Thursday, December 25, 2008
Feast of the Incarnation
Tom was a farmer. He was a man of few words. He ran the family farm that his father and his grandfather had worked before him. All his brothers and sisters had gone on to other jobs and vocations in their lives but they all enjoyed coming home to the family farm for the Christmas holidays. It made for a mad house for a few days with his siblings and spouses and children, but it was a time for family and friends. Tom enjoyed that, but this year Tom was tired. He felt burdened by the annual onslaught of the family. He still had to milk the cows and see to the daily routine of running the farm. He and his brothers and sisters had all been raised in the Church. And his brothers and sisters and their families were fairly regular in their attendance. But Tom’s attendance had fallen off as he had gotten older. The wife and the kids went, but he had work to do. So when it came time for the whole family to go to Church on Christmas Eve, Tom just stayed home.
He never said why he didn’t want to go to Church. He didn’t want to argue religion with his family. All of that church stuff was a pain in the neck any way. He was a grown man. He didn’t believe in God becoming man. He believed in God; that was ok. But all of this baby Jesus stuff—that was all myth, wasn’t it? He was a good man. He dealt justly with his neighbors. He was good husband to his wife and a fine father to his children.
He sat in the quiet living room, looking out on the birds and geese that he so enjoyed about the farm. This was peace for him—quietly looking out upon his farm watching the birds. A bitter cold front was coming in. He watched the birds and the geese in the sleet. He hated to watch animals in distress. They were freezing to the trees and into the pond. He knew if they just stayed huddled out there, they would freeze. He ran outside and tried to shoo them out of the pond. But the birds didn’t move. He went to the barn and opened the doors hoping the birds would be saved by flying inside where it was warmer. But the birds would not enter the barn. He could not save them because the birds did not understand that the barn was a place of shelter.
He stood there broken-hearted, knowing that he could nothing to save his lovely cardinals, titmice, starlings, phoebes and beautiful Canadian geese. If he only could speak bird talk, he thought. If only he could be a bird and lead them into the barn….
And then the light went on in Tom’s heart…. He understood!
God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.
He understood what the story of the Christ child was about. It was about a God who so loved creation that he became human so that we would know how to come in from the storm.
The Incarnation of God, the miracle of God becoming human is not so hard to understand. There are theologians who would make it involved and complex. There are those who would say we have to believe in all kinds of mind-bending things to have faith—Virgin births, Immaculate Conceptions, Triune Gods, Justification by Faith. But all doctrines are, are ways to explain complexly the simple truth of God’s love for us and all creation. The God of Love came to us to teach us how to love one another. The God of Love gave himself to us in the Christ. He showed us not just how mighty he was. She showed us not just how loving she was. God just came among us and lived with us so that we could know how to care for one another, how to live for one another, and how to die for another.
Faith is allowing ourselves to be moved by that God who became one of us. Faith is allowing ourselves to be transformed by the goodness of the Divine so that we might model our lives after one who was like us in all things but sin. Faith is a matter of trusting that the truth of the Holy is as available to us today as it was 2000 years ago. It is just as real to us as it was for shepherds in the fields. God’s entering into our lives is not miraculous. It is the stuff of living life to the fullest; it is the stuff of living life richly.
Tom didn’t get to Church that night. To be honest, Tom really didn’t get to church much of that year. But when the family came together the following Christmas, he went. In the candlelight he celebrated the God who spoke to us in our own language of love. His life began to change. Not dramatically, but things took on new meaning. It didn’t make his farming any easier, but somehow his life seemed richer, his family seemed dearer, the relationship with his wife, closer. His life was more connected somehow to something greater than himself. He had no need of complex doctrines or arcane ways of worshipping. He merely knew that someone had opened the barn door for him. He knew that there was a benevolent wisdom who guided him. He attended the church to hear more about this God who would welcome him so. He found that he could live a life worthy of the gospel with the help of the Divine Presence. And now he gave thanks for an icy evening when he learned the meaning of the Christ story.
Christmas in church is my favorite time of the year. I really began my own journey in Christ at the Christmas Eve service some 40 years ago. In those days I was a professional musician and Christmas time was the most lucrative time for a struggling French horn player. But that night at a candle lit service not much different than this, my music became offering and God took my breath away. And she hasn’t given it back since. The Spirit lit a fire in my heart that has kept me warm ever since.
My hope for you is that this service, or whatever way that you have of communicating with the God who loves you more than life, may provide for you an experience of the Holy that will begin your transformation into what it is God holds for you. My prayer is that the Christ who comes as a child will allow you be vulnerable enough to accept his love for you so that you may share it with others. And most of all, may the Spirit of the Incarnate God build a fire in your heart that will never fade. AMEN.
Comment: I am indebted to the Revs. JEU and CG for this story.