Revised 11:40 pm
Working title: What (more) do you want?
What (more) are you looking for?
In this season when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, the infant in the manger, I wonder what more are we looking for?
In hindsight, there has been plenty to notice.
Angels visited Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds guarding their flocks by night.
A star shone in the sky, and if astronomers suggest that it might have been June rather than December, still it doesn’t detract from the majesty of the sight, and its portents.
Some number of wise men (the Bible says 3 gifts, not necessarily 3 kings…but we have our traditions) from somewhere else (from off) followed that star to find the infant Jesus.
Generations of Christians have lived lives of faith, some spectacular and well-known, others in relative obscurity. We have stories of martyrs who died for their faith, tales of men and women like John Wesley and Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa, and stories about our own people, like my grandmother, like Ralph Thomas, who have shown us and taught us about Jesus.
Yes, there has been plenty of notice that this child would be extraordinary…and that’s discounting all the other evidence we have of who Jesus was.
And yet we might ask, what (more) are we looking for?
Despite the stories, despite the persistence of the impact of Jesus Christ on the lives of countless people over the centuries since his birth, somehow we are still looking for him…or perhaps we don’t know him when we see him. Maybe we’re distracted by the baby in the manger. Maybe we don’t let him grow up in our minds. Maybe we just don’t connect, don’t see what difference he could really make in our lives, how he could help us live through our pain and bring joy to our sorrow.
He’s not what we expect. We often look for a magic wand to wave over our lives and transform all our grief…instead we get a constant companion, full of grace and love.
We look for a shining figure to come in the clouds and wipe our tears away…instead we get a Lover of our souls who treasures every tear.
We look for a voice to speak from on high…instead we get a quiet whisper, speaking truth and peace into the business and distraction of our lives.
We look for a conqueror to right all wrongs and fight injustice…instead we are invited to work on it together with him.
In this busy season, what (more) are we looking for?
A baby in a manger? No offense, but babies are good for the cuteness and for the diaper and formula industries…but they’re not all that powerful.
A wise teacher whose lessons have withstood the test of time? We’ve had those, and they are important people…but what has Einstein or Plato or Curie done for us lately?
A martyr who gave his life as a shining example of humility and mercy? Once he’s dead, what good is he?
I think what we are looking for first and foremost is relationship. I spoke with someone this past weekend who has never attended our church on Sunday, although she’s been here for a funeral. She spoke of the spirit of the Ann Street parish, and how her sister needed and valued that connection. The sister’s never worshiped here either, but she feels connected to us because we helped her when she needed it, we’ve been in prayer for her family for years, and when her husband died of the cancer he’d been fighting for more than two years, here is where she found comfort and a sense of belonging. What (more) might we be looking for? I think it’s that sense of relating to loving people, and through them, to the love of Christ.
And what love God has to offer us in Christ: the love of a Father who gave his only Son into our world, a world of pain and sickness, suffering and evil, but also a world of goodness and grace, of kindness and love. In Jesus, God became one of us so that we could know God better. In Jesus, God reached out—reaches out—to us and says, “I am always here. I love you. I want to know you. I want you to know me.” In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have the unending gift of a love that reaches out to us, triumphing over every adversity, even death, even our own failure, and always wants to know and love us, even when we don’t want to know and love God back.
And the miracle of this love—we could even call it our Christmas miracle—is that God’s love, God’s reaching, God’s presence, God’s graciousness to us never ever ends. As the months pass and the seasons take their course, we are reminded of life’s cycle: birth, growth, decline, death…but it does not stop there. There is also resurrection and eternal life in heaven. That is true love. That is a Christmas gift worth having, and it is ours, all the time, any time we will accept it and welcome it into our lives.
The simplicity of Christmas, of Jesus’ birth, is that God wants to know you, and me. Not the face we show our coworkers or family or even our best friend, but every thought, every feeling. God wants to be known, too, for us to pierce some of the mystery and come to know the best friend and closest companion we can ever have. I can tell you tonight about changing your life, but instead I invite you to live your life whole-heartedly, openly, knowing that God loves you. I invite you to welcome Christ into your heart tonight, as angels and shepherds and a manger welcomed him into this world: with awe, and wonder, and with great joy.
And tonight I invite you, with awe, and wonder, and joy, to share in Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist: the true gift of life from our life-giving Savior. In this simple meal of bread and what we call wine (it’s really grape juice, so that everyone can share it), we meet Christ, so that a little bite of bread and a small sip of juice become a spiritual feast that nourishes our hearts and spirits. And this is a free gift, offered to anyone without price. Everyone is welcome at this table: we do not require that you be a member of this church, of the Methodist Church, or any church. If you wish to come, we want to have you, and Christ wants to meet you. Everyone is welcome, everyone is worthy, everyone is wanted. On this night of nights, let us share this gift together.