and acknowledge their lives and membership in the human family. Also, LAC+USC Chaplain Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs-Zehnder shared photos from a service on December 5th, when the remains of 1,467 people were laid to rest in the county cemetery. These people died in 2015 but their bodies were never claimed by a family member or acquaintance. You can find her reflection on the service, and also a list of ways you can help patients of the LAC+USC Chaplaincy, here.
As we continue in this holy season, let us give thanks for the women of faith who have answered God’s call to service, including Mary, and Gerry Marks, and Maha Hakim, and all the women who serve so faithfully in your church and your life. As we celebrate the holidays, let us show care and comfort for those whose grief throws a shadow on the festivities all around us. And always, always, always, let us stay focused on the hope that the baby Jesus brings to this hurting world. Let us all, as servants of the Lord, let it be with us, according to God’s word.
In the love of Christ,