Christmas Eve 2016

Good evening and Merry Christmas.  To those of you visiting us this evening, welcome. To those of you returning from college or back in town to share Christmas with family and friends, welcome Home. It is good to see you.

I was actually struggling a bit in deciding what to speak to you about this evening. We have all gone through our challenges and received our blessings in the moments that we have lived this past year.  I just wasn’t sure, in what way, I wanted to approach what I know is God’s intention for all of us in the story of Christmas.  

Yesterday, while visiting Frank Morris in the hospital, I shared my struggle with him.

His advice to me was just start writing and sharing from the heart.  So that is what I am going to do. Let me tell you right up front that I have no intention within the time of this homily to do a recounting of the past year. I think more than anything, and the reason most of you are here this evening, is to experience and share the joy and light of Christmas.

 So that is exactly what I plan to do. Share the light. My light. The light that I have come to know with you. But let me warn you, as Mennonite Pastor Joanna Harader said, “The one who turns on the light is not necessarily responsible for the mess the light reveals.” 

Here is what I know. What my mess always looks like when the light comes on.

I know that Faith in God is faith in life. If every Bible was lost, if every church, temple and Mosque crumbled to dust, if the last believer offered the last prayer, God would still break into the world through the power of the Spirit in the person of Jesus Christ.

Someone once said that God… is indigenous to the soul. But indigenous people, indigenous languages, indigenous creation can become extinct if not properly cared for and replenished throughout time.

In his book, Deep Church, Jim Belcher looks at our relationship with God in a way that goes beyond traditional theology. His writings speak to a need deep within the human heart that calls for a pilgrimage characterized by three things:

·      A rediscovering of our spiritual roots

·      An understanding that life is truly a journey but not one to be taken alone.

·      And a renewed focus on our true destination

Deep Church, also known as Deep Faith, is a place to rest the soul; to be reminded of who we are, Who’s we are and where we come from; and I would add, an acknowledgement of who we are meant to be. To discover deep faith is to continually rediscover God. It is the reason we return to Christmas each year: To be reminded of God’s deep faith in us; and to relive the deep love that God continues to have for us in His continual breaking into the world.

            Recently, I had two pastor colleagues say the same thing to me:  One, who recently had a baby, questioned whether bringing a child into this world was the right thing to do. The second, who has been a pastor for 20 years now and whose children have already grown said, “I would not want to bring a child into this world today.”

            My response was the same to both of them: God chose to do so.  Why not you? 

            Our children are the most important and most critical power we have to bring the light of God in this world. And I re-learn that every Sunday morning at 9:30 during our family service.

            It was just last Sunday that I sat on these very steps while the children all told me how even when we can’t see God, God is here. He wraps His arms around me, loves me, and makes all my nightmares go away. The children know God’s love. We should too.

In her book, The Healing Light, Agnes Sanford writes, “We have become dull in our spiritual perception.  Children nearly always feel it. Even if they can’t explain it, they can feel it.”

I say again; God is indigenous to the soul. But indigenous people, indigenous languages, indigenous creation can become extinct if not properly cared for and replenished throughout time.

Another of my favorites, Harvard Professor Stephanie Paulsell, who writes a column called, “Faith Matters” says, “There are things we cannot know about the possibilities of our humanity and life until we detach ourselves from what is familiar and move into unknown territory, discover new information about what it means to be alive”.  She goes on to say,

“We need places to pray as if someone were listening. We need places to study as if we might learn something worth writing in our hearts. We need places to join with others in service as if the world might be transformed. Churches are places to learn to practice with others a continual conversation of life and a permanent openness to change.”

Now, I will be the first to tell you that church has not always been “that place.”  But it is today. And we shouldn’t ignore the invitation to participate in the change. Even a Roman Catholic Pope is telling his priests to “broaden your gaze” and “widen your heart”.  My friends, God arrives in the unexpected moments of our lives. And he does so in the space and time he chooses. We can plan the seasons. We can mark the time. We can prepare the places and spaces for whatever we desire. But the reality is God shows up in the unexpected.  He is indigenous to our soul and will fight to survive within us.

Gathering as a people, gathering as a community allows us to express ourselves to prepare ourselves for the unexpected to arise again within us and take root. To meet with a God who is indigenous to the soul means that life’s unexpected events are incarnate.

We are an indigenous people of incarnation.

We are a people of sacrament

We are and will always be a people of God

Our job is not to control the grace that lives inside a person or a community but to nourish it, guide it, offer it life, offer it renewal. Our identity as Christians is in the person Jesus Christ.  Our faith tells us that Jesus is not the only experience of God on earth but he is the purest reflection of God given us. We are not here to say what religion or life is right or wrong but rather to offer a home to those who need a place to stay for rebirth:  A holy place to gather, to gaze, to worship, to nourish the light of God within.

We are here to offer sacrament: outward signs of inward grace. And to give that grace a place to grow, to question and to sanctify. We are here to offer light: Indigenous, soul-filled light. Amen