Give us ears to hear your voice, give us feet to follow your paths, give us hearts to share your love. Amen.
This is only my second service back after having had 3 ½ months of sabbatical, and I’m still a little shell shocked and excited to be with you on this holy, holy night.
It is a holy night.
That’s not a word we use so casually in our regular conversation, but it bears reclaiming. Christmas is the time in our life together as Christians that we are really told, in no uncertain terms, that our lives are holy and our world is holy.
We have some strange ideas about holiness. We think that holiness is maybe just for other people. We think that holiness is maybe just for people who pray all the time, or give all their money to charity, or at the very minimum do “more”—more what, we’re not sure, but more than us anyway. We’re not quite sure we make the cut.
Maybe it’s our Western achievement-oriented culture. We want to prove things, have it all listed out in tidy rows and spreadsheets, wanting certain knowledge. Maybe it’s our own collective insecurity, or maybe it’s a deep, deep sorrow at the state of the world and a hopelessness about effecting positive change. Maybe it’s just our own brokenness that can’t see a way out.
The good news is that we don’t have to find a way out. Christmas is not yet another thing that we have to do, adding it to the list and trying to find a way through.
And Christmas is not just about holiness far away, a good girl and her polite husband. Holiness is about us, in all of the messiness of our lives and all the ways we aren’t quite sure we make the cut. Against our own best advice, maybe, that’s where God insists on going.
God will not stay far away.
God is closer than we can imagine, intimately joined to us in our sleeping and our waking, our prayer and our protest. It has always been so—in the Gospel of John we hear how Jesus as the Word was spoken by God from the beginning, woven into us from our birth. We were made in the image of that holiness. We are part of God and God is part of us. So the birth of Jesus isn’t so much a hinge in time as it is a recentering. We remember who we are.
We remember who we are, and we remember what we are capable of. That we are able to work with God as partners in healing this world. That the work of bringing Jesus Christ to birth is our job as well. When I was travelling two weeks ago in East Africa, I met Jesus again and again.
I met him in the matriarchs of the Cathedral in Korogwe, Tanzania, where we were treated to a multi-course feast of chicken, beef, fish, ugali corn, greens, fruit, and more on the first day we were in town, bleary from days of travel. I met him in the people of the church in Amboni, in a diocese with no women priests, when I was not only invited to preach and give out communion, but—hysterical laughter enjoyed by all—handed a live chicken in thanks for my service. I met Jesus in Ann, a single woman with a transcendent smile, not much older than I who runs the children’s sponsorship program for the Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation, who in the course of her six years with the organization has adopted seven foster daughters, from the age of one to nineteen. Her one year old was abandoned at three days of age.
I met Jesus when I got home, in our fellow traveler Colin, who was in Tanzania with us but didn’t stay for the Uganda part, who came to the airport to welcome us and see if anyone needed a ride. I met Jesus in Pree, a two year old who fell asleep on my shoulder as we were visiting the mobile health clinic in Kasese, who was tired and sick and whose parents had had to leave her in the care of her six and eight year old brothers.
From the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, to the tin shacks of Kasese, Uganda, to well-manicured suburban lawns, to practical two family homes, from pavement to rain forest, God comes to us and God says come, here, with me, I need your hands here.
Through sorrow and joy, through tears and elation, through hilarity and laughter and desperation and suffering, God comes to us.
If God chose a barn to be born in. If God chose a young woman who wasn’t even married yet. If God’s coming to us was announced by social nobodies like shepherds, how can we assume that God has somewhere better to be than with us? How can we assume that the birth of Christ is for judgment, rather than for generosity?
We are God’s people. God may have chosen to create better people, or smarter people, or more attractive ones. But we’re it. From sketchy shepherds to scared teenagers, to everyone in between we’re it.
God comes to all of us, and God comes to all of us. We don’t have to be powerful. We don’t have to be well-behaved or strong or have all the answers.
Because this is a holy night. This is a holy place. And God is here.