The other day, a friend shared a poem with me. It’s called Sharon’s Christmas Prayer and was written by John Shea in a book called The Hour of the Unexpected. Now, i’d like to share it with you:
She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity
convinced every word
they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars,
The baby was God.
And she jumped in the air
whirled round, dove into the sofa
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the Good News of the Incarnation.
This poem delighted me… because it captures a deep truth. Our savior has been given to us and we have to decide how we will react. Our first instinct might be to dive into the sofa and hide beneath a cushion. However, once we are done with that, we are called to something more.
As what we are going to do to take care of the great blessing that has been given to us, the love that has come into the world. In some way, we are all Mary, and we are all Joseph. We are the people who bring Jesus alive in the world. We are the people who nurture and care for the innocent and vulnerable baby. We are the people who have the opportunity to help love grow and expand into the whole word.
It may seem like a daunting task, but we are up to it. Tonight, we hear about the angels coming to the shepherds and the first words that they speak are this: “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Have you noticed that almost every time an angel shows up in a bible story that the first words out said are invariably “Do not be afraid.” You might chalk it up to angels being imposing beings. That might be part of it, but we human beings naturally fear things that are new and unfamiliar. However, even when we start with fear, Mark Twain said that Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. It’s a good reminder.
Once we get past fear, we can eventually move to something greater. Perhaps to pure faith in Gods ability to transform the world, or perhaps a willingness to work in cooperation with God to bring the kingdom to life in this time and this place.
That is already happening here in this community. Look at the banners behind me. Each week we had a new word to ponder as we made our way toward Christmas. First, was “hope.” With it came the wondering that each of us engages in as people of faith. How do i bring hope to those who are despairing? How do I be a reminder that the story is bigger than this one moment in time?
The second week, we got the candle with the word ‘Love” on it. We prayed that love would come into the world. We looked for the many ways that we see God’s great love demonstrated for us. We talked about how we can love each other better and care for creation in creative ways.
Our third Sunday brought “joy.” We were reminded that our work is not all so serious. We should remain joyful as we go about building the kingdom of God. The doing of God’s will is something that is deeply satisfying…and we are built to want to praise God.
Finally, on the fourth Sunday, “Peace” was added to the mix. In this word, we are reminded of the ultimate purpose of all that we do. We are tasked with bringing peace into the world. We must work to find and heal the jagged and broken places in creation, to bring together those who are estranged, and to build bridges between us and those from whom we feel estranged. It’s a reminder to respect the dignity of every human being.
Tonight, we have to final piece of the picture—the Christ candle. A reminder that our savior is at the center of all these values that we want to bring into the world and nurture and protect in all that we do and in all that we are.
That’s what we are called as individuals and as a church to do. Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry often says that The Episcopal Church is the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world. In November, he sent out a video message to us and he said:
“Now is our time to go. To go into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ. To go into the world and help to be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation. To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that that love can set us all free.”
It’s a wonderful vision, but we need to figure out where to start. We can take a lesson, perhaps, from Mary and Joseph, who had nothing and were far from home when they suddenly found themselves with a tiny and defenseless baby. They started with the basics…. they wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a bed of hay. They kept him warm and fed him. They made sure he was sheltered.
It’s little wonder than that as a church we start with these same activities. We look for those in our community who are defenseless and we protect them. We look for those who are hungry and we feed them. We look for those who need shelter and we help to keep them safe and warm. In serving others, we are caring for Jesus in the world.
We will spend these next days and weeks rejoicing in the birth of Jesus. It is only right. Then we begin a lifetime of work, nurturing Christ in the world wherever and whenever we find him. We can take our lessons from things that we have seen from being and having parents.
First, the small moments will be the ones that matter most. The unexpected and surprising moments are the ones that will make a big difference, that let us remind each other that we are loved, that we matter.
Second, it’s important to really see and know others. We have to be open to responding to them, rather than giving them what we think they need.
And third, we need to be present in the moment and respond to the needs that we encounter. For the most part, we can’t plan when we will serve the needs of the world. We can only remain alert and responsive—ready to be in relationship when the opportunity comes.
Not too long ago, I was in Pet’s buying coffee. The place was a total zoo. As i stood in line, I anticipated the ritual of having a cup of coffee and a muffin. As I got to the cash register, I looked over at the pastry case and asked for a morning glory muffin—the only gluten free offering, so the only thing that my food allergies will let me eat. There were too left, I noted with satisfaction. As the cashier turned to bag my muffin though, another worker scooped up the last two muffins. He was apologetic—offered to get me something else. I shook my head… It’s my only option, I said. But first come, first served. No problem.
As i went to wait for my coffee, a woman walked up to me clutching two paper sacks. She looked a little shy, but also determined. She thrust one at me, saying “Here’s one of the last to muffins. I don’t want you to go without.” I wouldn’t call myself a hugely huggy person but I had an impulse to hug this woman. She saw me. She cared. She wanted to make sure that I was cared for. I walked away thinking, “We need more of that in the world.”
These small moments, strung together like small, twinkling Christmas lights, are the ones that make the world brighter. Small actions, done moment by moment and day by day, with attention and care, are the ones that make the world a better place. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to make huge sacrifices, even, although we may have opportunities like that as well. All we have to do is show up and be willing to help to bring love to the world.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas on Christmas Eve, 10 p.m. on Saturday, December 24, 2016 at the Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos, CA.