Communication, Christmas Eve – 1996
December 24, 1996
What do you do when you love someone? Whether it’s a couple falling in love, a mother to a child, a friend to a friend, a husband to a wife… you want to communicate your love. And so you say, “I love you.” Sometimes you make a phone call to the beloved in the middle of the day for no good reason. Or you leave a welcome home note or write a love letter or compose a poem. You communicate.
And you act. You want to show your love. So you give the one you love a hug, or fix them a cup of tea, or listen, or you ask them to marry you. You show your love.
In much the same way, God wants to communicate and show his love for us. For thousands of years God has been talking to us of his love. It began at creation — when God expressed himself and spoke the world into being. It continued with the creation of humanity in his divine image, and when he called Israel to be his people, and when he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And so we might know better how to live our lives, he gave us the law, and spoke to us through the prophets.
This is how God expressed his love for us — over and over by word and action…but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t breaking through the hard defensive shell of our sinful nature. It wasn’t reaching all of God’s creation…it hadn’t broken through to the gentiles…it had not conquered sin and death. So God did something new. God did something unheard of, never expected, something considered scandalous…God communicated to us by taking every ounce of love he had, every word of hope and courage, and he sent it to us in the most fragile and vulnerable of packages: in the flesh of a newborn baby.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word became flesh…
Jesus Christ is the full communication of God’s love for us. A merciful God — with all power and knowledge — chose the humility of human flesh and became powerless and dependent. Our images of the birth of Jesus are hopelessly colored by years of Hallmark cards and made for television specials. Mary is always sweet, clean and serene. Joseph stands stoically by at all times. Jesus never cries. These are sentimental images — and weaken the harsh reality of that night.
Several years ago in New York City on Christmas Eve, St. George’s Episcopal Church was getting ready for its annual evening service, which always included carols, instrumentalists, dancing and a living representation of the Nativity. This year, as people started to arrive, they were greeted by the sight of some street people on the front steps. A man and woman with a shopping cart and a bundle of rags. Several people stopped to offer help and some invited them in out of the cold. They politely declined all offers. Finally, one of the vestry members approached the Rector and said, “We’ve got a problem.” He wanted to called the police and have them remove the street people. Eventually a patrol car came by and the people were asked to move across the street where they wouldn’t disturb the worshipers.
It was a beautiful service that night, and the nave was full, standing room only. Finally, the climactic moment arrived: Dancers dressed in white appeared at the back of the nave to lead the holy family down the center aisle. As the holy family entered you could hear gasps of recognition. The holy family was the homeless couple from the front steps. The baby Jesus was the bundle of rags they had held in their arms. As the angels led the holy family toward the altar they wept, as did most of the congregation.
Jesus entered the world as a homeless child, in utter humility and poverty.
And on this dark evening, two thousand years later, he awaits to enter our hearts in the same way. He waits patiently, with great humility, to be invited to come and live within us. And when we do invite him in, it is as though love itself begins to grow within us.
God sent Jesus so that we can be born anew, by the Holy Spirit, and become children of God. God sent Jesus to break the power of sin and death that rule our lives. And as Love grows within our hearts, we find ourselves proclaiming that unconditional Love to others. We become the ones with beautiful feet, preaching the good news of God’s salvation on the mountain tops. We begin to recognize and honor God’s presence in the humble and the poor…and reach out with a love beyond our own.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And dwelt among us.
Tonight we listen and remember and hear again the great telling of God’s love for us. With humble hearts, let us receive again the good news of Jesus Christ and return our thanks. Amen.
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