God Moved into the Neighborhood (12.26.21)
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
Collect: Almighty God you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A colleague of ours down in Seattle, the Rev. Shelly Fayette, wrote a Facebook post a few years ago, which has suddenly, this year gotten quite the attention from church people around the globe as it was picked up and shared by an Australian bishop. In it she suggests, only half jokingly, that instead of the traditional Christmas pageant we do every year, which is—by and large—a mashup from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, that instead of this we do Gospel-specific pageants, for they all tell a slightly different story.
She suggests the following for the Gospel of John that we read this morning:
“The room is dark. Tiny children wear black capes. They whoosh around the room whispering, ‘in the beginning . . . in the beginning . . . in the beginning.’ One of them whirls around to display a glow-in-the-dark WORD, and they dance over to another child, whose belly reads GOD, and then they link and become one unit, together, dancing, dancing. They keep pulling out glow-in-the-dark scarves that say light, light, light, and they dance around lighting all the candles scattered throughout the room.
They chant, ‘the darkness did not overcome us! Ha!’
A haggard man enters the room and says, ‘I am a witness to all this light.’
The children whisper, ‘the true light is coming, the true light is coming, the true light is coming.’
[from the loudspeaker: ‘the true light is coming! To the world! Even though he came to the world, and made the world, the world didn’t like him much! He came to his own people, who rejected him, probably like some of you! But those who did recognize him, and you sitting here, if you’re ready, will become children of God yourselves! Not some halfway ‘actually children of people who feel slightly more divine because of church’ nonsense! Actual! Children! of! God!]
The child bearing the word WORD tears off their cape and runs around in their underwear, in the flesh, like a wild thing.”
It’s a useful exercise to consider. How would you retell the story we heard in our Gospel reading this morning? John’s Gospel is so very different than Matthew and Luke. If Matthew and Luke are concerned with the nitty gritty, mundane and earthy details of what’s happening with a few particular people, John wants to pull us back to try and get that 30,000 foot perspective. Yes, there was this man—but who was he, truly? And why did he come? And why does it matter? And because it’s John, he’ll probably say the same thing at least a half a dozen times in just slightly different ways—just to make sure it’s clear.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us . . .” The Greek word for “lived” here, or what you also hear translated as “dwelled” comes from the idea of “pitching one’s tent,” and for me at least, that’s a helpful counter balance to seeing this discourse of John’s in purely abstract terms. When one pitches their tent among a group of people . . . that’s not merely a random or indifferent gesture. It’s a way of throwing your lot in with a particular group of people. Like saying, “alright, these are my people, for better or worse, and we’re going to face the future and whatever it holds together.” God became flesh and pitched their tent among us. God threw in their lot with us. God chose to say, “these are my people, for better or worse, and we’re going to face the future and whatever it holds together.”
In his paraphrase, The Message, Eugene Peterson says, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Y’all. The creator of the stars of night became flesh, and bone, and body and moved into the neighborhood. Think about that for a moment: God living here among us, here in this very neighborhood.
And if God has moved into our neighborhood, how will we also “move into our neighborhood?”
As the weather turns frightfully cold this week, and in yet another year of uncertainty, anxiety, and the ground seemingly shifting beneath us, amidst unattainable and conflicting expectations, how do we live as though God themselves lives among us? In the house next door? In the checkout line at the grocery store? In the person sitting on a flattened cardboard box wrapped in blankets in the doorway of a local shop. If we truly believe the living God is here among us, how will that shape how we live in the world? Will we throw our lot in with each other as God has thrown theirs in with us?
I hope you’ll meditate on that question this week—we do have 11 more days of Christmas after all. What does the mystery of the incarnation—that wonder of God showing up to a specific time and place and community all those years ago—show us about who God is, and who we, too, are invited to be in the world?
For my Christmas reading this year, I’m reading a collection of meditations called, “The Mood of Christmas”* by the theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman. A mentor to both Dr. King and Pauli Murray, if you’re not familiar with his work, I cannot commend it to you enough. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite of his poems. He writes,
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among others. To make music in the heart.
* Thurman, Howard. “The Work of Christmas,” in The Mood of Christmas. Friends United Press. 1985.