Christmas Day (Year A, Year B, Year C)
I want to apologize to you for three things.
One is my not posting before now. I've been working seven days a week of late, and often double shifts (e.g., yesterday I worked from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.). Some folks here have been very generous, and several have ordered Guitar Center gear through me, and that's a huge help for which I'm deeply grateful. But it's clear that it's going to take a lot of hours to get me to the General Convention of my denomination (The Episcopal Church) this July -- a hugely (for me) expensive proposition, with plane fare, a hotel room for nearly , and meals (I plan to borrow a toaster or microwave oven and mini-fridge so I don't have to eat out as often, but a lot of work gets done over meals out as well). This season is the busiest of the year for Guitar Center, so this is my best chance to try to get a little ahead of things fiscally before the inevitable slowdown after Christmas.
Another is that I want to apologize if this post seems rushed. It is! This has been my first chance to sit down to write, even though I've had the ideas formed for some time. I've only got about an hour to write, but it's now or never if I want to be helpful to Christmas preachers -- which I very much want to be!
And a third is that I want to apologize if there's anything goofy-looking with fonts and whatnot in the post. TypePad, the system I use for SarahLaughed.net, has made some improvements and added features. This has changed the interface I use to compose entries, and I haven't had the time to read up on the changes.
I appreciate your patience, support, and encouragement.
P.S. -- Now I've spent forty minutes of that hour I had to write on the phone with six different people about such fun matters as a recent car accident I had (a fender-bender, so I'm not seriously injured, and the accident was entirely not my fault, as I was sitting in my parked car at the time) and various medical matters. Geez. I'll do the best I can with an entry now, and will add to it if I have a chance.
Most of the congregations I've served have consisted mostly of people for whom the system -- the way our world is ordered -- has worked, or seemed superficially to work, quite well. They had lovely homes in good school districts, lucrative jobs, and a strong sense that if they worked hard enough, they and their children would have be securely successful.
Christianity was known early on as a religion of women and slaves though, and it was a stereotype not entirely inaccurate: Christianity appealed deeply to those who felt the way the world was ordered shut them out of power, honor, and success as the world defined it. Jesus and his earliest followers proclaimed a message that the order of this world is passing away, and a new one that was already breaking through the old in spots would eventually or even soon become reality for all the world. The poor would be honored above the rich. No one would have need, as those who had resources would share them with those who had fewer, or none. The sharing represented in the Eucharistic meal, small gatherings in which people from nations traditionally in enmity and from classes of people normally shut out from the banquets of the privileged would soon be sitting down together -- rich and poor, female and male, slave and free -- to share meals as sisters and brothers with one another, would become a way of life throughout all of life for all people. Everything -- the whole world -- was already changing, and would change completely.
This was and is profoundly Good News. It's not surprising that those who most easily saw just how good this news was were the poor, outcast, and powerless. Who wants change when things are working as they are? And so came the difficult task of the prophet, to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."
But a lot fewer people are comfortable this Christmas. For some reason, people I come across in daily life -- on buses, trains, and plains, in line at the grocery store, and so on -- often start telling me their stories, or even asking for prayer, even when I'm not wearing or carrying any kind of religious symbol or book.
This year, working in retail at Guitar Center during the Christmas season, I've heard a lot of heartbreaking stories. I've heard families huddling in the store for conversation about what each of them might give up and what groceries they could do without to still get a guitar to bring joy to one musician in the family who'd sacrificed a great deal to help the family get through when one or more members lost their jobs, or the investments upon which they'd depended on for retirement dropped within weeks to a third or less of their former value.
A great many others are anxious about their future. Companies are laying off workers in great numbers, and it's not just unskilled or low-level workers. Store owners, real estate agents, travel agents, and all kinds of people who formerly thought of their living as secure and the poor as Those Other People who aren't like "us" and who are problems to solve, not people we need, are realizing how intimately and inextricably our lives are connected. A retail sales worker whose customers can't afford to buy will have to tighten her belt too. Perhaps she'll put off car repairs that aren't immediately needed. The repair shop owner may have to lay off a mechanic, reduce hours, or close shop rather than expanding her business. The banks making business loans have fewer customers as a result, and so do those who depend on bank officials' wanting new cars, a finished basement, or a more efficient home heating/insulation system (might save money in the long run, but if you don't have the cash now ...) will be hurting more as well. We're realizing increasingly as well how intimately our lives are connected with those continents away. Food prices rise not only with fuel prices, but also when arable farmland for staples shrinks due to climate change, or when a generation of those who would otherwise grow to work on farms instead die of malnutrition, of cholera, disasters, AIDS, malaria, or even diarrhea, or in civil and international wars (all of which perpetuate the poverty that causes or contributes to their rise).
