God is on the move

Merry Christmas!  I’m reveling in lazy late-morning coffee, flannel pajamas and a little fire going, while Frank croons his best Christmas carols.  Not a bad Christmas morning for a preacher lady!

I hope today brings you light and hope in the particular way you most need it.

Our Christmas Eve candlelight communion service at Cameron (holy alliteration, Batman!) was powerful.  Church at Christmas might not be your thing, but if it happens to be and you’d like to read my sermon from last night I’ve put it below.  May God bless each of you today, and always.

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“Moving into the Neighborhood”
Christmas Eve 2013
Cameron Presbyterian Church

John 1:1-15 (The Message paraphrase)

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
  The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by;
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light;
he was there to show the way to the Light.
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten.
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
 Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.  John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

Sermon: “Moving into the Neighborhood”

Moving is a stressful business.  It begins calmly enough – with things neatly packed in clearly labeled boxes.  The dishes are lovingly wrapped in paper, the books are piled like soldiers stacked one next to the other, perhaps even by genre if you’re feeling whimsical.  Yes, it begins just fine.

But then you reach The Point of No Return.  You know what I mean, that point when you start stuffing clothes into the washer and dryer because you’ve run out of boxes, or when you contemplate whether or not it’s time to part ways with your great-grandmother’s heirloom.  Your thinking becomes as tired as your sore muscles, and the idea of gasoline and a match is suddenly worryingly appealing.

Yes, moving is not for the feint of heart (or fond of fire).

In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1, The Message, Eugene takes some liberties with how we usually hear this passage.  Rather than saying, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” he says instead, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

Now if we think packing up our possessions to move to a new place is complicated, the notion of God taking on flesh and blood and moving into this world as a human being is exceedingly so.  Perhaps this is why this messenger John was so very necessary: to put the bewildering reality of the incarnation in language folks could understand and connect with.

And so he said things like Jesus is the Word of God: the inner thoughts, the spoken truths of the divine.  That Word was first vocalized with “Light” in Genesis and so all of creation tumbled out of that first utterance.  John says that in Jesus, this always-existing Word, is the Light of Life, a light that darkness can never overcome.

We may not be able to wrap our minds or hearts around the power of that first word Light spoken at creation, but we can see stars in the velvety darkness of a night sky and know that God’s Light is there.  We can feel the first flickers of hope when our souls have seemed to be lingering in the darkness of despair for far too long.  We can watch the face of one we love light up when they see us, and know that the One who first spoke Light into being has never stopped bringing it.

And so, if our messenger John just left us with Light, it would be enough. We could ponder the power and beauty of God’s light in our lives, and find hope.  But you see, that was not enough for John, because that was not enough for God. 

God wasn’t content to just loiter in our world, to pop in every now and then for a cup of coffee and a chat.  God was intent on packing up all of that Light into a too-small flesh and blood human baby.  What began as abstract poetry from John suddenly becomes a bit too close for comfort.

This Word – who always was – dimmed his own light in order to enter into the world as one of us, taking on flesh and blood.  And not Renaissance art porcelain, pale flesh and blood.  No, this Word chose to be born to a scared Middle Eastern teenager, who barely made it to that smelly barn in time.  Flesh and blood: crying, shivering, dusty, real, us, them, human.

And if our messenger John left it there, it would be enough.  We could ponder the humanity of this divine Word for all of our days, and never exhaust the search to understand it.  This flesh-and-blood God could have been born into a situation of glory and power, into a wealthy family and kept appropriately separate from the rabble of this world.  But that was not enough for God, and so it was not enough for John.  God had to become flesh and blood and then move into the neighborhood.

This God refused to be contained in the places of the powerful and religious, but instead burst forth in scandalous solidarity with the poor, the wanderer and the sinner.

And so the message of John those many, many years ago is still our message tonight.  Christmas means that the Word of God who always was, who lit the world with glory, dimmed that Light to become fragile flesh-and-blood and move into the neighborhood.

It’s not enough to say a little baby Jesus was born at Christmas.  It’s not even enough to say God became human to save our souls.  God became flesh-and-blood to save our souls, absolutely, but also to save our neighborhoods, our refugee camps, our shopping malls our battlefields and our quiet places of desperation.

Christmas is at its heart the story of a great scandal: that in Jesus Christ, God chose to become human, not that we might understand God’s divinity better, but that we might finally see what it actually is to be flesh-and-blood ourselves.  To see the fragility and beauty of this fleeting life, to embrace the hunger and thirst of our human siblings as our own, to transform neighborhoods of poverty and plenty into dwelling places for God’s light.

Moving is not an easy business.  Allowing God to move not just into our hearts, but also into our neighborhoods, this Christmas, is far more difficult than packing a few boxes.  It means letting go of those heirlooms of bigotry and fear we no longer need.  It means tenderly wrapping our every single word and action with the incarnate love of God.  It means unpacking the glory of God bit-by-bit as we shine light in the darkness of those who feel alone, afraid or that they don’t matter.

God didn’t move into the neighborhood because God was bored, or wanted to be closer to the beach.  This was always God’s plan, from that first word of Light at creation to the light of a guiding star in Bethlehem.  God was – and is – on the move!  We are not alone.  Amen.

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