If you will, take just a brief moment to be present. Look around you, taking in your surroundings. What things do you notice? What are the noises, the smells? Think about your drive or walk here this morning. Was it raining when you got up? Was the wind blowing?
Take a deep breath… right now… feel the air enter your lungs. Now exhale.
Look around you, at your friends, family, and neighbors. Look them in the eyes and smile!
Look down at your own hands. Notice your palms or the backs of your hands. See any new wrinkles? Mine have some marker on them from one of our sons’ drawings.
Look at all this stuff around us, all the things we often don’t take the time to notice—the air we’re breathing, the wrinkles on our own hands, the smile, look of worry, or day-dreaminess on the face of the person right next to us. The beauty of Christmas—the wonderful twelve days that we’re only five days into—is that, at its core, it is God saying, “I love all of this! And I love it so much that I’m going to send my very own self through Jesus not just to redeem and bring it all back into my favor… to forgive sins and recover humanity from the fall of Adam and Eve (whatever that means… that’s a whole separate sermon!), but also to be joined to it. Christmas is God through Jesus joining with creation. All of it. And when I say “all,” I think God truly means all.
Today we read from the Gospel of John with its beautiful and poetic language— “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But on Christmas Eve we read the birth narrative from Luke, where the first to hear about the Messiah’s birth from the Angels are the shepherds. In the time of Jesus, being a shepherd wasn’t the idyllic and romanticized profession we imagine it to be. Shepherds were dirty and were the outcasts of society. They were pretty low on the social hierarchy. Yet Jesus’ birth was announced to them. Not Harrod in his palace, or a rich merchant, or a politician with connections and influence, but rather to dirty outcasts.
And just last Sunday, the last Sunday of Advent, if you’ll remember, we heard Matthew’s pretty short account of Jesus’ birth. Matthew talks about how scandalous it was for Mary to be pregnant and unwed. Joseph knew it would be such a scandal that he was going to quietly end their engagement and walk away. Last week we talked about this quite a bit… think of how scandalous it is. “God” gets an unwed girl pregnant! If we didn’t know any better, we’d turn up our noses, maybe even look the other way when she walks down the sidewalk. Yet, that is where God chooses to make the Divine Self known!
All of this, I think, is God’s way of saying that Jesus’ birth on Christmas means that God loves and is joined to every part of this created realm, every single molecule of creation, every single person. No one has better access to God now and no one is left out.
We’re being reminded to regard the world—the environment, the air we breathe, the person next to us (even the ones that are so different that I can’t imagine them being loved by the same God who loves me), and even our own selves (including the parts we can’t love and can’t imagine God loving)—to look at it all and say, “God loves it all, and so I can, too.”
After today, we will be together just three more Sundays before my resignation takes effect. Naturally, I’m doing a lot of reflecting these days. I’ve been thinking especially about who St. Peter’s is called to be in this community and the voice you’ve discovered over the last several years. Today’s Gospel reading is all about Love that joined to the whole world. I am completely convinced that this is your calling in this town. This is what you’re good at. This is your true voice. This is a place where the all-encompassing Love made flesh in Jesus is known and shared, without regard to age, race, gender identity, sexuality, class, or socioeconomic status. Whether you’re housed or homeless, whether you’re sober or struggling with addiction, or whether you’re a Christian, a follower of another faith, a sometimes-believer, or someone who doesn’t believe at all. God’s love is for all, and you know that you’re called to tell people that. This is the identity that has made itself known these last several years.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And the Word is Love.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
(Hymnal 1982, #84)