So more and more of us are realizing that change -- profound change, change in the whole way we order our lives on this planet -- is Good News for all of us, that only profound change can give us the freedom to live into Jesus' exhortation to "be not anxious."
Christmas is Good News in so many ways. The ways I hear most often preached about are that a distant God actually visited humanity in the Incarnation and became knowable and accessible to humans. It's sadly and antisemitically mistaken to suggest that Judaism has ever suggested that God is distant, unforgiving, or unresponsive to humanity -- as anyone who reads the psalms, prophetic literature, or even the Pentateuch can see. Heck, check out the texts from the Hebrew bible in the lectionary for the Feast of the Incarnation. They weren't written by Christians -- indeed, Christians (and most of the earliest ones were Jews) got from from Judaism their most of their ideas about how God ordered the world at Creation and how God's redemption is reordering it. The Good News of Christianity and of the Incarnation isn't entirely new.
But here's some Good News.
Just think of how much the word 'hope' has been used of late in popular discourse, in the media, in conversation. Whatever you think about the U.S.'s most recent presidential election, I think most of us would agree that a central issue was who could provide us with hope, who could inaugurate real, profound, effective change. I know many people who feel a great deal more hope knowing that in January a U.S. president is taking office whom they believe will bring change and renew hope.
The Good News we proclaim in the Feast of the Incarnation is that something far more profound than that, than what any elected official can do, has already taken place. Luke says it by portraying Jesus as David's anointed successor from birth -- but a king whose courtiers aren't sycophants in fine robes, but outcast shepherds (and search for 'shepherds' on this site for more info about how shepherds were seen). John says it by saying the Word, the logos -- the word that philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria used for the organizing principle or force of Creation rightly ordered -- has become flesh and lives among us.
In other words, whatever your political party or expectations of government, we announce in the Feast of the Incarnation that THE leader, THE king, THE person who understands how things ought to be and what we must do for the world to experience the joy, peace, and love that characterizes God's order, has already come, and will never be deposed. The light of hope, the power to change the world, shines in the darkness, and to this day the darkness has not put it out. The darkness will never put it out.
We all know that real change can be hard, and requires real sacrifices. But in our heart of hearts, we know we need it. And that change has come among us.
The agenda of this powerful, wise, and compassionate leader is, as one might expect, too extensive to set forth entirely in a single sermon. But just knowing that this person has come and that such profound changes are coming, isn't it worth taking some time to find out what this person, these changes, and what they mean for our way of life might mean?
So if we want to know what the Incarnation we celebrate in this joyful feast -- if we want to experience more fully the joy we announce today -- we'll have to come back together again. Next week would be a good time. Perhaps as time goes on we'll want to gather more frequently for it. I hope we will. Because here is real hope, real change for our whole lives and for our whole world.
Thanks be to God!
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It is wonderful to have you back, have been reading past posts in the intervening period but there is nothing like freshly baked!!Thank you
Any thoughts on the Pope's latest words?
Posted by: Stephen Pare | Dec 24, 2008 4:51:30 AM
I really enjoying reading your thoughts. I can understand about being busy, it seems that when it rains it pours in life. Look forward to hearing your writings again, and I hope everything got sorted out with the fender bender. I worked in Insurance for awhile and it's no fun...
Posted by: Andrew | Feb 8, 2010 3:13:26 PM
Thank you so much for coming back. I was waiting for that.
Posted by: Michelle Samuel | Apr 24, 2010 12:39:22 PM
I just love blogging and as i get spare time from busy schedule i start working on it. Wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it!
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Posted by: ian | Nov 10, 2010 12:23:32 AM
Love the pics of U2, music is my name and charity is my game.
Posted by: Musical Equipment | Jul 24, 2011 3:00:10 PM
I appreciated your post. You do a fine job teasing out the parallels between contemporary manifestations of hope, on the horizontal plain, and how those relate even to eschatological promises. Really nice, and I hope many are reading. Please, if opportunity provides, I strive toward a similar poetic in, http://wrestlinggypsies.blogspot.com
Keep it up, Bradford
Posted by: Bradford Manderfield | Jan 4, 2012 11:33:33 AM