Merry, Joyful, Happy Christmas! It is so good to be together in this sweet, little, warm chapel on this Holy Christmas Eve. Welcome to those who have travelled far and through many dangers and delays to be here. Welcome to those who thought they would be somewhere else tonight but ended up right here in Ballard instead. Welcome to those who are here for the first time, or for the first time since COVID hit. Welcome to those who made this part of your overall Christmas festivities planning and welcome to those who just popped in at the last moment.
We are all here because of Love’s invitation. Love has drawn near to us this night. Love came down at Christmas. Love as gift and sign to light our path.
The fancy theological term for this is Incarnation, from the Latin word for flesh, “carne” and the process of taking it on. In Jesus, God takes on human flesh. God dwells with us, Emmanuel. Angels sing. Shepherds marvel. Magi from the East come to worship. Mary ponders in her heart. Joseph dreams. The friendly beasts gather round. Silent night. Holy night. The Messiah is born.
In Madeline L’Engele’s words, this is the Glorious Impossible, “The Glorious Impossibles are what bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, songs to our lips.” Tonight we gather to touch this Glorious Impossible and to be transported by its beauty.
And yet. We also know about some of the horrible realities we are facing as individuals, communities and residents of this planet. We know about the war on Ukraine, the crisis at the border, the devastating effects of climate change, and the state of emergency regarding homelessness, addiction and untreated mental illness. We can’t ignore the repercussions of the global COVID pandemic and the toll it has taken on physical and mental health.
This year I was captured by a new metaphor for the Incarnation, a grittier, more down to earth way of describing how God breaks into our world. Of course, this is not original to me, I picked it up from Father Gregory Boyle, who founded Homeboy Industries in LA, which offers jobs, services and dignity to former gang members. He writes:
What if holiness is a contact sport and we are meant to ‘bump into things?’ If we allow ourselves to “bump into things,” then we quit measuring. We cease to Bubble-Wrap ourselves against reality. We stop trying to “homeschool” our way through the world so that the world won’t touch us. It’s hard to embrace the world… if we are so protective and defensively shielded from it. A homie told me once, “It’s taken me all these years to see the real world. And once ya see it – there’s only God there.”Father Gregory Boyle, of Homeboy Industries
Love bumps into us in Jesus. It knocks us sideways, a little off our feet. It startles us and causes us to pay attention, to look up, to look into the eyes of another. Love is a contact sport. It puts people in our way. It invades our private space. Love calls us to adjust our judgements and see things in a new way. Love sets us on a new path, in a different direction. Love isn’t always soft words and a gentle touch, sometimes it’s the Middle Linebacker taking you down!
God bumped into us in Jesus. God entered through the bump of Mary’s pregnant belly, a risky and dangerous move into the womb of a poor, young woman in a backwater town in an occupied nation. The babies in Mary and Elizabeth’s wombs bumped into one another in utero and John the Baptist kicked and danced in recognition, probably giving Elizabeth heartburn! God traveled as a refugee to Egypt and bumped into the earth in a stable.
And then the shepherds got upended by a chorus of angels out in a field in the dark night. The Magi got turned in a new direction by the leading of a star and left the comfort of their homes for a perilous journey to the cradle of a promised child.
God in Jesus knocked down religious hypocrisy and political machinations to bring a vision of God’s Kingdom to the poor, the outcast and the lowly. Jesus interrupted the course of John, James, Peter, Martha’s and all the disciple’s lives. In the cross, death and resurrection, the world is turned upside down and a new reign of justice, love and mercy is established. The powerful are knocked off their seats. The sorrowful are comforted. The hungry are filled and the peacemakers are honored.
God has bumped into you, countless times and in many different ways. God will go to every possible measure to get our attention, to get us to lift our eyes and see in a new way and change course. Often God uses other people to help us see the face of Christ, who is always present with us. We collide with others and find ourselves reoriented.
But we have not been bumping into one another as often as we used to in the past. COVID made it more unlikely that we would be in close physical proximity to one another. We have kept our distance, greeting with a wave, rather than a handshake, a bow rather than a hug. We don’t go out in public places as often or gather with those who we do not know well. We’re staying home more, going online more, alone more. We’ve lost some of our social capital and social ease with one another. And that means we don’t get our preconceptions challenged as often.
Anger, distrust and the wounds we carry keep us apart from one another. Political disunity and distrust has spread to our interpersonal relationships and we are more and more distant from others, including even family members and old friends. Fear of the other, the stranger, the mentally ill, those on drugs, the unsheltered and the unhealthy mean we cross to the other side of the street, avert our eyes and try to avoid contact. We’re not bumping into one another as often as we used to.
But not tonight. Tonight God has come near to us. Christ is present in bread and wine at the table where all are welcome and strangers become part of one body. Christ is present in the faces of those we love and even in the faces of those we don’t like that much!
We hear the familiar story and sing the familiar songs, but we are not the same and God won’t leave us as we were. Tonight we’re reoriented once again to hope. We’re redirected to joy. We leave war behind and pursue peace. We reject estrangement and embrace Beloved Community.
Merry, Joyous, Happy Christmas! Amen.