Based on the Scripture readings:
2019 December 24
Plans for Christmas Future
I have a Christmas riddle for you. Easter involves laughter, and Pentecost has a call to action, but Christmas comes with holy mystery as well as a riddle.
What do nations, comets, candlelight, and angels have in common that changes us tonight?
I could make you wait for the answer, but we like to open our gifts right away so Iíll tell you. The answer is that they all call us to see what is right in front of us and to do something about it. Iíd better explain.
This Christmas weíre getting gifts from a number of nations. I donít mean frankincense or tariffs but this year, India, Japan, Germany and others are sending us Christmas robots to serve our sanctuaries.
In Germany someone has invented a robot called Bless U-2, and it prays for you in five languages, while light comes out of its hands to shine upon you. It is made from a converted ATM machine, but thatís a Lenten sermon.
In India someone has developed a robotic arm that, they say, can give you a hand at religious festivals.
In Kyoto, Japan there is an adult-sized robot named Mindar who preaches, and all its sermons are exactly twenty-five minutes. More than mine. Also there is a Roman Catholic robot called Santo which you think means saint but itís short for Sanctified Theomorphic Operator, and in Vatican City the Pope endorses an app called clicktopray. All these other nations have running robots, but all we get in the United States is a Bible Belt. But is this the future of the Church across time and space? Is artificial intelligence our salvation? We should look at that.
Probably you know this too: for Christmas this year another solar system has sent us a comet named 2I/Borisov. Itís approaching us now. Maybe you have seen it. Its comet tail is fourteen times the width of earth, which is big. Scientists say it is only the second interstellar object ever detected nearby. When I read that I presumed that the first one was the star over Bethlehem, but it turns out that it was an asteroid: 'Oumauamua, which means messenger from afar.
The reason that the robots intrigue us is that we do need to look at the future of the Church. Will we turn over morals, the meaning of community or the mystery of creation to an algorithm?
The reason the comet intrigues us is that likely we havenít seen it even though its tail is fourteen times the size of earth because weíre so busy everyday here, and weíd have to look hard. Which is where the candlelight and the angels come in. When we lower the lights, when we share holy fire, will we ponder moral discernment and the meaning of community for a few minutes? Will we think about the creator, the savior, and the call of Godís future? Will we do something with our thoughts?
Here are two things more you might not have noticed or thought about tonight. Did you notice the armed guards by our sanctuary keeping watch, against threats? You didnít. We donít have them. But Jesusí kin, our Jewish family, has them all over these days because while some folks develop robots, others spew anti-Semitism. We need to watch for that.
Chances are you didnít notice any difficulty shopping recently or driving here because you donít wear a turban or a hijab or even a hoodie but Jesusí kin, our kin, our Muslim neighbors see these things, and we need to watch for that, too.
The candlelight and angels invite us to see what is right in front of our face, and this Christmas, this year—after all the things that drew our attention and all the things that made us look away: after all the events of this year—we need to keep our eyes open and pray for each other and lend a hand and watch and act.
Christmas Eve is about an ancient promise, a powerful God, a vulnerable baby, and a new creation. Silent Night sings to our own nativity and re-birth, and the interstellar visits we receive bless us with heavenly peace. But this coming year, especially if we celebrate Jesus as an infant, we need to grow with him as a prophet. This year, especially, if we are moved by loving worship we must follow up in living commitment. Because as a baby and as a prophet he needs our gold and consequence and recurring attention and action. This year we need to see what is right in front of us affecting our world, what is bigger than us changing our creation, and what is possible for us when we are together in the presence of God.
Isaiah speaks of those dwelling in a land of great darkness.
The angels come to shepherds and peasants at the time of deep darkness.
And everywhere God is bringing light and life for us to see, to watch and tend. God is showing us something tonight and showing us something every day. Itís right in front of us now. It is Jesusí life.