Monday, February 23, 2015

Holy Disorder

Sermon for Christmas Eve--10 PM
December 24, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan


My grandfather was born on December 25th, 
Christmas Day.
I thought about that a lot as a child.

I would sometimes stare at my grandfather-- 
when I thought he wasn’t looking.
Born on Christmas Day, eh?

Did that make my grandfather Jesus? 

He was a carpenter. He really was.
And my grandfather was to me capable of miracles-- 
pulling a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup 
out of his pocket when you least expected it,
giving you a silver dollar that was minted

the exact same year you were born!

How could he do these amazing things?!!!

I kept a close eye on my grandfather,
until one day
I shared my suspicions with my little brother.

He listened but he shook his head, 
no, no. 
“Now think about it, Jeannie,” he said.
“Think about it.
Our mother’s name is Mary, right?”

“Right”, I nodded.
“And our father’s name is Joseph.”

“So if anyone in our family is Jesus,” 
continued my brother, “that would have to be ME!”
And my little brother pointed to himself.

I decided right then 
that I had NOT yet found Jesus 
and I would need to keep looking.

The wonderful delight of Christmas
is that on this night,
we gather once again to sing a song, 

as the psalmist reminds us, 
that causes even the trees to shout for joy,
a song that proclaims to the world
that Christ is born,
that Jesus is here
and is oh-so-ready to be found.

Whether you hear this story of Jesus’ birth 
as absolutely factual, 
or whether you hear this story of Jesus’ birth
as pure metaphor and mystery,
or even if you don’t want to hear this story at all--

this one night,
if we can open our hearts 

for even an hour,
the manger is filled, 

overflowing with God’s love, for all of us.

Doubt and questions 
and emptiness may come later-- and that is okay--
because we are all walking our own faith journey-- 

but tonight, tonight.
Just let it go.
Let it go
(Relax, I am not going to sing that song!)

But truthfully, 
just let it go for just an hour or so.
allow your eyes to look and see 
a child lying in a manger.

allow your heart to be full,
overflowing with love and compassion
and care 

for each and every human being in this world.

So many of us 
have heard the Christmas story so many times,
it is easy to think it is mundane.
It is anything but mundane.

This story, however, is a strange one, 
a disorderly story in many ways.
We, as intelligent, rational human beings, 
we like order.
We expect order.
We order up order.

Our desire is for an orderly and explainable world. 
But the truth is
the world is exceptionally disorderly.

These past few months 
have been a harsh reminder 
of just how disorderly the world can be.

Journalists beheaded.
Worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue slaughtered. 

Over 100 children slain in their school in Pakistan. 
Young men killed right here in our own country, 
probably because their skin was the wrong color.
We recognize this torturous face of the world. 
God comes to tell us 
there is also a face of hope.

God is not afraid of disorderliness
because good news can be born in the midst of, 

even BECAUSE of it.

Creation itself was born out of chaos.

An orderly story 
about the Messiah coming into the world 
would have had a princess bearing this holy child--
not an unmarried girl from a questionable family.

Joseph would have been royalty
not a simple man, 

willing to forgive Mary 
for what most people probably believed 
were her own sexual transgressions.

Mary and Joseph 
would not have traveled to Bethlehem for the census 
on a stinky donkey.
They would have been driven in a fine carriage.
Or more likely 
they would not have been required to report at all. 
They would have been the beneficiaries 
of power and privilege. 
Exceptions would have been made for them.

But there were no exceptions.

There was no elegant suite of reserved rooms 
waiting for them in the inn.
They were pushed out back, 

to sleep in a cave, 
to camp out with the livestock.

The birth of Christ 
was never imagined or expected 
to happen as it does. 
In poverty. In vulnerability. 
In total and complete absence of power.

The message here

 is not that our lives will be comfortable and easy.
The message is more

that our lives will have their goodly share 
of disorder, chaos and surprise.

But the other part of this Christmas message 
is that it’s okay.
In fact it’s good. 

In fact its glorious.
There is hope,

there is possibility, 
there is good news and great joy.

Posted recently on Facebook--
in many ways the Oracle of our times-- 
posted multiple times have been these words:

If you want to keep the Christ in Christmas, 
feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
forgive the guilty,
welcome the stranger and the unwanted child, 

care for the ill,
love your enemies.

We were out in Colorado for Thanksgiving
to visit our son and his family.
One night we were in Boulder on the downtown mall
(it could just as easily have been Church Street 

here in Burlington) 
and two men, rather dirty and scruffy looking
to my orderly and protective eyes,
were passing us as we walked along.
Both men carried huge, bulging backpacks.
All their worldly possessions was my guess.

One of them asked our daughter-in-law Natalie
if she knew where such and such a place was
and she did and she gave them directions.
And they thanked her to which she replied, “No problem.”

I heard our grandson, ten years old, 
having noticed the men’s backpacks, 
ask his mother,
“Mom, are those men going camping?”

There was a moment of quiet and then she answered,

“No. Those men are homeless.” 
“Oh,” our grandson replied.
I am not sure he even knew what that meant
but I thought it was honest and open 

that our daughter-in-law 
did not sugarcoat a harsh truth.

Our daughter-in-law Natalie 
did not feed those two men or clothe them 
but what she did do 
was see them as her fellow human beings.

She spoke to them with gentle respect and good will.
She talked to them 

just as she would have talked to her best friend. 
She gave them the dignity we all seek.
And she did it with complete ease and grace.

Even though I do not think it was remotely her intention, 
I think that this is what it means
to see the face of Jesus in every one we meet.

As Madeline L’Engle writes 
in her poem “After Annunciation”:

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason 

There’d have been no room for the child.

Christmas is a season that reminds us to make room.
To make room for chaos.
To make room for vulnerability.
To make room for people 

that are very, very different than us. 

To make room for gazing up at the stars 
in a night sky.
To make room for facing 
the very things we fear the most. 
To make room for hope 
and for love and for compassion.

To let go 
and trust that God is here with us. 
God will make a way through the chaos,

God will to walk beside us 
when life is brimming over with disorder.

The name “Emmanuel” means: 
God with us. 
God with us.
Coming into our lives 

as the Christ child. 
Born. Vulnerable.
Willing to enter 
into this disorderly world 
and face the chaos right beside us.

The hopes and fears of all the years 
are born in thee tonight.

Emmanuel has come. 
Merry Christmas! 

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