Rev. Jimmy Pickett
Christmas Propers III - Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14
+What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wiseman I would do my part; yet what I can I give him- I give my heart. In the name of Emmanuel, God with us. Amen+
“We have all known the long loneliness…” These words of the prophet Dorothy Day ring true today, just as they did 90 years ago when she founded the Catholic Workers, and still even in that little town of Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. This holy night shines with a bright light, yet it is like every other night. There is a profound sadness throughout the world this night, even in the little town of Bethlehem, where celebrations of this great Feast are quiet and somber, yet hopeful in the midst of fear. In many ways, this Christmas is much like that first Christmas when an exhausted family, after a challenging year, was suddenly surprised by love beyond measure. The loneliness and fear of the Holy Family was in that moment transformed and that cold and empty barn became a home for a night, even if that night was fleeting. The Presence of God in the face of another human caused love to pour out the door and fill the streets with neighbors who may not have even known each other's names the night before. No matter where you have been this year, no matter where you will be tomorrow, tonight you are here in this building that is made holy by the Light of God shining in the face of another human.
This year, we don’t hear Luke’s familiar and comforting story of the little baby in the manger, surrounded by the animals, shepherds, and angels in the time of the registration under Emperor Agustus. Instead we hear John’s testimony of Word and Light becoming Flesh. Many scholars like to pick on John, saying that Jesus tends to float through the Gospel, never really touching the ground. But tonight we hear quite the opposite! That Word that lovingly spoke Creation into being and that Light that shines bravely and boldly against all the heartbreaking chaos of the world, becomes Flesh (slap shoulder)! The God of all things, out of love at hearing our outcry, became one of us! Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed through the simple and tangible material things that give us human creatures comfort. I am Light, so that you can see those you love. I am the Gate, protecting you. I am the Good Shepherd, leading you beside still waters and comforting you when you’re afraid. I am the Resurrection, I promise you will see them again. I am the Way, so you will never be lost or alone. I am the Vine and the Bread, you will never be hungry or thirsty when you gather together with your neighbors because I am with you.
Yet we have all known the long loneliness and this night is like any other night. Tonight we will have the chance to hold in our hands the one who has held us from the beginning. One line of a hymn from the monastic tradition speaks to the particular holiness of this night “O wondrous interchange, the creator of humanity taking on a living body, willed to be born of Mary, coming forth into the world as a human, has made us partakers of Divinity”. As we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist, we are united to this wondrous interchange, we become partakers in this Divinity and that Word and that Light of God shines through us, we are fed in order to feed others. The miracle of the Incarnation is that all the beauty and sorrow, the joy and pain, the fellowship and yes the loneliness of life, is felt and known deeply by our God.
No matter what this year, or all the years of your life have thrown your way, know that you have come to this night as one who is beloved. In her Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Nowrich has a vision where she meets Jesus and she tries to cover her body, because she is ashamed of what life had done to her. She is ashamed of the scars and the brokenness because the world told her she should be ashamed, but Jesus gently moves her arm and says your scars are beautiful because they are proof that you lived. As you come forward for Communion tonight, know that God is touching you with the same motherly tenderness that touched Julian in her vision and behold in that little piece of bread what you are and become that same incarnate love for someone else this season.
Just a few nights ago, on the longest night of the year, I was reminded of how simple it can be to share this light of love incarnate. I had been sitting in my living room, reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, when out of the deep blue depth of that long night I got a message from a friend I haven’t seen in months. It was simple “Hey! Totally last minute impromptu, we’re holding a longest night of the year Compline, here’s the zoom link”. A simple gift. Light shone through the lonliness of that longest night as friends from up and down the east coast, from Massachusetts to Florida, came together to bear witness to that Word made Flesh. We shared stories and laughed and prayed and spent an hour together even though we were all incredibly busy with Christmas preparations. But that’s what Jesus does, breaking into the busyness, and the ordinary, and the lonely, and the day to day moments of life, to reveal the Love of God in the face of another person.
I want to leave you with the closing quote from Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness to reflect on throughout our Christmastide celebrations. “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.”
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and it all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on. Amen.
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