Ready for Christmas
I think you know that one of the peculiar dangers of being near a
preacher is that almost anything that you say or do can become fodder
for a sermon. As preachers' kids, spouses, and families can attest, their
private life never is. And others beware as well.
The partner practice is that we preachers go around looking at our
worlds seeing just how many events, pieces of art, strains of music,
scientific theories, and interpersonal dynamics allow us to offer
insight into the love, character and incarnation of our God every day.
We have a solid model here, in Jesus, because much of what He did was
look at His world and tell stories about God there, and He even made
some of them up, which we reverently refer to as parables. But mostly
Jesus just told stories about what was all around Him, all the time
So I seek to go through life always keeping my eyes open for a
story, too: looking for a revelation of God's presence, God's ways, and
These are two of many things touched me this week.
First, there aren't as many teenage boys in our parish right now as
is sometimes the case. It could be a fertility cycle, it could be
evangelism issues, or it could be something else. But there aren't. So
our pageant this afternoon
needed an extra person or two for some male roles. And while I am on
the margins of all the pageant planning, I was part of a discussion on
Friday about inviting people from other churches and inviting people
from no church to come and join us. To make our joy complete, as the
scripture says. You'll have to wait until this afternoon to find out
just what happened, but for a time we were asking if maybe we don't
need people from beyond our walls so that God's story is complete
within them. I think there's a
sermon in that.
Second, if you visit the Highlands after dark, you'll notice the new
illuminated star that is on the top of our church tower. And of course it
is logical for a church to have a star, although we have not for some
time. The reason that we have our star back now, after years of absence,
is that Helen Hoffman grew up just to the east of us toward Newton Centre.
And growing up she could see our tower, and she could see our star at
night from her bedroom window. And it gave her comfort. So she arranged
for a new one this fall -- I can say that -- and there's something else,
too. Helen first started watching this star almost nine decades ago. Sarah
once asked God, after I have grown old shall I have pleasure? And God said
yes. But there's something else, too. If you're in front of Baker's Best
and look up at the star, it's a complex line of vision because there is
also a cell phone tower and a giant antenna with bright red lights at
night. The star is lower than both of those communication devices.
But there it is. Scrapping its way to visibility and unmistakable in
meaning and comfort. I think there's two sermons in that.
Here's why I am telling you these stories.
In the past 48 hours, four people have told me that they are not nearly
ready for Christmas. They were not talking about their shopping or their
decorations. They were talking about their spirit and their heart: their
soul. They were talking about their hunger for God and their longing for
time and place to breathe and un-clutter and open themselves to God. And
to a person they each said that they weren't going to get that time.
Now I would like to stand here by the pulpit and entreat you all still
to take the time. It would be a good and defensible and healthy message,
and some of you may not like what I'm going to say instead. But,
frankly, what I'm going to say instead is inspired by John the Baptist and
Isaiah, who instruct us to take what is already right in front of us,
already in our hands, and use it all differently, see it all differently,
even if what is right in front of us is busy-ness and pressure and need.
In essence I'm going to invite all of you to look at your current
surroundings as a preacher, which you are, on one level.
Here is what I mean. Any of you who sit with me in committee meetings
or in private conversations know that no matter what the issue, the story,
or the event I ask, often, "Where is God in this?" Where is God
in this? It's easy to answer when a baby is born, love is blooming, or we
feel the joy of giving. But there is always, always an answer too when we
are having surgery or paying bills, worrying about our marriage or
struggling with an addiction. Where is God in this? Indeed, where is God
in our busy-ness, in our fullness, in our commitments, in our complexity?
The peasants and the princes of the Biblical story had plenty of pressure,
plenty of commitments, plenty of anxiety and danger and need, just as in
our world. The ones whose stories still linger noticed how much God was in
the midst of all that, when they looked.
And all of you have a story of God, too.
We read only four verses from Isaiah today and these from a rather
obscure summary psalm, but twice in that short passage, twice, the prophet
says that God is among us, God is in our midst, and that's the good news,
that's the source of joy, that's the foundation of hope for tomorrow.
We tend to homogenize the story of John the Baptist from several
sources, but at its core today is the same assurance that God is in our
midst. So three times in four verses people ask him, what shall we do? And
he says, engage your world differently. Behave justly, act kindly, and
open your eyes to what is around you.
Where do you see God in your life? What are your stories? Is God only
in your times away and beyond or also in the midst?
I wish that getting ready for Christmas would afford everyone the time
to pause, pray, and prepare. But that does not always happen. So instead,
like Jesus, we look at the stuff of our world and wonder, where is God in
Rabbi Edwin Friedman writes about when the European explorers first
came to this continent. He says it wasn't immediately interesting to them.
All the first excursions to these shores were looking for a way to the
Orient, for a new trade route, seeking what was called the Northwest
Passage. He writes that it took European civilization almost three
centuries to grasp fully that what it had found (North America) might be
more important than what it was looking for.
I have that challenge every day. I dream of the horizon, envisioning
how wondrous and how obvious God's miraculous presence will be. When I
have the time. Meanwhile people who are not obviously part of the church
are getting ready to re-tell me God's story in my own familiar space. And
a dim light shines amidst a plethora of modern communication devices to
stay its simple message into the season. And we all find pleasure, in our
age. We all find comfort. All we need to do is tell the stories that are
all around us, not the private ones, per se, but the promises, and
Jesus is born, and God is
everywhere, among us. Amen.
Copyright © 2009 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by permission.