God With Us
Author's Note: As we close out Advent, when we so quickly determine what’s our legal right or what we’re owed or what “the Bible really says” when, after all, we’re just simply too quick to judge. In these days where we must affirm #BlackLivesMatter, where we must stand up for victims of rape and abuse, and where we must struggle with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers for full inclusion, sermons like this are humbly offered.
We know the Christmas story well.
Those of us that have grown up with regular, annual, church-going rhythms — we essentially hear this story once a year.
Even so, those with no regular church commitments — people from all walks of life, people of faith or no particular faith, people from varied faiths — if you asked your friend, your neighbor, your cousin, a stranger on the street, I bet at least 50 percent of the time they’d be able to share the gist of the story:
Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary.
Mary was married to a guy (named Joseph).
There were angels, and wise men, and shepherds.
And I think there was a manger.
We know this story well.
But we hear it so often it becomes rote — literally a mechanically, automatically, mindlessly routine on repetition in our brains.
Yeah, yeah, yeah — 6lb 8oz baby Jesus, in a manger, Virgin Mary, Adopted Dad Joseph, sheep, shepherds, angels, stars at night, wise men, white Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer …
You get my point.
So, let’s hear the story one more time and lean in a bit to this wild world of dreams, angels, and ancient Jewish marriage contracts.
Emmanuel shows up on our front porch about once a week. His name means “God with us,” but if there’s anyone on the planet who appears to have been forgotten by the Divine, It’s him. He stands at about 5’4″ and has maybe a handful of teeth left. when he speaks, I catch about half of what he says, but there’s a childish innocence in his eyes that betrays the years of hard living he has endured since then.
Sometimes he offers to do work; sometimes he asks for food. Usually he just wants money. I’ve written before about my struggles with this, as the controlling side of me wants to have a hand in how he spends “my” money. This particular day, he’s looking for fifteen dollars for rent.
“I told you you had to get clean before I’d give you any money man,” I shook my head. “I can give you some food.”
“I’m clean, sir, I’m clean,” he always calls me that, even though he’s nine years older than I am. He was speaking more clearly than usual and his eyes were unusually bright. “Come with me sir. If you’ll drive me to the Catholic Woman’s house, she’ll tell you I’m clean.”
I’m not sure we can quite get our heads around the latest ‘war’ being waged in the United States – the ‘war on Christmas’.
Visions of the 101st Airborne heading towards the North Pole abound. Anti-reindeer defense weapons, covert elf anti-merriment operatives and a unilateral ban on all copies of A Christmas Carol (in its various media iterations)? Is that what we have come to?
Surely — and thankfully — not, but given some of the rhetoric that is thrown around in the media at this time of year, you might be forgiven for thinking so!
Given that most reporting about religion in the UK and Europe usually includes the phrase “an increasingly secular country," you might think that the "war on Christmas" back on the old sod is even more sustained and sophisticated than in the United States.
Picture heavily fortified nativity scenes being assaulted by atheist flash mobs chanting “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” if you will.
Well, I’m sorry to tell you that I’ve yet to witness such a terrifying scene on the streets of London.
I love the lights and the love, which somehow seems a little easier during this season. Most of all I love the message: God made flesh, becoming human, and dwelling among us.
Our giving and receiving of gifts is most of all a reminder of the good gifts that God has already given to us. There is an old Sunday School saying that goes, "You can’t out give God."
No matter how much we give to those around us, it can never match the Light of the World entering into the darkness to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us, is the gift that can’t be out given.
In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, don’t forget that. And don’t forget the people that you are especially thankful for.