Service Recap; December 25

Homily Recap| Luke 2:1-20

This year, the meaning of Christmas has been clarified for me by people who have no chance of winning Caesar’s game. Who, no matter who gets elected, will have a very slim shot. The meaning of Christmas has been shown to me by 2nd Graders at Breakthrough who taught me how to do the Juju on that Beat dance.

It was shown to me by an elderly man at the Green Tomato Café during our Christmas party who came up to me near the iced tea, and said, “How’d I get it so good this side of Heaven?” I paused and looked at the man. I studied him to see if he was being sarcastic or not. This man was poor. His Christmas party was on the 11th of December at the Green Tomato Café. And while I was darn proud of the Christmas party we threw that day, I couldn’t believe that he would be so thankful for his lot, this side of Heaven.  “Thank you,” he said looking me right in the eyes. I don’t remember what I said back, but I wiped tears out of the corners of my eyes as he walked back to his seat at the table with the Christmas wrapping paper runners.

At Christmas God, does not enter on a stallion to win the game of Caesar, even though I really wish he would. No, at Christmas the transcendent breaks into the imminent, the divine breaks into the mundane. God speaks his most authoritative Word in a tiny child.  In an act, in the specific act of a woman giving birth, God rejects the game of power and control that dominates our understanding of how the world works.  In Christ, God reveals to us the true order of the cosmos: The first shall be last. Blessed are the poor. It is better to give than to receive. Pray for your enemies.

“Oh, give to Caesar what is Caesars,” Jesus says. “His image is on the currency, whatever, give it to him. I don’t care. I’m not in the game of sending mortars into the walls of Herodium or RPGs into the streets of Rome, I could call down 10,000 angels if I wanted, but I’m not in that game. I came to serve. To wash feet. Don’t you get it? If you want to save your life, you have to lose it. Trust me…I know it’s hard to believe. It might be the hardest thing to believe, but Herod, Caesar, they’ve got it backwards, and I’m here to tell you: Do not gain the whole world and forfeit your soul. Don’t be afraid. Trust me.”

I was asked to write a reflection on what Christmas means for a blog. I thought I’d end today with a bit from it.

Christmas means that the wind has picked up and the streets are cold. Melissa, a woman I often see asking for money on Michigan Avenue, is more desperate than usual. She is responsible for 8 kids who often sleep outside. Melissa is earnest. She goes up to people one by one, asking them, “could you please help me?” She doesn’t have a sign like others who ask for money in Chicago. I have stopped to help Melissa twice. The first time, I made a point to remember her name. The second time she approached me, I responded, “Melissa, how are you?” 

“Bad,” she said.

I hoped that my using her first name would surprise her; catch her off guard; mean the world to her. She hoped it meant I would help her find lodging for the night. I bought her sandwich fixings at Walgreens, three bottles of Dr. Pepper, and one can of Fancy Feast for a kitten that her children have taken to caring for. I avoid walking down Michigan Avenue at night now, unless I’m willing to run into her.

Christmas means that the man who does taekwondo on the corner of State and Van Buren is no longer shirtless. He is there every day in the summer slowly moving from pose to pose, breathing deeply. When I first saw him, I thought he had lost his marbles. I passed by him on the other side of the street. In December he is there less often, but I still see him every now and then, and I wonder what would happen if I joined him.

The Advent of Christmas coincides with the advent of wind and cold. Christmas brings its harsh climate and December’s deadlines. Deals to get done, papers to write, three kids to manage, three Christmas parties that you’d rather not attend, and two you wish you could look forward to.

Loss is churned fresh at Christmas, too. It stirs up pain like grounds that had settled at the bottom of a cup of french-pressed coffee. The job that didn’t work out is felt keenly in the lack of presents under the tree. Dad’s empty chair at the dinner table is gaping, and almost too much to handle.

Before Christmas is joy and peace and love and hope, it is cold. It is Chicago-in-December cold. And who can bear it?

Before Christmas is anything like silent nights, calm or bright, it is busy, chaotic, shortened days. Its characters are neither meek nor mild, and thank God, too! The unkempt vagabond shepherds, the blood thirsty Herod, the insatiable Caesar, the tired Mary and confounded Joseph. These are the characters of Christmas.

The shirtless man doing taekwondo, the child staring blankly across the table at dad’s empty chair, parents celebrating a baby’s first Christmas, the couple who cannot get pregnant, and Melissa moving earnestly from one person to the next. These are the characters of Christmas.

In Christ, God meets all of it at the front door. Holding the door back with one arm he waves us in with the other. “Come in! Come in!” he shouts. The whole mess of humanity-the shirtless, the begging, the grieved, the rejoicing, the one who has lost her marbles, and the one who has yet to-all of it comes trapesing through the door. We are welcomed to the manger, unedited like the shepherds, by the same refrain that the angels proclaimed so long ago, “Do not be afraid! Good news!”

The first snow has come and gone, here in Chicago. The cold has set in. On a walk home, I come to the place where I must decide whether to take the direct route home on Dearborn or stay on Michigan Avenue. It is bustling with shoppers, people out on the town, locals who cannot refuse the beauty of The Bean covered in snow, and somewhere in the crowd Melissa is there, too. Christmas means that although it is not easy, I throw my lot in with her, and take the long way home. 

At Christmas, God changes the game. The Word becomes flesh, but not a strong, hard, callous flesh. A soft infant. God throws in his lot with us. Christ is with us and for us, and we can cease our striving.

The soul feels its worth

The weary world rejoices.

Christ is born.



Prayers of the People

God of life, we thank you this day for the gift of light who came into the world.  We long expected this child to come and be to us a savior.  Breathe new life into us. May we reflect Jesus light into the world and may others come to know Jesus' love through our life and actions. 

We give you thanks for the children you have brought into our church. Lord, give us as a church the grace, love and wisdom to nurture them in your love and teach them in the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We pray that each of them may grow into the full stature of Jesus Christ, being conduits of your love into your world. We thank you for all those who volunteer in our Grace Kids ministry.  please bless them in and through their work.

We pray for the community of Nettlehorst School.  We thank you that this place is a place of learning during the week and a place for worship for us each weekend.  We pray that you would continue to provide wonderful teachers and administration who would continue to seek the best for all of its students under their care.

We pray for those who grieve this time of year as it is a reminder of those who they just recently lost.  As many face this season for the first time without their loved ones by their side, we ask for encouragement and hope. May peace and comfort rest upon them in these days.

Lord in your mercy...Hear our prayer